Light and Neutral Design

By layering neutral colors, cool textures, and lots of natural light, architect Bobby McAlpine and designer Susan Ferrier created a Florida beach house that’s refined yet relaxing.

Light and Neutral Design: About the House

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

About the House

Style: Dutch Colonial-inspired home with elegant but casual interiors that stand up to family life

Space: 4,800 square feet spread over three levels, with five bedrooms, six baths, an open living/dining area, and a downstairs den

Setting: The white sands of Rosemary Beach, Florida, just off scenic Highway 30A between Panama City and Destin

View: The shimmery blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Light and Neutral Design: Their Style

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

Their Style

Architect Bobby McAlpine and designer Susan Ferrier know a thing or two about beach houses. The design duo has completed about 40 seaside projects on all U.S. coasts, as well as the Caribbean. But all it takes is one glimpse at this Rosemary Beach, Florida, house to grasp that their coastal style is anything but typical.

Instead of nautical stripes, kicky colors, or shell-themed accessories, Bobby and Susan are known for a refined mix of muted shades with gradations from room to room; layered textures such as distressed wood and soft, organic fabrics; and clean lines found on everything from gridded panes of divided-light windows to pared-down versions of traditional furnishings.

Light and Neutral Design: Living Room

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

Living Room

Susan’s interpretation is that the decor doesn’t always have to be beachy with a capital B to instill that relaxed, calming vibe everyone wants by the water. “There isn’t a theme here, but there is a respect for the surroundings,” she says. In the living room, light and airy sky blues, creamy whites, sandy taupes, and driftwood grays are tempered with an occasional shot of earthy brown for an ethereal yet grounded mix.

For the furnishings, Susan chose pieces scaled to suit the large room and its 18-foot ceilings without overcrowding the open area directly across from the dining room. For example, she paired a long, low sofa with two soaring column-based floor lamps but, instead of a space-hogging coffee table, opted for a pair of smaller pieces that easily can be moved during parties.


Light and Neutral Design: Stairwell

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck


In the stairwell, a tall mirror reflects the natural light that floods through the casement windows.

Light and Neutral Design: Dining Room

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

Dining Room

Because the homeowners have four children and love to entertain, the dining area was designed to accommodate a crowd. The star here is always the beach, so the 12-foot-long table, low, neutral chairs, and backless benches don’t block the view. “There is a lot of architectural pattern in this room—the grid of the windows, the ceiling beams, and the cross-sections below the table,” Susan says. “There’s no reason to complicate the space with fussy fabrics.”

Light and Neutral Design: Kitchen

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck


The kitchen design combines beautiful materials with practical functionality. Pecky cypress on the cabinets lends sea-inspired texture—as though the wood washed ashore, battered by salt, wind, and sand, says Susan. A custom concrete sink adds to the organic feel. In contrast to the rustic cabinetry, the Calcutta gold marble countertops and mosaic-tile backsplash are smooth and glossy. The black metal scrollwork and white shades on the light fixture, a find from the South of France, play off the room’s balance of light and dark. Barstools slipcovered in slick outdoor fabric wipe clean in a snap.

Light and Neutral Design: Master Suite

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

Master Suite

“A lot of master bedrooms become lady-rooms,” Susan says. “This one isn’t.” To strike a careful balance between the masculine and feminine, she paired a dark wood desk and clean-shaped, upholstered bench with a lighter custom headboard upholstered in a blue-and-cream print that is repeated in the bedskirt. Tailored linen draperies and Roman shades offer a soft contrast to the planked paneling, which Bobby likes to use in high-traffic areas such as beach house bedrooms. “They’re very forgiving,” he says. “You start out with something imperfect, and it only gets prettier with more nicks and knocks.” The chaise was custom made to fill the window nook. “That is prime real estate, so you want a sweeping gesture, something that takes advantage of the whole space,” Susan says. “Two people can curl up there and enjoy the view.”

Light and Neutral Design: Master Bath

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

Master Bath

This house celebrates the best of what the coastal landscape offers: tranquil color, comforting texture, and romantic light.

Light and Neutral Design: Designer Tricks

Photographer Tria Giovan; Stylist Heather Chadduck

Designer Tricks

Run draperies along the wall behind a bed for a luxurious contrast to planked wood paneling.

Bobby and Susan dress beach house beds in light-colored linens that won’t fade in all that sunlight.

Shop the look: Drapery fabric, Lewis & Sheron

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