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Suzanne Oliver


Back to the Beach: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

From our stone balcony eighteen stories in the sky, my mom and I shared the view with seabirds circling the condo tower. We saw fish darting in and out of the waves just feet from the shoreline, their bodies silhouetted against the ivory sand, and watched a group of kids sculpt an alligator, shaping the damp, soft sand with little hands. A sparkling strip of high-rise condos and hotels stretched into the distance, and because we had rented an end unit, we were also treated to equally impressive views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Turquoise Place Gulf Shores LargeThis feast for the eyes came courtesy of our four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot condo at Turquoise Place. Its two glittering glass towers rise high above Orange Beach, Alabama, like blue beacons calling to the world-weary and promising an unparalleled escape. It was the perfect setting for our girls getaway. We entered our condo through a large foyer that opened into a stunning, sun-lit space encompassing the kitchen, dining room, and family room. My mom opted for the adjacent bedroom with ten-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, while I laid claim to the master with an enormous en suite bathroom. Everything about the accommodations spoke of king-sized opulence.

Our favorite feature by far was our private balcony with its four-person hot tub and gas grill. We pictured ourselves hosting a gathering of family and friends, one manning the grill while the other scooped ice from the wet bar. We could easily have spent the entire vacation in our condo, watching free movies, tubing around the resort’s lazy river, and imagining lavish entertainments. But with so many other activities awaiting—dolphin cruises, parasailing, and golf cart eco tours—we finally, if reluctantly, left our luxurious quarters.

Soon after, I was seated in a kayak, paddling hard to keep up with my Down Under Dive Shop guide as we explored area canals on a two-hour tour. As we worked our way through mazes of marshland and past myriad sandbars, I searched in vain for turtles and frogs but never saw anything move. But as we crossed the Little Lagoon the_wharf_ferris_wheel_lgand paddled down a canal, under a bridge, and past a stand of stilted houses, my luck turned. We spotted a heron on a tree branch, an osprey in its giant nest, and a school of leaping mullet fish. There were even two pet turkeys gobbling away in someone’s backyard. My appetite for wildlife encounters whetted, I decided that next time I’d sign up for one of the company’s popular scuba classes and explore an artificial reef.

I thought I’d give my tender shoulders a break and do a little shopping at The Wharf, an outdoor mall with a giant Ferris wheel in Orange Beach. After browsing the specialty shops selling costume jewelry, nautical tableware, handbags, and hostess gifts, we stopped in at The Southern Grind coffee shop for a much-deserved scoop of creamy gelato.

We also stuffed ourselves silly with fresh seafood. On our first night, we feasted on garlic pepper calamari, grilled salmon with fried okra, and lemon cake at Coast, a fine-dining restaurant at The Beach Club. The next day we had lunch at The Gulf, a super-hip restaurant situated in repurposed shipping containers. Step up to the counter, order one of the killer cheeseburgers, and sit down at a picnic table overlooking the surf. For our final meal, we hit another local favorite, King Neptune’s. It’s the kind of place with a roll of paper towels on the table. No frills, just good food. Its known for its royal reds, big shrimp served with the heads still attached. Not being adventurous eaters, my mom ordered her customary coconut shrimp, while I opted for a platter of fried crab claws, a stuffed blue crab shell, and popcorn shrimp. We finished things off with a slice of fried cheesecake topped with a gooey praline sauce. Just the way every vacation should end.

More from Back to the Beach

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Ask the Expert: Hitting the Powder in North Carolina’s High Country

Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

Courtesy of High Country Host

Jim Cottrell, ski instructor and owner of the French-Swiss Ski College in Blowing Rock
Jim Cottrell, ski instructor and owner of the French-Swiss Ski College in Blowing Rock

Photograph by Todd Bush

Jim Cottrell, ski instructor and owner of the French-Swiss Ski College in Blowing Rock. This avid skier hits the slopes sixty to eighty days a year. He’s developed training programs for a wide range of clients, from Boy Scouts to Green Berets, and he literally wrote the book (Skiing Everyone) on ski instruction.

