Julie Keeter and her husband, Jim, hoped one day to build a home on a beachfront lot at Alys Beach. But after Jim passed away, that project was the furthest thing from Julie’s mind.
So when her real estate agent called to ask if Julie might be interested in selling her house in nearby Rosemary Beach, the answer was, “No, thanks.” But before ending the call, Julie happened to mention that she still harbored a hope to build in Alys. To her surprise, property had become available, but she would need to act quickly because several buyers had already expressed interest. “I thought it would take a miracle for me to get it,” Julie says.
She succeeded. What began as a shared dream between Julie and her husband evolved and became an opportunity to create a haven for reflection, comfort, and beauty, a way of moving into the next phase of her life while honoring Jim’s memory.
“It came at an unexpected time,” she says. “I was going through so much grief, but I knew the home would be a place of healing and refuge for me.”
Julie approached the architectural firm McALPINE. She says she knew right away that Bobby McAlpine and one of his partners at the time, David Baker, along with interior designer Susan Ferrier, truly understood her vision.
“This certainly wasn’t the first home that I had built,” Julie says, “but it was very important to me whom I selected, because it was the first time in my life I was going to be doing it alone. I needed a team of people who were on the same page with me and would work well with one another, maintaining my best interests at all times.”
Julie says from day one she had strong feelings for what she wanted and what she didn’t. “I didn’t want a clichéd summer beach house. So for the colors, I wanted a palette that would wrap me up in love and warmth when I am there any time of the year.”
Susan and David understood all of that as soon as Julie shared the inspiration she collected with photos of everything from colors to jewelry, textiles, finishes, artwork, and anything else that spoke to her heart. “Visual people communicate with what they see,” Susan says. “When Julie shared with me about how she wanted her interiors to be inspired, it was a beautiful moment for me, I thought, “We can do something together that is going to be gorgeous.”
These inspirations led Susan and Julie to gray tones and French Oak as a backdrop for lavender and mauve tones—the colors of a muted sunset, or the shell of an oyster with its gray exterior and pearly iridescence on the inside, a nuanced nod to the home’s setting at the sea. “Julie recognized that there was a different way to do a beach house,” Susan says. “She wanted visually for the inspiration to be derived from the colors of the sunset—not the accepted beach colors, but the colors you see in the sky that are reflected in the ocean at the very beginning and the very end of each day.”
The home’s entry is dressed with stained and reclaimed white oak planks on the walls and ceiling, grounded with a stone floor. “The entry sequence is compressed with a lower ceiling, helping to create a more emotional experience as you walk up the stairs and are released into the main living room with its high ceilings, giving an uninterrupted view of the Gulf,” says David, who is now a partner in the firm Tippet Sease Baker Architecture. This floor is the main living space, with the kitchen, dining room, and grand salon flowing together in an open floor plan. “The whole Gulf side of the house is glass—floor to ceiling—so that you’re able to witness and know exactly where you are and why. At the center of the house is a skylight that brings life and light through the heart of the house.”
Susan echoes the importance of the role light plays in every part of Julie’s home. “We used the colors that refract from these rays of light throughout the entire house,” she says. “There are a lot of surfaces that reflect the light. There are pewters and gilded pieces, and a range of sheens that create luminosity within the house. People would think the color palette is really feminine, but when you couple these soft neutrals and purples, mauves, and violets with really strong silhouettes, a great juxtaposition is created.”
One notable departure from the softer colors in the home is the family room, tucked behind the kitchen. This room is designed as a haven within a haven, a private area to read, watch Netflix, listen to music on vinyl, and relax. Designed around a Persian rug Susan and Julie fell in love with, the room has Rogers & Goffigon fabric-paneled walls in Prussian blue, with white plaster on a vaulted ceiling and fireplace. Like most every room in the home, the family room features a private balcony.
Throughout the home, smaller details bring interest, texture, and joy. Susan describes the furnishings and décor as classic but paired with “very edited contemporary accents with a little bit of edge to them.” These include three custom-made chandeliers with rock crystal and amethyst orbs, along with a pair of ornate gilded sconces—“A fearless repetition of lighting,” Susan says. Two whimsical, vintage stone penguins stand guard at a fireplace. A series of exotic bones, including whales’ ribs and intricate, hand-carved animal skulls are found in different spaces in the house.
“I would call this home, at its core, classic with the freedom to express,” Susan says.
Other details are even more personal, representing elements from throughout Julie’s life, including items collected from Julie and Jim’s travels throughout 31 years of marriage. Julie says, “It gives me great joy to see those around the home.” At the front entrance is an eternal flame, a large, late 18th-early 19th century hand-carved, stone flambeau finial that pays homage to Jim’s memory.
As the house neared completion, Julie contemplated names for her home and eventually settled on Villa Violetta. It was the perfect fit, she says, for myriad reasons, including the color scheme of the interiors, but also for Violetta, the heroine of her favorite opera, La Traviata. Another inspiration was a line in T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland: “At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives / Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea …”
“I fell in love with the words, ‘the violet hour,’ as a teenager reading poetry. It has always stayed with me throughout my life,” Julie says. “For me, twilight is that violet hour … that time of day when the sun is setting. It’s hard to distinguish where the sky ends and the sea begins at that violet hour. It’s a representation of sadness for something fading away, but knowing the sun will indeed arise again tomorrow.”
Because the home has brought so much comfort to Julie, she has also invited other widows into Villa Violetta through her involvement with Be Still Ministries in Atlanta, where Julie serves on the board of directors. In 2018, the organization began offering retreats called Never Alone for young
widows, and Julie has hosted the retreats at her Alys home each year since 2019. “We bring in a new group of 20 widows from across the country for a three-night stay to offer them hope, encouragement, and inspiration from our own stories of loss,” she says. “Villa Violetta has become a place where many have experienced their grief begin to turn to joy.”