Sea Island Sophistication

It was only fitting that one of Billy Roberts’s largest commissions to date was for an Atlanta couple’s vacation home on Sea Island. The talented young designer spent the summers of his youth vacationing among the salty marshes, towering oaks and Addison Mizner-influenced architecture of the coastal Georgia oasis. “I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be asked to take on such an amazing project,” says Roberts. “It was also such a blessing because I was able to stay and spend time with my 98-year-old grandmother who lives on the island. My grandmother’s timeless style has always been one of my greatest influences.”

Roberts began his career studying garden design with local legend Ryan Gainey and then apprenticed under Atlanta interior designer Scott Laslie (whom Roberts credits with a “brilliant and sophisticated purity in style”) before making his design foray into Atlanta with Three Inc., a design firm fusing landscape, interior and architectural principles. Although currently operating solo under Billy Roberts Design, former Three Inc. partners Kacee Pyles and Kristan Moore assisted him with this two-year-long project, and his three-pronged holistic approach is evident throughout the interior bones of this 12,000-square-foot home.

It’s the indiscriminate layering of dressmaker details, though, that keep the scale of this old-world beauty from feeling overwhelming. Case in point is the nautilus pattern he designed for the foyer’s limestone floor, which has pride of place alongside the wrought-iron railings handcrafted by Andrew Crawford to look like blades of grass and topped with a white-washed pine banister. Roberts washed most of the walls with Benjamin Moore’s Heron White to reflect the ever-changing glow of the sunset over the marsh and accentuate his client’s extensive art collection. “This house’s inherent extravagance had to be balanced carefully with the client’s need for comfort without formality,” says Roberts.

The designer had worked with the homeowners previously on revamping their Buckhead town home, so they trusted him, he says, to make their beach retreat elegant but comfortable enough for their family, which had grown to include more than a handful of grandchildren. “The homeowner has exquisite taste, a love of color and an effervescent personality,” says Roberts. Accordingly, he infused the interiors with a watercolor palette and pops of his favorite color: green. He also designed slipcovers for the public spaces, specifying more durable outdoor fabrics for the dining areas and anywhere else the grandchildren might be playing.

Working from the outset with Atlanta-based architecture firm Harrison Design Associates allowed him the freedom to customize the interior bones. Roberts combined forces with Jennifer Orne to customize the architecture. “From the study’s custom paneling, bookshelves and all of the cabinetry, Jennifer is a genius in her drawings and refined detail,” Roberts says. He, Orne and the homeowners, for instance, chose to visually raise the living room’s 30-foot ceiling by creating a lattice pattern of white beams against an alcove painted a fresh Kelly green, a motif that is repeated in the kitchen’s ceiling, backsplash and diamond-patterned, whitewashed floors. He was also instrumental in creating the entry hall’s dramatic floating staircase, as well as specifying the addition of a balcony to the master bedroom, a priceless amenity considering the marsh views through the French doors. “I think the builder had it out for me by the end with all of the elaborately detailed work we asked of him, but because of his labored precision the house is truly a work of art in itself.”

The result of that collaboration is a house that’s utterly livable, with the entire first floor devoted to comfortable living and entertaining spaces anchored by two screened-in porches for enjoying the natural light and stunning views. “The sun setting on the marsh and the way it changes colors in the house was very influential in the design,” says Roberts, and likewise, the white walls allow for the natural hues, such as light blues, oranges and greens, to accentuate the home’s location, creating an interior composition as striking as the scenery it intensifies.

Billy Roberts, Billy Roberts Design, (404) 478-7195,

Harrison Design Associates, (404) 365-7760,