What sets this area apart?
The High Country is known as the ski capital of the South with the highest elevations in the eastern United States. Yes, higher than Vermont. There are three ski resorts within thirty minutes. Each has a different character, and all are worth visiting. Natural snow combined with machine-made snow ensures skiing from around Thanksgiving until late March. The High Country is a great place to learn to ski or snowboard and is within driving distance for most Southerners.

What’s the best way to prepare for a day of skiing?
Check the weather, and dress in layers for changing conditions. Eat well and stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Be sure to protect your skin and eyes, as there is a lot of glare and reflection off the white snow. Allow an hour of preparation time and carry a bag for all your stuff.

What time should you hit the slopes?
I almost always advise going early because it’s the least crowded and the snow is at its best. Again, watch the weather, as conditions change constantly. Snow sports are fun though, so if you are a late riser, it’s ok. Relax and enjoy.

Appalachian Ski Mountain
Appalachian Ski Mountain

Courtesy High Country Host

What’s your favorite run?
The mile-and-a-half run from the top of Sugar Mountain is my favorite. There are several options from lower intermediates to the steepest sections in the region. You can have a long run on a slope that matches your ability level. Personally, I like fast over steep, but you can pick the terrain that makes you smile.

What’s the best way to wind down afterward?
The scenery in the mountains is incredible, so slow down and enjoy. Chat with friends or make new ones. Winter sports are social, meaning the people who come to the slopes are there to have fun.

Fred’s General Mercantile

Where do the locals go for a brew and bite to eat après-ski?
The High Country has a lot to offer, seeing as it’s been a tourist destination since the 1920s. There are three ski towns within thirty minutes, and each has it après-ski favorites. In Blowing Rock, there are Canyons and the Bistro Roca Antlers Bar. The owners are skiers, and from Canyons, there are fifty-mile views, well worth the visit. Both have fun bars and good food. At Beech Mountain, try the Beech Tree Bar & Grille in the village or Jackalope’s View. At Sugar Mountain, there is a good bar in the base lodge and the German beer is a good choice. Nick’s is just down the road with lots of locals and music. In Boone, enjoy quaint dining at Joy Bistro, sushi at CoBo, and a Jean Lawson sandwich—turkey, marinated mushrooms, onions, green peppers and pepper cheese on a Kaiser roll—at Pepper’s.

When you’re not on the slopes, what other activities do you enjoy in town?
Local music, hiking, off-road biking, old-fashioned general stores, and great restaurants.

Take Five: Wineries

Biltmore Winery, Asheville, North CarolinaBiltmore Winery
Asheville, North Carolina

America’s most visited winery isn’t located in Napa Valley, as one might expect. Look instead to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in the nation. Some 600,000 visitors stop by the estate’s winery, situated in the converted dairy barn, to sample its award-winning varietals and blends like the Reserve Chardonnay and Blanc de Blancs. For a behind-the-scenes look, book an exclusive Vine to Wine Tour, available through October. biltmore.com/our_wine

muscadine grapesPerdido Vineyards
Perdido, Alabama

Appealing to Southern tastes, this husband-and-wife-owned winery cultivates fifty acres of muscadine grapes. After a free tour and tasting, take home a bottle of Rose Cou Rouge or “Redneck Rose,” a semi-dry table wine that is the winery’s claim to fame. Other favorites include Sweet Apple, Blueberry Jubilee, and Queen of Carnival (a cherry dessert vintage). Even the labels—designed by local artists and inspired by area events and locales—celebrate Alabama culture. perdidovineyards.net

Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery, Ronda, North CarolinaRaffaldini Vineyards and Winery
Ronda, North Carolina

This family-owned winery traces its roots back to fourteenth-century Italy. In fact, they chose the Yadkin Valley for its similarities to Tuscany. Known for its incredible scenery and Old World architecture, the “Chianti in the Carolinas” crafts outstanding Central and Southern Italian varietals, such as Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio. Learn about the creation of a bottle of Raffaldini wine from start to finish on a behind-the-scenes Private Label Tour, then enjoy a picnic on the piazza. raffaldini.com

Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Cleveland, GeorgiaYonah Mountain Vineyards
Cleveland, Georgia

