A True Work of Art
By Lauren Legé
Photography courtesy of Alys Beach
True to additive color theory, the stark-white town that is Alys Beach has become the region’s most colorful in terms of concept and design since its inception in 2003. The pinnacle of color arrives at white, just as the culmination of land, logic, talent, and elegance peaks at Alys Beach, a New Urbanist coastal town located along Scenic Highway 30-A in Northwest Florida.
The existence of such a town along the Emerald Coast is the result of a multifaceted equation; its variables are rooted in ingenious vision, cunning craftsmanship, and expert execution, all in perfect combination with the patience and financial breadth to outlast a six-year stretch of quiescence. The yield: Alys Beach—a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art.”
Purchased at auction by Elton B. Stephens in the late 1970s, Alys Beach is a 158-acre sanctuary of longleaf pines, deer moss, and sea oats along a sparkling emerald coastline. Having built his company, EBSCO, from the ground up, Stephens was a seasoned businessman with a mind for growth and a vision for opportunity. What started as the seed of an idea grew into what is now Florida’s—perhaps the South’s—most sophisticated town.
What started as the seed of an idea grew into what is now Florida’s—perhaps the South’s—most sophisticated town.
Planned by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company (DPZ), Alys Beach is a traditional neighborhood development, or TND. TNDs are planned at the human scale with the intention of creating value within the town by paying careful attention to the placement of its features. Close proximity to residential areas and mixed-use centers establishes the incentive to walk rather than drive to destinations, generating a deeper sense of community among residents. DPZ was already seasoned in the TND or New Urbanist style and no stranger to the Northwest Florida coast; its original and most famous TND is Seaside, located just a few miles west of Alys Beach and named one of Time’s ten “Best of the Decade” in the field of design for the 1980s. About a mile east of Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach is another successful DPZ neighborhood project.
Alys Beach is designed in such a way that all streets orient to the Gulf of Mexico, providing Gulf views and cool breezes. Alys Beach also stays cool by maintaining white roofs and walls to reflect much of the sun’s heat.
Marieanne Khoury-Vogt and her husband, Erik Vogt, are not only the Town Architects, but are also Alys Beach residents. They are the creative minds behind the community’s impressive infrastructure as well as the award-winning Caliza Pool and a growing number of single-family residences.
“All of the buildings at Alys are built to ‘fortified’ standards, as well as to the standards of the Florida Green Building Coalition,” says Marieanne. Achieving “fortified” status comes after passing an inspection by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), which launched a national program in 2000 to ensure homes are built with disaster-resistant features from the ground up. Every home in Alys Beach is registered fortified by the IBHS and will continue to be as they are built, making the town the first fully fortified community in the country. “The directive to be sustainable is wholeheartedly encouraged by EBSCO, our parent company, who believe that they should be excellent stewards of this beautiful land, as well as the different departments within Alys Beach, who try to incorporate good practices into their everyday operations.”
All of the buildings at Alys are built to ‘fortified’ standards, as well as to the standards of the Florida Green Building Coalition.
Rewarded with the Shutze Award by the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art and three-time winners of the Palladio Award honoring outstanding achievement in traditional design, Marieanne and Erik create contemporary structures with historical undertones—a sort of instant tradition.
“We would like to think that with every design assignment we tackle, we build upon the cumulative knowledge and experience gained from past projects, be it about typology or architectural style,” says Marieanne. “Designing at Alys since its inception has allowed us to become intimately familiar with courtyard building types. We have sought inspiration from many areas around the world, starting with Bermuda and Antigua, Guatemala.” She goes on to describe the three predominant types of houses at Alys Beach: the courtyard, the compound, and the villa. All three types are encouraged to incorporate courtyards into their designs.
The directive to be sustainable is wholeheartedly encouraged by EBSCO, our parent company, who believe that they should be excellent stewards of this beautiful land.
The courtyard type is very conducive to Florida’s climate and allows one to use this space and all attached galleries, porches, and loggias as additional livable rooms.
A courtyard house is a zero-lot-line house, meaning one can build all the way to the property lines, in essence, taking the space that would otherwise be given over to the side setbacks (yard spaces) and converting this to a private court. The building type can be organized around one or more private courts. This is a flexible type because it can shield the private, open space of a court from the more intense public realm.
A compound sits on a lot that is at least six thousand square feet, accommodating a single-family house that contains a cluster of buildings organized either around a central courtyard or around several smaller courts at the perimeter of the lot. Compound buildings are joined by perimeter walls, loggias, or galleries, allowing for the overall massing of structures to be modulated.
A villa or house is an all-edge-yard building type. This is what most Americans are used to—a single-family house on a lot with setbacks all around that may be shared by an ancillary building, such as a garage or carriage house. A courtyard is always featured in villa designs.
In just a decade, Alys Beach has made tremendous progress to become what is now a critically acclaimed design icon on the Emerald Coast. With its growing number of amenities, such as the Town Center, the Alys Shoppe, and the Amphitheatre, Alys Beach is becoming a thriving coastal community just like the villages around the world that inspired it.
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Lauren Legé is a local of the Highway 30-A community and has covered many stories for 30A.com. She is also a realtor at La Florida Coastal Properties based in Grayton Beach.