When building a house at Alys Beach, Barbara Ashford, co-owner of Henhouse Antiques, craved a cozy place to escape with her husband, as well as a large home to welcome her family. Thanks to a creative architect, she got both.
ABOVE The home’s white stucco exterior conforms to Alys Beach’s design scheme.
“I want to walk in, say ‘ahhhhh…,’ and feel my blood pressure drop,” Barbara Ashford says of her new Alys Beach vacation house. With its sublime sense of escape, Alys Beach, a planned community along Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A from developers Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), wants all its residents and visitors to feel the same way. Its Bermuda-style architecture and courtyard-centered homes—all finished in dreamy white stucco—create intimate streetscapes that seem to transport you to another time and place, reminding Barbara and husband Leon of family vacations in St. Barts. “We used to go with two other families and take all the kids. We did that for years,” she says. “That’s where I got my inspiration—all those great family trips with our friends.”
To help Barbara and Leon capture that breezy island vernacular, the couple turned to architect Gary Justiss, a regular contributor to 30A’s new urbanist developments. “They were looking for a simple, classic home, and my work tends toward simplicity,” Gary says. The couple also asked for what might seem like contrasting ideas: an intimate getaway and a place that would welcome their entire family.
To give the Ashfords the best of both worlds—a one-bedroom vacation home for just the two of them, as well as room for family and an abundance of open-air spaces for lounging, dining, playing, and cooking—Gary designed a 2,600-square-foot structure with an additional 1,000 square feet of open-air terraces, loggias, and courtyard. The main level of the home includes a great room with living, dining, and cooking zones, and a master suite. Inspired by the Ashfords’ Caribbean travels, Gary added an exterior staircase just inside the open-air entry to take the three grown Ashford children upstairs to guest suites—one for each—and a nook of built-in bunks for the Ashfords’ four grandsons. “The outdoor staircase totally gives the second floor the feeling of a separate house,” Gary says, noting that it is heated and cooled separately from the first floor. “And it gives Barbara and Leon a one-bedroom home on the main level when they are here alone.”
On both levels, the new home is bathed in white, much like the community itself. Barbara, co-owner of Henhouse Antiques in Birmingham’s English Village, used her expert eye for design to choose a soft white for the walls, and she slipcovered her furnishings in white Sunbrella fabric. “It is the most practical thing,” she says, adding that four grandkids and white upholstery doesn’t sound like a good idea. “But if they spill something, I don’t flip out. I just throw the cover in the wash with bleach.”
The white hues also set a beautiful stage for antique pieces that pepper the property, providing visual texture and interest in each room. “I believe that even the most modern space needs one or two wonderful old pieces to give it a soul,” Barbara says. “Antiques create warmth. You don’t need a whole house full, but a few pieces keep a house from feeling sterile.”
The Ashfords’ beach house is far from cold or sterile—more like a breath of fresh air. “To me it is tranquil, soft, soothing, and peaceful,” Barbara says of her interiors. “This is our place to escape and get away from it all—a refuge. And a place to make wonderful memories with our family, much like those vacations to St. Barts. We can’t take everyone there, but we get that same wonderful feeling here. And it is much easier to get to!”
ABOVE LEFT Instead of hanging a traditional chandelier over the dining table, Barbara chose an oversize lantern from Portugal.
ABOVE Because of the open plan, architect Gary Justiss created two kitchen spaces—a show kitchen that is a part of the great room, and what he calls “the scullery,” a pantry space tucked behind. “When you have a kitchen that is such a part of the living area, it has an aesthetic duty to be attractive. This design minimizes any mess,” Gary says.
ABOVE LEFT The pairing of white with wood details continues in this bath.
ABOVE RIGHT In the master bedroom, the straight edges of the tester bed contrast detailed carvings of waves on the bench.
ABOVE “Antiques can make rooms from catalog-order stores look like a million dollars. I love contemporary and modern pieces, but mix them with one old piece and it makes a big difference.” — homeowner/designer Barbara Ashford
ABOVE RIGHT Built as part of Barbara and Leon Ashford’s home at Alys Beach, this concrete banquette piles on the comfort with plenty of pillows. “That is one of the brilliant things about Alys Beach. It is as close to hurricane bunkers as you can reasonably get, but it looks really elegant,” says architect Gary Justiss.
Embracing Alys Beach
The Ashfords were drawn to Florida’s new urbanist mecca, Scenic Highway 30A, when their children were small. After decades of vacations, they were smitten enough to make their vacation place permanent.
A WORLD AWAY “The first thing I noticed was how beautiful it is—the architecture and all the white,” explains Barbara. “It doesn’t feel like Florida. It has a European feel like Greece or the Mediterranean or St. Barts.”
INSIDE OUT Houses in Alys Beach are built to their property lines, with no space—save the 16 inches of concrete wall—between them. Rather than front porches or backyards, each house has a walled courtyard as private alfresco space. “The idea of zero lot lines is very counterintuitive,” architect Gary Justiss says. “You might think it would result in a loss of privacy, but it is the exact opposite. You create truly private outdoor space.”
DIVE IN “The Caliza pool at Alys is pretty special. I can see it from my window,” Barbara says. “Alys is still in an early stage of development so it just has a few things right now but the pool is amazing!” Gary adds, “The Ashfords are an easy
walk to the amphitheater, town center, George’s Restaurant, and the beach.”
Interior design: Barbara Ashford, Henhouse Antiques • 205.918.0505 henhouseantiques.com Architect: Gary Justiss • garyjustiss.com Builder: Alys Beach Construction alysbeach.com/real-estate/construction Community: Alys Beach, FL, 866.732.1760 alysbeach.com