Join the owner of Yonah Mountain Vineyards for a private tour of Georgia’s only wine cave and sample future vintages straight from the barrel (call ahead for availability). Afterwards, enjoy a full tasting of six wines at the nearby Sautee-Nacoochee tasting room and pick up a bottle of the celebrated Bordeaux-style Genesis blends. A multi-million-dollar expansion of the winery and cellar—including the addition of a new tasting room offering spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards—is scheduled for completion in December. yonahmountainvineyards.com

Three Sisters Vineyards, Dahlonega, GeorgiaThree Sisters Vineyards
Dahlonega, Georgia

Named after a nearby mountain, this family-owned farm, located just eight miles from the site of America’s first gold rush, is particularly known for its Fat Boy wines, available in a smooth pink, robust red, and citrusy white. Take home a Georgia Jug—three liters of sipping table wine (an off dry red and white blend)—for $43. Enjoy live music and barbecue with your favorite Fat Boy during popular Swine Wine Weekends through October. threesistersvineyards.com

Garden in a Globe


Whether you call them dish gardens, fairy gardens, or just plain terrariums, tabletop ecosystems are making a comeback. Today’s versions are more varied than the fishbowls you (or your mom) hung in macrame back in the 1970s. For example, Restoration Hardware’s holiday catalog includes a terrarium kit in a Mason jar with a tiny plastic deer. More serious gardeners are incorporating sculptural plants like succulents or bonsai to turn mini-landscapes into works of art.

Terrariums have become a signature item at Garden, a boutique plant store in Atlanta’s Westside that feels like an enchanted forest of lush tillandsia, philodendron, and orchids. Owner Matthew Klyn, whose creative outdoor landscapes first earned him notice with Best of Show at Atlanta’s Southeastern Flower Show in 2006, started focusing more on indoor gardening and retail plants when he opened his shop two years ago. Klyn fills glass vessels with mosses, ferns, and orchids as an alternative to a full-scale garden. “Not everyone can afford a $5,000 garden,” he says, referring to his residential design work, “but they can afford a terrarium.” Priced from $37.50 to $400, Klyn’s one-of-a-kind creations now account for about a third of his business.

To make one yourself, fill the bottom of a glass vessel with layers of vermiculite, rocks, and charcoal (which help drainage and air filtration). Poke in some small, richly textured plants, such as mosses, orchids, and episcia, and cover loosely with a lid. Condensation will bead up on the inside of the glass, making the landscape virtually self-sufficient. Succulents, on the other hand, require open-air containers and regular watering.

Watch Garden’s website and Facebook page for upcoming training workshops. And look for photos of Klyn assembling a terrarium on our website, atlantamagazine.com. Garden, 1080 Brady Avenue, 404-941-9154, gardenatl.com

This article originally appeared in our December 2012 issue.

Bobby Berk Home


Ikea? Check. Room & Board? Check. CB2? Check. And now Atlanta scores another of “Time Out New York’s” Top Ten Big Home Stores: Bobby Berk Home. Through storefront windows, pops of the retailer’s trademark orange entice shoppers inside the two-story, industrial space. The Midtown spot marks the precocious thirty-year-old designer’s third and largest location, complete with a section for babies and kids.

Berk chose Atlanta for its love of sophisticated design and vibrant urban environment. The Texas native, who started his career at Restoration Hardware and Portico Bed & Bath, is known for midcentury style and playful use of acrylic, stainless steel, and wood. One of his current favorites is a gray sectional sofa with tufted seating by Gus Modern. “It doesn’t feel like your parents’ sofa, but it’s a throwback to the fifties and sixties,” says Berk. (Starting at $1,999, it is also among the most affordable pieces at this moderately priced chain.) A signature piece, featured on both HGTV and Bravo, is Linvin’s colorful Queen of Love chair ($895), an exaggerated take on Louis XV style.

Bobby Berk Home
805 Peachtree Street, 404-874-3812, bobbyberkhome.com

This article originally appeared in our February 2012 issue.

Rare Reads at C. Dickens Books and Antonio Raimo Galleries


People who love to read may be using Kindles and iPads, but people who love books still treasure the romance, the nostalgia, the smell of the printed word. Rare editions hold extra appeal in today’s ephemeral era. “There’s something about holding a first edition in your hands that you know was produced the same year [the author] wrote it that can never be equaled by an e-book,” says Phil Grant of Atlanta’s C. Dickens Fine, Rare & Collectible Books & Maps.

