A Utopia of DesignAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Town architect Marieanne Khoury-Vogt shares the magic behind Alys Beach
Alys Beach is one of those special seaside destinations that must be experienced in person. Set along the shoreline of the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast, the integrally colored white stucco structures draw upon inspiration from the masonry walls and white-tiled roofs of Bermuda, the courtyard designs of homes in Antigua, Guatemala and the details of Mediterranean and Moorish architecture, leaving one breathless upon arrival. “I think Alys Beach is a perfect example of how attention to design has paid off,” notes town architect Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, a role she shares with her husband, Erik Vogt of Khoury Vogt Architects. “Alys offers a perfect balance of being able to participate in life as a whole and being able to retreat.”
Founded in 2004 by EBSCO Industries, Inc., the 158-acre property was designed by DPZ CoDesign, the world-renowned planning, urban design and architecture firm known for keeping design and nature top of mind. “When tasked by the owners to develop the master plan, DPZ spoke to residents from the adjacent communities of Seaside and Rosemary Beach to understand what lessons and new opportunities had been gleaned,” notes Khoury-Vogt. “More and more people were moving to the area full- time and desired homes that provided more privacy as well as the ability to partake in a shared public civic realm.”
The new urbanism direction coupled with the need for solitude drove the mandatory inclusion of courtyards inside every property. “All houses have courtyards that incorporate pools and/or fountains, or both,” she says. “We encourage the use of the covered zaguan hallways to the courtyard. The underlying inspiration is when you want to enjoy privacy, you can do that and when you want to partake in the life of the town, you open your gates as a signal that you are socializing. They also create cross ventilation and thus allow one to enjoy these outdoor rooms even when the temperature is quite warm.”
Another exceptional social element are the thoughtfully designed pocket parks inset into the ground throughout town that offer gathering places for residents to form deeper connections with one another. “The master plan calls for zero lot lines, and this can at times be unrelenting for the urbanism, so these parks and greens are welcome moments of respite,” notes Khoury-Vogt. “It’s not all building and masonry; we wanted to accentuate a visual vista or landscape.”
What makes Alys even more exceptional are the measures in place that protect the local environment. Recognized as the first town globally to receive the Fortified for Safety accreditation, each home is required to be built above and beyond standard code. “It gives our owners huge peace of mind when they don’t have to rush back during a hurricane because the high-velocity doors and windows and concrete bones are so strong,” she notes. “Additionally, we encourage owners to make good decisions when selecting materials, like no VOC paint. One of the most sustainable contributions we can make is to build communities that are enduring and thus don’t need to be repaired and repainted often.”
The landscape plays an equally important role in the overall visual impact as well as environmental responsibility. From the 20-acre land preserve that sits on the back of the property to the man-made lake that is fed by seven wells and recycled as the town’s main irrigation system, there is a deep respect for how development can enhance—not destroy—the surrounding habitats. Town landscape designer Kendall Horne has masterfully plotted local flora and fauna that enhance the architecture as well as edible gardens throughout that are available for public consumption. “From our soup garden, which features an array of herbs, to Mojito Alley, where residents can scour mint for their cocktails, each plant has a purpose,” says Khoury-Vogt.
Aside from the visionary design and gracious planning, what makes Alys irresistible are the top-notch amenities and annual programming. From the state-of-the-art Zuma Wellness Center and Caliza pool to the top-notch restaurants, wine shop, luxury retail and the Alys Beach homeowner-exclusive Beach Club, there is no need to leave the property. Each year the Alys Beach events team produces the 30A Wine Festival and the Digital Graffiti festival, which infuse the town with arts and culture all while supporting the Alys Foundation’s fundraising efforts, which benefit local nonprofit organizations. This level of urban planning, attentive design and conscious connectivity are what make Alys Beach one of the most distinguished destinations in the world.