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Beauty and Conservation in Alys Beach

The resort town of Alys Beach is a study in beauty and conservation.

Written by Amy Elbert
  • Jack Gardner

    Human beauty may be fleeting, but in the world of architecture and interior design, beauty lasts. "Beauty is a very green feature," says Christian Wagley, who oversees environmental issues at an eco-focused Florida beach community. "We tend to keep and value beautiful things. If they need to be fixed, we fix them. Ugly buildings, on the other hand, tend to be torn down."

    Sustainable, beautiful buildings in a town planned around pedestrians are features that make Alys Beach notably green. The resort community on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast sits between Destin and Panama City, but it is light years away from those legendary traffic-heavy, "spring break" towns.

    Shops, restaurants, and offices are within a five-minute walk of residences. Narrow streets, limited parking, and miles of sidewalks encourage walking rather than driving. It was a neighborhood model that convinced Wagley, a long-time conservationist, to become the community’s environmental program manager. "Traditional neighborhood development offers tremendous benefits in reducing the carbon footprint, because we’re creating towns where we walk and ride bikes," he says.

    In the space shown here, outdoor fabrics used for drapery panels and cushions are dyed to resist sun and water damage and are also  certified as low in chemical emissions and safe for indoor use (

    Interior design: Georgia Carlee, ASID, GCI Design, 56 Spires Lane, Suite 12A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459; 850/ 217-8155,
    Kitchen design: Susan Massey, Bohlert Massey Interiors, 850/231-3940.
    Town founder of Alys Beach: Jason Comer.

    Photography: Jack Gardner

    Drapery and cushions ("Dupione’’/Cornsilk #8012-0000): Sunbrella,, trade only.
    Chairs ("Fusion Lounge Chair’’/Java Finish #2860-2000); chair and daybed fabric ("High Noon’’ #676): Brown Jordan, 800/743-4252,, trade only.
    Daybed (recycled teak): Yellowtail Trading Co., 850/622-5760.
    Cocktail table ("Campinas X Side Table’’ #C067-02): Environment Furniture, 323/935-1330,
    Balls in foreground: Phillips Collection, 202/387-2151,
    Trim paint ("Decorators White"): Benjamin Moore & Co, 888/236-6667.

  • Jack Gardner

    The buildings of Alys Beach were inspired by the architecture of Bermuda and Guatemala.

  • Jack Gardner

    White exterior masonry walls and concrete tile roofs, inspired by Bermudan architecture, reflect sunlight and keep the homes significantly cooler. From Guatemala came the community’s courtyards, which capture the breezes and encourage outdoor living. Masonry construction and high-impact glass windows ensure longevity.

  • Jack Gardner

    All of the buildings meet the Green Home Designation Standard of the Florida Green Building Coalition and are designed to last not just decades, but centuries. Well-constructed buildings reduce the waste and negative environmental impact from a "repair, replace, and rebuild" construction mentality, says Mike Ragsdale, Alys Beach’s town evangelist. (Yes, that’s his real title.)

    When Georgia Carlee, an interior designer from nearby Santa Rosa, designed a model home at Alys Beach, she chose nearly all eco-friendly furnishings and finishes. "The home is so light and airy with so many natural materials, it didn’t seem right to put anything artificial in there," she says. "I wanted natural textures to go with the home’s feel."

    Draperies and bed linens are 100 percent cotton, and woven-wood shades provide light control. Rugs are made entirely of wool or natural grass fibers, she says. Sofas, armchairs, and most other upholstered pieces the designer chose are naturalLee by Lee Industries. The line uses environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes for all parts of the furniture, including fabric coverings, seat-cushion fillings, padding, frames, and frame finishes.

