Ronni says of their first trip to Alys Beach in October of 2020. “I always like to look at properties when we visit places, and our realtor, Robbie Roberts, said he knew of a home that might be coming on the market. The minute we stepped in we just fell in love.” The Watsons placed an offer almost immediately, and it was accepted.
Ronni and Iain, who had been living in Menlo Park, California, said the time felt right for a new adventure because their youngest child was away at boarding school, leaving them free to try something new. They moved to Alys Beach just a few months after finding the house, a transition made easier because they purchased it fully furnished. (The interior design was done by Mary Clark, who lived in the home with her husband Joe before selling it to the Watsons.) The Watsons also incorporated some of their favorite pieces from their California home, as well as artwork they have collected from places they’ve lived and visited all over the world, which made their new house feel truly theirs.
Iain says they were immediately drawn in by the welcoming arched courtyard entry flanked by lattice doors, as well as the water feature they like to call the “moat,” which creates a subtle separation between the park that sits in front and the house proper. A bridge that appears to float over the water delivers visitors to the front door. “The moat and bridge bring a lot of mystery to the space,” Iain says.
Inside, the intriguing architectural features seem limitless, with every space, the Watsons say, featuring its own unique detail. “Each room is inviting,” Ronni says. “Some homes have only a few areas where it’s especially inviting, whereas the architect who designed the home, Bill Ingram, created an inviting atmosphere for each space.”
It begins with creative variation in ceiling height, from 28 feet in the great room, dining room, and primary bedroom to lower ceilings upstairs as well as in a small sitting area inside the great room. “Bill added a lot of contrast in the home as you go from rooms with high ceilings and large volume to spaces with low ceilings and then back to high ceilings again,” Ronni says. “It creates interest and character.” They also enjoy the contrast in the materials and mood upstairs, where the guest room, their daughters’ bedrooms, and media room feature white plank floors and ceilings, and the walls of the media room are covered in wallpaper of natural woven grass cloth. “It’s very warm,” Ronni says. “The use of different textures allowed us to play with the textures in the furniture pieces as well.”
Meanwhile, the fireplaces throughout the house—in the great room, a courtyard, the rooftop pool area, the primary bedroom, and a fifth in the dining room that features a small portal into the kitchen—stand out for their simplicity. Bill says they felt right to him for the beach, where they’re rarely needed for warmth but serve as creative architecture elements.
“A fireplace can be as simple as a niche,” Bill says, explaining all the fireplaces are plastered white. “Honestly, I get tired of them looking like black holes. It seems like the last thing you would do is paint your fireplace white, but I love it. It’s so minimalist…the most elemental thing you can do.”
Another feature the Watsons love is the home’s striking open staircase, which ascends three floors and has a banister on one side but not the side that opens to the rooms, creating in Ronni’s mind a sense of floating stairs with exquisite views all the way up.
Bill says while the staircase is designed for simplicity, its prominent placement was fully intentional. “It is right in the center of the house against the windows, because I always prefer a bright staircase,” he says. “You can see it traveling up the glass. It also needs to be accessible to everybody, so it’s not something you should tuck away.” The combination of Bill’s attention to architectural detail, Mary Clark’s designs for chic beach living, and the Watson’s personal collections have come together in this perfectly charming Alys home.