As collectibles, books are a relatively stable investment. “Stock markets may go up and down, but the value of rare books doesn’t fluctuate,” says Grant, who’s been with C. Dickens for more than twenty years. “They’re rare in the same way an original painting is the rarest form of a work of art. There can never be another time those words were first placed on paper.”

Collectors seek first editions, signed copies, and original dust jackets. Books worth thousands can show up in bargain bins. “I know of one gentleman that picked up a signed copy of the first printing of Gone with the Wind for $75 in a box of books at a mom-and-pop store out in the country,” says Grant.

Antonio Raimo, owner of an eponymous rare book, print, and framing gallery on Miami Circle, says a first edition of Mark Twain’s first title, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County—the only known copy in its original dust jacket—was once purchased by a dealer for $1,800 and sold about an hour later for $100,000. Raimo, who collects children’s pop-up books, stocks about 20,000 volumes in many genres.

What determines the value? “It’s really not the age of the book that creates the value,” Grant says. “It’s the quantity that are available versus the popularity.” Condition, of course, plays a role, too. To preserve your library, don’t expose it to extreme heat or cold, Raimo advises. Don’t wrap volumes in plastic or store them in a damp basement. Avoid placing bookshelves across from windows, as direct sunlight can bleach covers and dry pages and bindings. Professional appraisals or Internet price comparisons can help establish resale potential, but memories are what make a book priceless. antonioraimogalleries.com, cdickens.com

This article originally appeared in our November 2011 issue.

Double Take: Bathroom on a Budget


Floral wallpaper and a flimsy shower curtain don’t translate to
masculine and durable—two priorities Faith Levy had for her boys’
bathroom, which the previous owner had added upstairs. The Levys’ third
priority was staying within budget, as the family was renovating three
bathrooms at once in their 1920s Druid Hills home.

Faith hired Roger DeWeese, owner
of the architecture firm The Haralson Group, after seeing one of his
projects in a magazine. For the upstairs space, she requested a current,
more mature look. And because her three teenage boys are tough on
surfaces, the materials needed to sustain wear and tear. “The bathroom
looked beat-up and dated, and the sloping ceiling over the shower made
it difficult to hang a workable shower curtain,” she says.

To keep costs down, DeWeese kept the existing countertop, tub, toilet,
and tile. This allowed them to spend more of the $8,000 to $10,000
budget on heavy-duty hardware and decorative accents such as glass
mosaic tiles.


For durability’s sake, “we installed additional standard white tile on
walls that were regularly exposed to moisture and scuffs,” he says. And
the vinyl shower curtain was replaced with a glass enclosure. New chrome
faucets and towel bars take a beating better than the old polished
brass ones, which really dated the room.

The wallpaper also screamed eighties, and the busy floral pattern closed
in the tight space. “We kept to a palette of light colors to visually
expand the small room, which has a skylight but not windows,” DeWeese
says. “Rather than go with a typical blue for the boys, we proposed a
gray-green and white palette. When [Faith] saw the finishes, I remember
the thoughtful look on her face as she said, ‘It’s so grown up.’ It was
one of those moments that all parents experience when they realize they
are losing their children to adulthood.”

Photographs by Lynn McGill

Hot Shop: Room & Board

On the wall inside the front door, painted in bold letters, is the slogan “Made by families, not factories.” It’s an apt description of Room & Board’s business model, which embraces the fine craftsmanship of furniture making. Eighty-five percent of its exclusive designs are manufactured in America, and price tags proudly note where each piece was made—whether it’s a leather sectional sofa from North Carolina or a steel-legged dining table from Minnesota.

The mix is modern, timeless, and, best of all, affordable. Sofas, for example, start at $799. One-of-a-kind accessories, such as vessels made from recycled glue or framed vintage museum banners, provide warmth and personality. A few iconic brands, including Herman Miller seating and Artemide lighting, add extra style.

Anchoring White Provision, a mixed-use development on the westside, Room & Board spans three floors and 34,000 square feet. Built circa 1910, the brick building housed a meatpacking factory, and there are original steel smoker shutters to prove it. Exposed ductwork, brick walls, and repurposed wood floors add to the industrial spirit. In fact, the revitalization is characteristic of the chain, as several of its nine stores are in historic buildings.