    Sofas (#5656-03); sofa fabric ("Petry Snow’’); small bolster pillows on sofa ("Salem’’/Gold, reversed); stools in front of fireplace ("Bongo Stools’’ #315); stool fabric ("Pinafore’’/Butter): Lee Industries, 800/892-7150,
    Large bolster pillow (vintage flour sack): Smith’s Antiques, 850/654-1484.
    Pillow with tree design: designer’s collection.
    Coffee table ("Caneco Coffee’’ #CF008): Environment Furniture, 323/935-1330.
    Drapery (#60115/85 in Parchment, discontinued): Duralee Fabrics Ltd., 800/275-3872,, trade only.
    Drapery trim (#B0750): D’Kei, 712/328-1800,
    Matchstick shades ("Seastrand Woven Woods’’ #9058): Fashion Tech, 800/444-8822.
    Rug ("Terazzo’’/Harvest #1616-750, Crystalle Hand-Knotted Rug’’): Capel Inc., 800/334-3711.
    Desk in corner ("Safari Folding Desk’’ in Caramel #7097-76F): Palecek, 800/274-7730,
    Floor lamps (#TOB1004PN-WP in Polished Nickel): Visual Comfort & Co., 713/686-5999, trade only.
    Long burlap pillow on sofa; rug over sofa back: antique fabric.
    Bleached tree trunk in fireplace: Yellowtail Trading Co., 850/622-5760.
    Root table: Roost, 415/339-9500,, trade only.
    Paint:  Venetian plaster mixed with Benjamin Moore’s "Decorators White."
    Pictures over mantel: One Red Circle, 415/239-9909.

  • Jack Gardner

    In the model kitchen, low-VOC paint and domestically grown wood were used for the custom kitchen cabinets. Appliances are energy- and water-efficient.

    "People often think being green means giving up luxury, comfort, and beauty, but we’re showing that beauty is intrinsically green, luxury is intrinsically green," evangelist Mike Ragsdale says. "We’re building beautiful buildings that people will want to preserve."

    Walls and attics are sealed with spray-foam insulation, and ventilation systems are designed to circulate fresh air into the houses to ensure healthful indoor air quality. Some of the homes have geothermal heating and cooling systems, which use the natural temperature of the earth to maintain interior comfort.

    Cabinetry: custom.
    Refrigerator: Sub-Zero Inc., 800/222-7820,
    Range and hood; microwave: Wolf Appliances, 800/222-7820,
    Dishwasher; washer and dryer: Bosch, 800/866-2022.
    Sink: Blanco America Inc., 800/451-5782.
    Countertops: granite.
  • Jack Gardner

    Recycled wood was used to build the shelves and bedside table. Curtains and bed panels are linen and the rug is wool.

    Many of the tables and other case goods in the model home are from Environment Furniture, which builds furniture with reclaimed, recycled, and sustainably harvested woods. The California-based company primarily uses a Brazilian hardwood salvaged from demolished houses and barns in Brazil. Because the wood is 70 to 100 years old, it has weathered and aged characteristics.

    Bookcase ("Primitive Teak’’): Yellowtail Trading Co., 850/622-5760.
    Bed linens ("Vintage Linen Pile Coverlet #85716033 and bolster #85722550): Matteo, 888/628-8361,
    Bedside table ("Santos’’ #OC046-0100): Environment Furniture, 323/935-1330.
    Bed with leather headboard ("Willa’’): Oly, 775/336-2100,, trade only.
    Bed and window drapery (Capiz-border window panels #49-8345118); rug: ("Overlapping Squares Rug’’/Endive and Ivory, colorway discontinued): West Elm, 866/428-6468,
    Chair ("#3907-01); chair fabric ("Davis’’/White): Lee Industries, 800/892-7150.
    Green accent pillow: designer’s collection.
    Stool (woven wood): Palecek, 800/274-7730, trade only.
    Art: Susan Plessala Originals, 850/420-1566.
    Paint: Venetian plaster mixed with Benjamin Moore’s "Decorators White.’’

  • Jack Gardner

    Interior designer Georgia Carlee.

    It is increasingly common for her clients to ask for sustainable and eco-wise furnishings and accessories for their homes. "In the past year I’ve had more requests than ever," she says. "People are going to a more simple style. They don’t want all these frilly, fussy things. They just want to live easy and have a comfortable environment, one that makes them feel good inside and out."

  • Jack Gardner

    Alys Beach’s Christian Wagley.

    "My job is to make the community environmentally better any way I can," he says. "I’m constantly looking for products or techniques to incorporate into new homes and buildings."