A collaboration between two strong talents is always a tricky dance. But architect Bobby McAlpine and decorator Susan Ferrier are like the Astaire and Rogers of the design world. As old pros who have worked together time and again, they make it look as blithe as can be.
Consider this beachfront manse they concocted at Alys Beach on the Florida panhandle—a white stucco getaway for a Birmingham family of six who gave them free rein. From the start, McAlpine knew that Ferrier was dreaming of a sumptuous interior with an exotic charge. Instead of competing with that vision, he created the perfect foil: a glamorous box, as coolly elegant as it is austere.
“It’s handsome but unfussy and under-embellished by intention,” McAlpine says. Architect Greg Tankersley adds, “It’s like a geode—plain on the outside, but when you break it open, it’s filled with all of Susan’s glittering treasures.”
The house’s crisp North African geometries fit in well with the rest of Alys Beach, the stunning resort town launched by the architecture firm Duany Plater-Zyberk in the early 2000s and still under construction. Its buildings are white by fiat. Their uncomplicated volumes of masonry and stucco are massed in a sculptural fashion, and the overarching design theme is a Bermudian-Moroccan pastiche that seems uncannily at home on the palm-studded Gulf of Mexico.
For the interior, the architects took their cues from 1930s Parisian department stores, designing loft-like rooms with reedy cast-iron columns, marble floors, and elaborate ceilings. In Ferrier’s hands, however, even hard surfaces like these are made to feel soft and warm. Her palette might as well be fog and starlight. She brought in banks of gauzy drapery and furniture with expressive curves. She laid fluffy white goatskin rugs on top of the mosaic marble floors and filled the rooms with muted metallic accents that flicker at night like candlelight.
“The mixing of silver and gold is the mantra in this house,” says Ferrier, who always wears silver and gold bracelets together, a trick she picked up from her Italian grandmother. “I’ve limited the color but amped up the reflectivity.”
Floating like a boat in the middle of the living room is a curvaceous whitewashed chaise with gilded paw feet. “I feel like that chaise is going to take you directly down the Nile,” she says with a laugh. Each piece turns up the volume on romance—the sinuous chesterfield sofa upholstered in smoky velvet, the mirrored coffee table, and the silvery-gold architectural fragment displayed like art.
The master bedroom is ensconced on the third floor, where beachy views abound. Ferrier furnished it with an iron bed that manages to be monumental, delicate, modern, and antique-looking all at once; she draped it in Prussian blue linen, and why not? Those who lie in it look directly out to sea.
From the spa-like master bath to the TV room with its roiling blue seascape, the message seems clear: Lounging with sparkle and style is this house’s raison d’être. Asked how she would use the slouchy-chic loggia, where a bronze Moroccan lantern throws off pinpoints of light as the nearby surf pounds rhythmically, Ferrier answers, “For cocktails or naps. I mean, wouldn’t you?”
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