In theory, life on a boat is full of thrill. The salty breeze ruffling your hair, the movement of the ocean rocking you to sleep, the freedom of the open water. In reality, though, sometimes it’s nicer to have a bit more space—and a floor that isn’t constantly moving beneath you.
This was the realization one Alabama couple reached. After living for a while on their yacht near Sarasota, Florida, they decided it was time to upgrade to a vacation property that didn’t float. They found the perfect locale for their transition from sea to land in Lido Shores on Sarasota Bay, but while the block of land was a great fit, the home itself—originally intended as a guesthouse for the neighboring residence—was a little too small.
Residential designer Brian Phipps had designed the structure, along with the one next door, to evoke the clean lines of British West Indies architecture. By expanding it to three stories, he was able to add living space and maximize the westward views, despite the odd-shaped lot. “We tried to make sure we weren’t impeding the main house view,” he explains. “The higher you go up on the decks, you get the beautiful breezes and sunsets. It’s just gorgeous.”
General contractor Michael Voigt worked with Phipps to select building materials that would offer a modern, unfussy aesthetic while still withstanding the seaside elements. “The concrete flat-tile roof, sand-finish stucco walls and welded-aluminum railings are all a perfect fit for the coastal contemporary look,” he says. “The style of the home paired well with the clients’ goal of maximum durability with minimum maintenance.”
The structure was still being constructed when interior designer Chelsea Dunbar and designer Katie Enger joined the team. “When we came into the project, it was basically stud and no drywall, so we could select all the materials,” Enger says. Those included white oak hardwood floors throughout and waterjet mosaic tiles for the main bathroom, infusing the abode with an elevated sophistication.
The clients’ main residence in Alabama features traditional, warmer interiors, and they desired a vacation home with a clean, coastal, transitional style. But not, as Enger puts it, “cheesy coastal”— and definitely no wicker or shells. It needed to be “very neutral, light, airy and fresh,” she says, with “organic textures, weaves, natural woods and driftwoods but nothing too literal.” As such, the nautical references are light-handed. There’s the trio of straw hats on the entry wall by the front door, serving dual function as decor and attire, as well as the sculptural pieces of driftwood throughout—almost artworks themselves. In a guest bedroom, a series of woven baskets hangs above the headboard, while light fixtures embrace natural materials.
Like Enger and Dunbar, the clients preferred a palette with little to no color—and there are few instances of it, save for some subtle blue and green accents in the bedding and soft furnishings. After all, who needs color when there are abundant views of the sparkling turquoise bay and the property’s tropical greenery by landscape designer Bryan Morris? Texture, on the other hand, abounds. “It’s a good way to make everything cozy and warm it up without going beige,” Enger says of the duo’s use of sisal rugs, rope accent chairs, linen fabrics and tactile wallcoverings, including a textured weave in the powder room.
Because the clients granted the design team plenty of creative freedom, the pair took the opportunity to try something different. To bring a sense of scale to the stairwell, Enger decided to create an installation using river rocks, inspired by a wall she had seen at 1 Hotel South Beach in Miami Beach. She worked with local artist Zach Gilliland, who sourced the rocks—which the designer approved for size and form—and then attached them to the wall in a linear pattern. “I just loved that idea—I thought it was perfect,” she says. “It’s super simple, and it fills the big space.”
The design duo also got creative in the kitchen, using antique brass accents and gray cabinetry to maintain the fresh aesthetic. “We didn’t want to do just the white kitchen,” Enger explains, “but it also needed to remain subtle and look a little more contemporary.” Mixing metals, they centered the space with a statement-making range hood with an antique pewter finish.
Yet the most important element of the residence’s look is that it makes its owners feel refreshed and calm, as a vacation property always should. “They just love the design—it’s so fresh compared to what they have back home,” Enger says. “And after it was finished, they went back to Alabama and said, ‘Now we need to redo this house.’”