A Show House Revival
By Lynn Nesmith | Photography by Jack Gardner
Coastal sensibilities and a sophisticated ambience distinguish this most recent incarnation of a storied house nestled amid the dunes overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in WaterSound Beach, Florida.
The provenance of a house can often be a reflection of the history of the place. The old saying “If these walls could talk” usually implies hidden confidences that occurred within. However, it is the story of how this home in WaterSound Beach, Florida, so accurately mirrors the dramatic ups and downs—and ups again—of the volatile real estate market along Scenic Highway 30-A that is noteworthy.
The house was original built in 2004 by The St. Joe Company as a show house for Southern Accents magazine and as a benchmark for the aesthetics of the budding community of WaterSound Beach. Designed by New York architect John Kirk of Cooper, Robertson and Partners, the house drew inspiration from the grand waterfront homes of the Shingle style, without forsaking the charm of more modest seaside cottages. The original interiors were the handiwork of Atlanta designer Suzanne Kasler.
The design readily nods to the architecture of the northeast Atlantic coast. An animated profile, graceful proportions, and engaging materials of the classic Shingle style instill its distinctive character, yet the house is clearly rooted in the practicalities of the Southern vernacular traditions in the Florida Panhandle. The widow’s walk, upper balconies, bay windows, and gables allude to romantic illusions of historic seaside resorts of New England, while deep wraparound porches, sheltering overhangs, and breezeways are a direct response to the Gulf Coast climate.
During the summer of 2004, the house was open to the public for tours, introducing thousands of tourists and locals to WaterSound Beach. An eager speculator quickly bought the house at the top of the market.
A client was looking for properties as an investment. He immediately saw the potential and made the decision to buy the house in less than thirty minutes.
Fast-forward to 2013. No need to recount the ensuing years, which were not the happiest chapters for our area. But by July 2013, the tide was turning. “A client was looking for properties as an investment,” recalls real estate agent Erin Oden of Coastal Luxury Group. “He immediately saw the potential and made the decision to buy the house in less than thirty minutes.”
The exterior of the house hadn’t lost its luster, but cosmetic interior renovations were in order. Soon, designer Erika McPherson Powell of Urban Grace Interiors was on board to return it to its former glory. “From the beginning, our objective was to freshen up the house and make it marketable,” explains Erika. “Unlike a magazine show house that’s all about eye-catching details and current trends that look good in photography, our goal was a subtle and sophisticated look that would appeal to everyone.”
First and foremost, it was to remain a beach house with a welcoming connection to its setting. The outdoor spaces boast a distinctive personality, fostering a year-round relationship with nature. Deep front porches embrace the start of day, and an octagonal second-floor veranda takes in views of the dunes and the Gulf, while a generous widow’s walk seizes the glory of the setting sun.
Erika made changes where necessary but retained the original detailing when appropriate. The rooms are filled with soothing and subtle furnishings and fabrics that enhance the original architecture and suggest a certain way of living—one that is appropriate for this place by the water—a relaxed, coastal sophistication. The recurring theme adopts an easy and effortless transition from interior rooms to intimate porches and generous outdoor living rooms and, ultimately, to the sand and water beyond. Rather than a formal front door, oversized double doors open from the porch into a foyer that also functions as the dining room. “A round table encourages an easy flow through the space and is better for conversation,” says Erika.
The interior spaces are arranged in a contemporary response with rooms flowing from one to another. With a sense of ease and intimacy, subtle details and corresponding colors define the various spaces. None of the rooms is grand in scale. The glamour comes from fine craftsmanship, muted colors, and relaxed furnishings that are high end but chosen with comfort and durability in mind.
Furniture and fabrics reflect a welcoming exchange between indoors and outdoors, with a gentle palette of clear, cool colors inspired by the sand and the sea. Shades of pale blues, aqua, and creamy whites abound. The original oak floors with their whitewashed effect remain the perfect complement to the furnishings and accessories—appropriately casual yet utterly sophisticated.
Shades of pale blues, aqua, and creamy whites abound. The original oak floors with their whitewashed effect remain the perfect complement to the furnishings and accessories.
The spirit of the house converges in the kitchen and sunny breakfast nook, where Erika made a few changes intended to deliver the biggest impact, such as adding clear-glass cabinet doors and a Calcutta marble mosaic tile backsplash in a classic plaid pattern. The island was painted gray, and the cabinets were coated with a fresh shade of white. Double doors open onto the porch, which is outfitted with a table for alfresco dining. Upstairs, the palette of soft colors and air of casual elegance continue.Legacy House - walk through from VIEzine on Vimeo
All genuinely good buildings draw you back time and again. The renovations were completed on schedule, and the house was back on the market by Memorial Day 2014 as planned. Coming full circle again, the house sold in less than a week and for nearly the same price as it did in 2004. This time, however, the new owners were looking for a beach home for their own enjoyment, as opposed to an investment property.
Blessed with a commanding setting that overlooks rolling white dunes and endless emerald waters, this house is basking in the immeasurable possibilities of an excited new family looking to set down roots in WaterSound Beach. It’s certainly a happy ending for a house with a colorful past.
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