Homeowner Carrie Zimmerman knows a thing or two about taking risks and winning big. After competing at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, she later became the first female American gymnast ever to score a perfect 10. (She went by her maiden name, Englert, at the time.) After college, she and her husband, Curtis, left promising careers at an ad agency in Atlanta to start their own firm. In 1987, they founded Tallahassee, Florida–based The Zimmerman Agency, an integrated marketing company with the largest public relations firm in the state. So it comes as no surprise that this couple took another large leap of faith when they were searching for a beach house along 30-A on the Florida Panhandle. They were planning to build, but on a whim, they looked at a newly constructed, fully furnished home in Seagrove and fell in love.
The sparkling white house had a few rustic elements—hand-scraped oak floors and hand-hewn ceiling beams—juxtaposed with contemporary Venetian polished-plaster white walls that made an immediate impression. “When you go to the beach, you want to be enveloped in light. That’s what I experience when I walk into this house. Everything is so pure and white,” says Carrie. “I knew it was right for our family after 15 minutes.”
The home, built by architect Ryan Duffey (formerly of Atlanta-based Summerour & Associates Architects, Inc.), is cast in cement to fortify it against hurricanes. The durable material calls to mind images of white cottages dotting the coast of Greece, so Ryan modeled the house after a Mediterranean seaside retreat. The impact this dramatic architectural style has on the interior is evident as soon as you enter the four-level home and are met by a concrete-and-stone stair hall that Ryan calls “the spine of the house.”
To keep the focus on the striking architecture—and that view—Atlanta- based designer Jackye Lanham of Jacquelynne P. Lanham Designs, Inc. kept the furnishings and finishes simple. “This is an architecturally strong house, and it’s on the most beautiful beach. So we wanted everything to flow very smoothly,” says Jackye. Wood floors boast cotton, linen, and wool area rugs; easy-care upholstered furnishings are slipcovered with natural-fiber textiles such as pale blue and green linens and muslins.
To literally top things off, there’s an 875-square-foot roof terrace, where the couple has hosted dinner parties for as many as 60 people. The ringing of a large bell summons everyone up to watch the sun set over the Gulf. “We were looking for property that would give us the opportunity to have a home just like this,” Curtis says. Looks like they scored big once again!
Get the look: The rooftop lounger, which is about the width of six chaises, was built directly into the pergola.
You might think of Palm Beach as a city of heirs, not writers. But James Patterson is no ordinary author. With 260 million books sold worldwide, he far surpasses John Grisham and Stephen King and holds the record for most entries on The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover fiction. This year alone he will publish 13 books.
James, 69, is a big name, and he has a big house to match— a 20,100-square-foot, five-bedroom confection built 88 years ago in the terra-cotta style favored by high-living Jazz Age Floridians. James admits he found its expanse “obnoxious” when he and his wife, Sue, first saw it three years ago. He worried that its grandiosity would be daunting, but he bought it anyway for its ocean views. “I’ll never love it from the outside,” he says. But he, better than anyone, knows not to judge a book by its cover.
The couple wanted the house to feel welcoming to an intimate circle of family and friends, despite its hulk. In response, their architect, Mark Marsh, and interior decorator, Cynthia Thomas, created a light, livable version of the traditionally dark and ornate Mediterranean rooms. Iron chandeliers and Cuban tiles share space with Tampa Bay Buccaneer jerseys and photographs of Muhammad Ali and the Kentucky Derby. “We wanted a home,” Sue Patterson says, “not a museum.”
The mahogany-framed windows are unusually large for a 1920s Mediterranean, inviting the beach light to twinkle on a white-coffered living room ceiling above a deep sea blue linen/velvet George Smith sofa. “We kept the rooms open and fresh,” Cynthia says. “We allowed them to breathe.”
Mark connected James’s office to an adjacent guest bed- room so that he would have a private place to read and rest. James often lays manuscript pages out on the bed. Otherwise he sits at a round, lightly distressed farm-style table with a view of the glinting Atlantic. (The lawn was raised four feet to hide traffic on South Ocean Boulevard.) “The thing about water is the texture and colors change every day,” James says. “It’s a different painting every morning and afternoon.” It is an improbably soothing scene for a man conjuring hit men and serial killers. On the other hand, it makes a fit- ting backdrop for a writer churning out beach reads.
"This little village house was an accidental discovery," says owner Bruce Irwin. "We were just meandering—making our way up winding streets overlooking the sea—and at every crossroad, we chose the way that took us further up the hill. As we went higher, the houses got smaller, the street traffic lighter. Near the top was where we found this."
The London-based interior designer and architect and his partner, Pedro Font Alba, call their home "The Snail House" for the way it is largest at the bottom, then winds and narrows as it goes up "like a snail carrying its shell on its back," Irwin says with a laugh. It's located in the small fishing village of Almunecar, Spain, perched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sierra de Tejeda mountains.
