Comfort on the Coast

Amid the bright white homes of Alys Beach, Ashley Gilbreath and Gary Justiss craft a classic home full of warmth 

ALYS BEACH’S BLEACH WHITE Bermudan architecture has made it a design icon—and Instagram darling—on Florida’s Emerald Coast. “The community is really known for its stark environment, but in the best of ways,” says interior designer Ashley Gilbreath. “The ‘Alys aesthetic’ is very monochromatic, very white and very clean.”

But what to do when a client with a penchant for traditional interiors tasks you with designing a home in this more modern enclave? It was a request Gilbreath and architect Gary Justiss were happy to oblige. “We really focused on highlighting the wife’s taste for warm and classic, while still including some contemporary Alys style,” explains Gilbreath.

The homeowners, a semiretired couple who split their time between Atlanta and 30A, came across the property midconstruction and scooped it up with a vision of creating the perfect seaside retreat to host their children and grandchildren. To accommodate their large family, Justiss, who was also the home’s original architect, added a fifth bedroom where a flat roof area was previously designated. In perhaps a stroke of serendipity, Justiss had already designed the space for expansion. “Structurally, it was always meant to handle a future floor,” he says.

For the interiors, Gilbreath used warm tones—like a rich cognac color repeated on a living room chair and velvet headboard in a guest bedroom—to mirror the coziness of traditional design. The couple’s existing art collection also provides a dose of color. Meanwhile, woven light pendants, driftwood accents and other interesting textures (the hallmark of thoughtful design according to Gilbreath) keep the home firmly rooted in its seaside locale.

Like many homes in Alys Beach, a zaguan entry gate welcomes guests from the palm-fringed cobblestone alley into the home’s pool courtyard. “Zaguans function as an entry hall, as you don’t actually have a foyer in the square footage of the house,” says Justiss. For this home, he and Gilbreath suggested wrapping the space in Ipe wood to create a warm and welcoming entrance.

“This was a big decision,” Gilbreath recalls. “Given its cost, we considered painted walls, but the Ipe wood was ultimately put back into the budget because it was really important to have those rich, warm tones as you enter to set the stage for the rest of the house.”

Aesthetics aside, zaguans are also key to the mechanics of a home in steamy climates. “They’re a common concept in South America, where courtyards are really considered rooms. Their true purpose though is to provide cross ventilation,” explains Justiss. A rear zaguan in this home, used as an outdoor cooking station, provides a path for breezes to cut through hot, still air in warmer months.

Folding glass doors from the living room open onto the courtyard, blurring the lines between inside and out and offering the couple and their family plenty of room to unwind. “And that’s really the intention of it all, right? Family,” says Gilbreath. “Families come down here to escape and make memories together, and we love providing the beautiful backdrop to make it happen.”

INTERIOR DESIGN Ashley Gilbreath, Ashley Gilbreath Interiors, (334) 262-3231; ARCHITECT Gary Justiss, Gary Justiss Architect; BUILDER Hufham Farris Construction, (850) 231-0332; LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE PLC Professional Lawn Care, (850) 231-1661