This inviting rental on Florida's Panhandle spurs vacationers to revamp back home.

By Logan Ward Styling by Elizabeth Raines Beeler
August 26, 2005
Jean Allsopp

Along with suntans, seashells, and sand in their shoes, Keith and Brenda Adams returned from a week at Rosemary Beach, Florida, with a mission. "The day we got home to Mississippi, my wife said to me, 'We've got to get this kitchen in order,'" says Keith. "We now have a remodeling project inspired by a vacation rental house."

Maybe it was the kitchen's island, a 4- by 10-foot slab of honed limestone resting on a handcrafted wooden base, or the island's retro stools. Maybe it was the professional-quality range flanked by cabinets glazed with wavy antique panes. Or the walk-in pantry, where clutter stays out of sight. Taylor Cottage's kitchen-and a big round dining table with a lazy Susan-so enamored the Adamses that they didn't bother with restaurants. "We cooked every night," says Keith.

Part of the Caribbean-influenced community of Rosemary Beach, known for its charming, boardwalk-front homes, Taylor Cottage showcases the creativity of owners Cindy and Wes Taylor of Birmingham, Alabama. The place was designed by hometown architect and friend Bill Ingram and built by Wes, a commercial contractor. It's a vision of simple elegance, from the portico's Tuscan columns to the four-sided screened porch-with ceiling fans, teak furniture, and porch swing-set atop the carriage house. On the ground floor, where the kitchen flows into living and dining areas, antique cypress beams add rich texture to the towering ceiling, and six sets of French doors open to welcome sea breezes.

Despite its designer looks, this 3,000-square-foot Gulf Coast rental, located 20 miles west of Panama City, is beach-house practical. Couples can choose from three large, equally well-appointed bedrooms (though one does have a porch), while children favor the third-floor game room with four built-in beds. "Even with a lot of people, the house does not feel crowded," says Cindy, the mother of two teenagers.

Guests flop down on a handsomely eclectic assortment of furniture done in light woods, brightly painted colors, and beachy wicker. The items were hand-picked by the owners, inveterate browsers of antiques shops and design stores. Outside, a hot-and-cold shower with a slatted teak floor and white outdoor-fabric curtain awaits sandy, salt-crusted beachgoers.

"It's not some rental where everything is bolted down," says architect Bill Ingram, who has stayed at the cottage. "You feel like you're a guest in somebody's house." Pictures of the Taylor children decorate tabletops, and family photo albums line shelves.

And because the Taylors are not around when renters are, Cindy keeps a scrapbook on hand filled with menus, brochures, and maps to answer questions about eating out (try the grouper at Blue By Night), renting bikes (Bamboo Beach and Bicycle Company delivers) or booking a tee time (call Tom Fazio's Camp Creek nearby). If a restaurant isn't on par, her notes say so. "If you're coming from somewhere else, how will you know which places are a waste of time and money?" she says. And how else would guests find "the best Key lime pie I've ever had" just seven minutes away-"I timed it," she says-at Buddy's Seafood.

Despite Cindy's recommendations, the Adamses stayed close to home. When they weren't hanging out in their dream kitchen, they chatted with passersby, rode the breeze on the porch swing, and sat on the beach until the sun turned red-orange and resort crews packed up the umbrellas. "You hear of comfort food," says Keith. "This was a comfort house."

(published September 2005)