Ideal Escape

Two Atlantans design their dream vacation home along the crystal waters of Florida's Gulf Coast

In community planning, as much as interior design, the best results are born out of pure vision—collected from various influences over time, woven from a thread of collective memory and cultural meaning. Each fragment that shapes the individual experience helps tell a story, too.

That’s the feeling that imbues Bill Musso and Bryan Cooke’s Alys Beach home—and the pieces they’ve put in it. “For years, it’s like we were buying things for a house we didn’t have,” says Musso, an Atlanta designer. “But it all kind of worked out in the end. It’s like it was meant to be.”

For Musso and Cooke, like many of the homeowners who have stakes here, Alys Beach is precisely the place they were dreaming of. One of the newest Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TND), the planned Gulf Coast community is quickly becoming the ultimate getaway for discriminating Atlantans. A sanctuary of calm from the life chaotic, it’s filled with Caribbean-influenced homes that reflect a fusion of architectural styles ranging from Moroccan to West Indian—all executed with elegance and simplicity.

It was while driving down Highway 30A in 2007—Musso’s first trip to the Florida panhandle—that he and Cooke stumbled upon the town’s stark white facades. Having lived and worked in locales ranging from New York to London, and traveled frequently both stateside and abroad, the two knew a gem when they saw one.

“Everything the developers have done is with so much thought; the level of detail here is amazing,” Musso explains.

The four-bedroom spec home they purchased—just a two-minute walk from the shore—was the first residential property built in Alys Beach. But, while it was an excellent rendition of the Alys vision, the designer admits that “it was a little vanilla.” His solution: to play up the simple architecture by adding built-ins, wallpaper and a cook’s-quality kitchen fashioned from streamlined, locally sourced walnut cabinetry.

Throughout, the interiors reflect the serenity of this dreamlike destination. A mix of fresh blues, greens and neutrals with just a hint of glitz—in the form of blown glass, mother of pearl and hand-painted floral fabrics—underscore a vision fully realized. The result boasts enough beachy style to bring reprieve and just enough urban sophistication to make the Atlantans feel right at home. “I wanted it to flow,” Musso says. “I wanted to be able to walk in the front door and walk out again and feel at peace.”

To keep the vibe calm, accents were chosen with careful consideration. Many, in fact, had been stowed away for years, awaiting proper placement. “We had these old lanterns for about three years, but didn’t know where to put them,” says Musso of the antique sconces now casting a glow in the summer kitchen. The work on canvas over the living room mantel, by Provincetown artist Anne Packard, is probably Musso’s favorite art piece—and not only because he purchased it at a very good price through an Atlanta dealer. Just as artfully, a collection of 14 photographs by Dutch artist Ron Van Dongen, picked up years ago at Jackson Fine Art, add graphic interest and individuality to the formal dining area while a prized pair of Mid-Century Klismos chairs gets a new lease on life with fresh fabric.

Musso’s favorite spaces, however, are the ones that make the most of the outdoors’ breathtaking beauty—like the summer kitchen and gracious living room, complete with five sets of French doors that open wide, letting in crisp ocean breezes and showcasing the view. It’s an invigorating feeling, which is why the designer banished all distractions—like a TV—from the living space. “I didn’t want the rooms to be so overly done that you lost the sight of the views,” he says. “Why compete with them?”

INTERIOR DESIGN, Bill Musso, Musso Design Group Inc., (404) 873-1773,