The quirky home, just 460 square feet, was a smart gamble. The pair got to work renovating it, removing faux timber paneling from the walls and clearing away dropped ceilings and extraneous interior walls (likely 1950s additions) that subdivided the already small rooms. And they were delighted at what they discovered: Three ancient stone vaults were behind the plaster. One framed the home's only bath, with a smaller one adjacent to that. The largest was an arched space, long and narrow, that the pair turned into their kitchen. "The feeling of warmth in this room is incredible," says Irwin, who added small, modular furniture to keep from overwhelming the stonework, and contrasted the earthy walls with Moroccan floor tiles. "They're durable and, like the stones, they keep the room cool."
The same patterned tiles ground the sunny living room in color. The rectangular space runs parallel to the kitchen and is just 8 feet wide at its largest end. "It's a corridor, really!" jokes Irwin. But rather than focusing on the room's limited square footage, "we wanted to highlight the building's character," says Irwin, noting that the ceilings are around 11-feet tall. The walls throughout the house are very thick, too—a full yard in some places—and a window had been carved into the one separating kitchen from living room. The pair added a marble sill to the deep shelf, turning it into a space-saving bar and highlighting the walls' depth as an architectural element. "We also lowered the windowsills in this room so that they could double as window seats and bring in more natural light," Irwin says.
The couple painted the walls in the living area, entryway, and bedroom white, and then framed a doorway and the bar shelf with whimsical, sea-green murals. "We drew the patterns on the wall ourselves, using our largest dinner plates to trace the circles," notes Irwin.
Similar wall flourishes appear upstairs in the bedroom, where a periwinkle mural contrasts terrazzo tile flooring that mimics the look and feel of beach sand. The petite sleeping quarters make for a charming pass-through on the way up to a walled rooftop terrace with 180-degree views of the Mediterranean Sea.
"It's a magnificent vantage," says Irwin of the rooftop terrace. "Looking down to the east and west, you can see all the coves along the coastline, including a small lighthouse built during the Moorish period. So many layers of the town's history are visible from up here."
And the view isn’t the home’s only gem, says Irwin. “There were so many hidden treasures inside, things we never saw the first time we looked. We unearthed beautiful 18th-century bottles, big buried shells—this little place offered up more than we hoped to find here."
Can one imbue a new house with an old soul? That was the issue confronting Thad Truett, a St. Simons Island-based architect, three years ago as he prepared to design an oceanfront home on Sea Island, Georgia, that would reflect what he calls the "Old Sea Island Mediterranean" architecture of the surrounding community.
His clients had lived in a series of period homes, including a South Georgia plantation house and an Atlanta town-home. The couple hired Thad to create a brand-new beachfront haven, but one that would fit seamlessly among the island's stock of Mediterranean-style houses, many of which date to the 1920s. They wanted a residence that would echo the brickwork and terra-cotta roofs of Casa Genotta, the 1932 home built by playwright Eugene O'Neill, which sits just two blocks away. This is not the high-style Spanish of Palm Beach, 360 miles to the south, but is instead a more rustic version that marks the northern reach of Spain's colonization along the Eastern Seaboard.
For all its careful attention to history, the house is not a museum. On the contrary, the clients sought to mix their home's traditional architecture with some subtle modern touches. The design contains a convenient open living area anchored with comfortable upholstered pieces and light sisal rugs, rather than the Oriental carpets topped with heavy, wood-framed settees that are more often associated with strict Mediterranean Revival style. Atlanta-based interior designer Susan Lapelle, who worked with the couple on two previous homes, found ways to incorporate antique pieces but update them for a fresh feel.
Truett also went to great lengths to produce the kind of crafted details that confer a sense of authenticity, with help from photographs the homeowners had taken of doors, gates, iron lanterns, and other old-world details while on a trip to Spain. The black ironwork of the front gates, chandeliers, and balustrade was custom-made in the traditional manner by Charles Calhoun, an Atlanta metalworker. He forged and hammered pieces of iron to match the patterns that Truett had sketched. The home's steel window frames were fabricated in England with the same bluish-gray tint found in Sea Island's original houses.
It’s all about light and luxury in the master bedroom, where a vaulted ceiling and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows yield an airy space with gorgeous water views. Lapelle chose slightly off-white bed linens for a soft, neutral look. A pair of vintage French club chairs, upholstered in pale green fabric by Cowtan & Tout, offers a cozy reading perch with plenty of natural light streaming in, while an Oushak rug by Allan Arthur Rugs further softens the warm hardwoods.
The faithful attention to tradition extends to the grounds, where landscape designers Alex Smith and Carson McElheney of Atlanta created a formal entry garden enclosed by clipped boxwood hedges and Meyer lemon trees in aged Italian terra-cotta pots. A limestone fountain stands centered on a long view from the house, framed by a windswept cypress tree.
On late-summer evenings, the family gathers with drinks on the poolside back porch. They look out through the lime-washed brick columns and a stand of palm trees to views of the moon suspended over the ocean. Formations of pelicans patrol the beachfront, and an occasional pod of dolphins passes by the island in the distance. In the hush of dusk, the setting is indistinguishable from gatherings on the same stretch of beach 80 years earlier, just as the family had intended.