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Destin, Florida, Home with a Calming Palette

At Leah Richardson's Florida house, seasdie clichés make way for cool, calm, and well-collected

Written by Mitchell Owens
  • Colleen Duffley

    When there's an ocean outside your windows, it's easy to succumb to seaside decorating clichés-plantation shutters, a trophy marlin over the fireplace, bowls of seashells by the bedside, books about Caribbean villas on the cocktail table. When interior decorator Leah Richardson moved from Atlanta to the Florida resort city of Destin a dozen years ago, however, she was determined to avoid all that maritime mania as she designed, built, and decorated the house she shares with her husband, Jim, an entrepreneur, and their daughter, Lauren, a college student. Though the interiors are as white and pure as a conch bleached by salt and sun, the only shells at the Richardson house are on the outside of the building. Literally.

    "My grandparents had a house on Jekyll Island, so I was very familiar with tabby," says Leah, referring to an old fashioned type of concrete made of oyster shells, lime, and sand that is a centuries-old construction material in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, where she grew up. " Florida has coquina"—a natural limestone speckled with small shell fragments—"but I wanted a house with large oyster shells," she adds. "The workmen weren't pleased with me at all, because the tabby work took three to four weeks, and each shell has to be hand-thrown on the walls."

  • Colleen Duffley

    That's not the only out-of-the-ordinary gesture in Leah's aesthetic arsenal. When she and her family moved to Destin, they chose to build on a hillside overlooking the city's bustling harbor rather than gravitate to a location on the more popular flanks of the Gulf of Mexico. "We looked at the beach, the bay, and the harbor, but there's just something about being downtown and having a bit of urban excitement," explains Leah. At the end of the day, for instance, she and Jim often head down the hill to their waterside terrace-glasses of wine in hand and their Yorkshire terrier, Rudy, scampering along beside them. There they can watch the fishing boats come in from a long day, loaded with pompano and tuna, and relax as the city's lights begin to sparkle against the wide and darkening sky.

  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley

    Terrace

    Life at the Richardsons' has an open-arms generosity to it, so the loft-like main floor, with its broad windows and covered flagstone terrace, is "just one big welcoming room," Leah says. "I've always liked large rooms, and it's easy to develop smaller, intimate spaces within that larger space."

  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley

    Living Area

    The kitchen and areas for living and dining are gathered beneath a vaulted wood ceiling with exposed beams, and sturdy fluted columns inspired by traditional Mediterranean architecture help define the multipurpose space. So does the single long step that separates the travertine-paved entrance area from the burnished wood floor of the main room; the walnut-stained heart pine planks were milled from the beams of an old Tennessee barn. 

  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley

    In fact, except for some brilliantly flowered cushions in her daughter's bedroom, the only color in the house that isn't white, the browns of natural wood and rattan, or the sandy beige of woven sisal is a shade of sage green so pale and elusive that it barely registers to the unsuspecting eye.

  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley

    "My philosophy can be found in Proverbs," Leah says. "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding, it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." And don't forget machine-washable slipcovers, too.

  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley
  • Colleen Duffley

    Homeowner Portait

    Lisa Richardson and Rudy perch on the tree swing.

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