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The Path Home

By Amanda Crowley | Photography by Kurt Lischka

Interior design is about more than paint colors and furniture. It helps infuse the very character of a home, inviting families to connect and friends to linger. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for inspired design; rather it requires skill, hard work, and just a touch of magic.

Sugar Beach Interiors of Miramar Beach, Florida, has been conjuring its unique brand of magic for thirty years, specializing in distinctive design that reflects each client’s lifestyle and personality. It’s an approach that has served owner Karen Waterfield well since 1986. “When we started, the area was very bare,” she recalls. “There were only two furniture stores. The market was wide open, allowing Sugar Beach to get in on the ground floor.”

Outdoor patio Savoie Architects Sugar Beach Interiors

The company’s evolution has paralleled the surrounding area’s expansion (and contraction) over the years. Now that the economy is back on solid ground, Sugar Beach Interiors is once again tackling projects as far away as Louisiana. But there’s something extra special about completing a job close to home—like the firm’s recent work on Vermillion Way in WaterColor, Florida.

The endeavor reunited Waterfield with old friends and colleagues. She’d previously worked with the homeowners, as well as builder John Brown of Gulfview Construction and architect Matthew Savoie of Savoie Architects, all of whom she calls “fabulous.” This reteaming came with the added bonus of the house itself: a five-bedroom, seven-bath residence with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico.

While many people think of interior design as simple aesthetics, Waterfield works with builders and architects to fine-tune physical elements of a house from her client’s point of view. How the family will move through the space and which furnishings will function best are just two of the aspects considered. This constant communication between project leads ensures an exceptional finished product.

Exterior home view Savoie Architects Sugar Beach Interiors

During the Vermillion Way project, Waterfield met monthly with the homeowners, Brown, and Savoie. The get-togethers not only kept the project on schedule, but kept the pros focused on their clients’ happiness. For Waterfield, that meant fulfilling requests like beetle kill pinewood, found in the homeowners’ native Colorado, whose unique grain transformed a utilitarian powder room into a stunning space.

Waterfield coordinated everything from large-scale installations, such as custom-built cabinets and barn doors, to seemingly small details like doorknobs. Her clients trusted her keen eye and were open to a variety of ideas, as long as they didn’t include anything traditionally “beachy.”

The clients were very clear on one aspect: as parents of a child with disabilities, their home had to be easily navigable for their son. His needs were part of every decision, resulting in full accessibility to every room, an interior elevator, and exterior ramps.

Doorway with chandelier Savoie Architects Sugar Beach Interiors

Savoie and Brown collaborated with Tom Stilp of Arcways to strategize the stairs’ cantilevered structure and riser components, as well as the handrail system and its attachment. The finishing touch: a suspended light fixture that complements the under-lit staircase and illuminates all three floors.

Once the entire family’s needs were carefully considered, Sugar Beach Interiors could concentrate on the family’s wants—like the showstopper main staircase. Savoie and Brown collaborated with Tom Stilp of Arcways to strategize the stairs’ cantilevered structure and riser components, as well as the handrail system and its attachment. The finishing touch: a suspended light fixture that complements the under-lit staircase and illuminates all three floors.

Everything about the project speaks to the way Sugar Beach works. The team strongly believes in cultivating relationships and making themselves available to clients. Because Waterfield lives on the Emerald Coast, she’s able to pop into a project site to meet with the client, builder, or architect when the need arises.

She’s found that taking the time to familiarize herself with a client’s sense of style also leads to smoother sailing. That’s why, even before an initial meeting, Waterfield suggests that homeowners browse Sugar Beach’s Houzz.com account and save ideas to a Pinterest page. Looking through color preferences and design pieces that speak to a client gives Sugar Beach a solid jumping off point.

Next, Waterfield and her team dig into the big-picture essentials, asking clients how the home will be used, how and where they entertain, and about any unique needs. “Understanding how the home is utilized allows me to lead the client down the right path,” Waterfield says.

Getting to know the client is one part of the equation. Recognizing how to pair that information with relevant interior design elements is another. The Sugar Beach team keeps their arsenal of tools fresh by attending the furniture industry’s major fall and spring markets. Like fashion shows, interior design shows preview trends before they’re introduced to consumers. So Sugar Beach clients always have access to the latest products.

The number of decorators on the Emerald Coast has increased significantly since Waterfield launched Sugar Beach three decades ago. The key to deciding on a professional within the crowded field is to look for a licensed interior designer, she advises, especially when it comes to substantial, potentially lengthy remodels. Waterfield emphasizes that licensed designers can save time, money, and regret.

A long list of clients can attest to the benefits of using the licensed designers at Sugar Beach, including the opportunity to discover a style they never knew they loved. The firm presents options ranging from conventional to innovative, Waterfield explains, but cookie-cutter plans aren’t part of their portfolio. “We challenge homeowners to take a different path,” she says.

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