ucked away on Georgia’s small but stunning portion of the Atlantic coast, Sea Island has remained a beloved getaway for Southerners since 1928. With its majestic live oaks, manicured lawns, sandy beaches and vine-strewn Mediterranean-style houses, the idyllic destination draws vacationers year after year.
Mary-Bryan Peyer, a designer on nearby St. Simons Island, has been coming to Sea Island since she was young–her great-grandparents, in fact, built one of its first homes. “Everybody knows everybody here,” notes the designer, who recently completed a vacation home here that defines this sentiment in serendipitous ways.
Hired on the recommendation of general contractor Clif Pease, Peyer felt an instant click with the clients and soon discovered a fateful coincidence–she and the wife had graduated the same year from the University of Georgia, where they were members of sister sororities. “We didn’t remember each other from back then, but we had lots of mutual friends, so I’m sure we did meet at some point,” says the wife, who also grew up visiting the island.
Built in the early 1980s, the home boasts prime views of the marsh, but prior to Peyer’s efforts, its interiors were dated and dark. The homeowners, who maintain their primary residence in Virginia, wanted their island escape to feel more expansive and social, ensuring a beguiling atmosphere for their three teenage children. Working in collaboration with Peyer and architect John R. Rentz, Pease stripped the residence down to its studs, removing all the walls at the back of the house to create a more open layout. They also added a solarium, which overlooks a picturesque courtyard.
“In coastal Georgia, the marsh is a very dominant and beautiful thing that everyone admires, so that effort was all about catching those views,” Rentz explains. “With every space, our intention was to take the outside and bring it in.”
Once the design team had established an airy new layout, they got to work filling the spaces with light: opting for pale wood floors, bright white walls and trim and plenty of soaring glass windows that look out onto the marsh. “The wife wanted everything clean and light,” Peyer says. “She wanted a transitional look; not too contemporary, but also not traditional.”
The inspiration for the palette came from a photo of a light blue kitchen the wife had found in a magazine and admired. “At first I was skeptical,” admits Peyer. “But once I wrapped my head around it, everything went from there.” To provide contrast with the aqua-clad kitchen (accomplished in concert with St. Simons Island firm Simmer & Soak), Peyer chose a pink theme, infusing every room with blush accents–from the upholstered ottoman in the den down to the herringbone dining-chair cushions. Soft blues and dove gray also pervade the space, creating a sense of classic calm.
Still, Peyer knew the home needed brighter pops of color to make it less serious–like a vacation home rather than a main residence. So, splashes of coral on the kitchen banquette and in the wall art serve to invigorate the kitchen, while tropical green leaves in the upholstery and deep teal walls liven up the living room and powder room, respectively.
It was key that the home be able to withstand its beachy location, so Peyer deployed plenty of indoor-outdoor fabrics and durable natural materials, such as a jute rug in the living room that offsets the otherwise punchy palette. She also chose vibrant wallpaper (a blue lattice pattern in the foyer, an abstract motif in the solarium), as well as whimsical curtains (a fun floral in the guest room, a watercolor of indigenous birds and grasses in the master bedroom) to bring a more relaxed energy to the residence.
In the den, the designer went even bolder, selecting a teal velvet sofa and pillows, plus an armchair upholstered in aubergine–hues that also appear in the rug’s elaborate motif. “I wanted this room to be a little more masculine, with thicker, richer colors than the rest of the house,” Peyer says.
In spite of its playful touches, the home is not without glamour. Hits of aged brass in the light fixtures and the kitchen and bath hardware set a modern tone, while a recycled-glass chandelier–one of the wife’s favorite pieces–glitters to show-stopping effect over the dining room table.
In the end, both Peyer and the owners were thrilled with the outcome–not only because of the successful new design, but also for the relationship that blossomed as a result. “We are dear friends now,” Peyer reveals. Sea Island may have changed in the years since Peyer was a child, with new houses popping up around every turn and folks from all over the country flocking to its shores. But as a local saying goes, some things–particularly the “values of treasuring family, friends and nature”–never change. And this holiday home, it turns out, reflects exactly that.