By working directly with the manufacturers, Room & Board is able to offer quick turnaround, low prices, and seemingly endless options, says Lisa Durham, retail market manager of the Atlanta store. They advertise “any fabric, any frame” and offer two design centers on-site stocked with more than 200 fabrics and eighteen different tabletops. The Linear Custom Cabinet collection, priced from $799, allows customers to pick a shell, type of wood, style of hardware, and number of drawers and/or shelves.

While the store doesn’t offer sales per se, it will host a clearance event in December, Durham says, to make room for new collections. But the best value has to be Room & Board’s white-glove delivery. The crew will unload a single item or an entire truck’s worth of furniture within the local delivery area for just $79.


ADDRESS/PHONE 1170 Howell Mill Road, 404-682-5900
WEBSITE roomandboard.com
HOURS Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday, noon–5 p.m.
TAG LINE Classically designed sofas, chairs, tables, case goods, beds, and accessories with a modern edge.

Photo courtesy of Room & Board

Real Estate: Condos, Going Once . . .

It’s no secret that
Atlanta’s condo market is both saturated and stagnant. Look at all the
dark windows in the nighttime skyline, says Jon Gollinger, cofounder and
East Coast CEO of Accelerated Marketing Partners (AMP), a national
residential real estate marketing and consulting firm that stages
auctions of new condominiums. “When you have declines that are this
dramatic, the market needs to determine value,” he says.

So far this year, AMP has conducted nearly sold-out auctions with
high-end Atlanta high-rises such as Aqua Midtown, Cosmopolitan at
Buckhead, Element, Horizon at Wildwood, and Tribute Lofts.

For the Cosmopolitan at Buckhead auction, for example, more than 250
bargain hunters filed into a local hotel ballroom and started bidding at
a reserve of $105,000 for one-bedroom units, which had original asking
prices of up to $299,500. At the end of the day, forty-three luxury
homes were sold at prices ranging from the low $100,000s for
one-bedrooms to $272,000 for a two-bedroom.

So will condo auctions gain more steam? “One day we’ll be unnecessary,
but right now, we’re essential,” Gollinger says. “I’m really, truly
looking at Atlanta as an arbiter of what I expect to occur around the
country.” Visit acceleratedmp.com to find out about current auctions.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

At Home With: Riccardo Ullio

Firm foundation: When Riccardo Ullio purchased his 1920s Craftsman ten years ago, he had to lay new floors, replaster walls, and even repour the foundation. “The whole house was crooked,” he laughs. “Even the windows were glued shut.” Still, restoring authentic historic details was worth the effort.

Family roots: Ullio decorates around heirlooms and artwork from family and friends. His friend Heather Knight sculpted the two ceramic pieces on the windowsill in his master bedroom. And the room’s Knoll beige chaise, designed by Maya Ying Lin, the artist behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was a rare auction find.

Mix of old and new: In a traditional setting of pine floors and Persian rugs, Ullio added modern touches with fixtures and hardware. For instance, he has two chrome lamps with glass globes and a chrome and crystal chandelier, both circa the 1960s.

From techie to foodie: At the age of twelve, Ullio moved from Italy to Atlanta. He earned a master’s degree in environmental engineering at Georgia Tech but ultimately decided he preferred the lifestyle of a chef, having worked in the food industry since high school. “You don’t have to wear a suit and tie,” he jokes.

Three menus: In 1999, Ullio opened Sotto Sotto, an authentic Italian trattoria. A year later, he opened Fritti right next door, which serves up wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas. Then the restaurateur launched another place in Midtown: Beleza, a Brazilian-inspired cocktail bar with a menu of small plates.

Cook’s kitchen: With the help of designer Matthew Rao, Ullio organized his spacious kitchen to include professional-grade appliances, SieMatic cabinetry, and conveniences such as a prep sink and butcher block. But the chef/owner rarely cooks at home, save for the occasional dinner party or a simple pot roast. He usually eats at one of his own restaurants, which he says is part of quality control. When he does prepare a meal in his own kitchen, he sticks to basics. “I don’t cook complicated food in my restaurants, so I sure don’t at home.

This story originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Atlanta magazine

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