This tranquil Gulf-front home is a sophisticated backdrop for life unplugged

Architect Julia Sanford, an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech grad, designed this home for Alys Beach home for an Atlanta family
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Photograph by Jack Gardner

At Alys Beach, every design decision begins with the view. Both floorplans and furniture selections aim to maximize the vista beyond the windows. Whitewashed architecture, understated landscaping, and a turquoise ocean have become the hallmarks of this upscale Florida Panhandle community.

At this vacation house for an Atlanta family, architect Julia Sanford (herself an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech graduate) located the living areas on the second floor to provide better views of the ocean. She also created a roof deck and an outdoor room by the pool—al fresco nooks that the homeowners love to use for entertaining. “When the house is full, there are 17 of us there, but it doesn’t feel crowded because Julia was able to carve out these other areas,” says the homeowner.

This vacation home has more than 4,000 square feet of air-conditioned space, plus almost half that much in outdoor rooms.

Photograph by Jack Gardner

A signature look at Alys Beach is the white roof, a tradition in Bermuda for catching rainwater, says architect Julia Sanford.

Photograph by Jack Gardner

Sanford was part of the original design team at Alys Beach, so she “gets” the concept. “Alys Beach design is restrained and classically beautiful,” she says. “It’s a minimalism that allows buildings to work together rather than compete with each other.” Visitors often compare the community to Bermuda because of the white-tile roofs and masonry exteriors, Sanford adds, or to Greek towns because of the restrained palette.

White oak floors and slipcovered linen furniture are recurring motifs throughout the house, but Sanford took neutral design to a higher level with some special features: pecky cypress paneling in the sitting room, hand-painted cement tiles in the summer kitchen, and lime-washed oak cabinets in the main kitchen.

Furniture includes custom pieces from her firm’s furniture line, Sublime Original, as well as items from Jacksonville vendors, where her company is located. “We definitely were going for a serene look, with a lot of bleached color and whites,” says Sanford. “The houses there want to capture the look of driftwood and the ocean and sand.”

A book-matched marble backsplash and lime-washed oak cabinets define the stunning—but subdued—kitchen. Custom Lucite barstools add sculptural interest. Oversized light fixtures from the Urban Electric Co. provide geometric simplicity.

Photograph by Jack Gardner

A custom suede sofa by Verellen was ordered taller than normal to appear proportional with the 14-foot ceilings in the sitting room.

Photograph by Jack Gardner

The homeowners enjoy hosting college friends and their families every year, which led to their request for four bedrooms that each accommodate a king-sized bed. “Each bedroom is compact, but has sufficient storage,” the wife says. Guests tend to gather in the common areas: the media room for sports and movies, the third-floor porch for Fourth of July fireworks, and the spacious living room with its view of the sparkling Gulf.

If the striking residence seems like a movie set, that may not be coincidence. Sanford has enjoyed a side career as an art director for movies and TV shows, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics broadcast and feature films like My Cousin Vinny and The Legend of Bagger Vance. “This house seems like a movie set—an ethereal space where ocean breezes drift through towering doors flanked in the softest of linens,” says Sanford. “This project was definitely a cinematic dream.”

A rooftop deck, above, includes a fireplace for year-round enjoyment.

Photograph by Jack Gardner

A concrete dining table and lightweight chairs fill this dining space. Practical white concrete pavers serve as flooring. Louvered shutters can be opened or closed depending on the weather.

Photograph by Jack Gardner

Community snapshot: Alys Beach
History Continuing the success of neighboring Panhandle communities such as Rosemary Beach and Seaside, the Miami-based urban planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk created this 158-acre, environmentally friendly beachside development in 2004.

Inspiration The residences evoke all sorts of cultural influences. All homes have private courtyards, such as those found on islands like Antigua. The stucco masonry and white-tiled roofs call to mind Bermuda, while Mediterranean touches are reminiscent of European cities. Unlike other beach communities where each house has its own architectural point of view, the all-white philosophy gives this little town a unified identity.

Price range Homebuyers can purchase their own lot (starting at $409,000 and surpassing $1 million) and work with the in-house construction team on a custom design, or choose a spec house. Prices run from $1.5 million to $3 million-plus.

Amenities The swanky Caliza restaurant is situated poolside and serves up local seafood and artsy cocktails. A fun start to the day involves a trip to Charlie’s Donut Truck—located in an old Sunbeam bread truck. Fonville Press is the town’s coffee shop, newsstand, and wine bar.

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

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