When an Alabama couple accustomed to spending summers with their two children in the Sunshine State decided to build their own Moorish Gothic beach house there, they commissioned Architect Jeffrey Dungan not only to build it but also to find the perfect spot to site it.
Dungan, whose namesake firm is in Mountain Brook, Alabama, led them to the planned community of Alys Beach, Florida, which was designed by Andrés Duany, a founder of the Congress for a New Urbanism.
The small site, a 40-foot by 40-foot lot, encouraged creativity, and Dungan used big ideas in the three-bedroom dream vacation home the clients desired. “ Our choices were dictated by size restraints,” he says. “Necessity became the mother of invention.”
Size wasn’t the only challenging restriction: The community style rules mandated that the attached house be made of concrete to withstand hurricane-force winds and that it be in white stucco in a Moorish or Bermudan style suitable for its location near the Gulf of Mexico amid hundreds of other units.
Dungan had some leeway, though, because the plot he selected was on the end, adjacent to the common green, so only one side instead of two had to be attached to a neighboring residence.“ My design was influenced by memories of Gothic and Moorish architecture during travels to Barcelona,” he says. “There’s a playfulness and a fluidity to the villa’s style, which incorporates modern moments like expanses of windows.”
The villa’s looks also were dictated by the family’s desire for a no-fuss, low-maintenance space where they could kick off their sandals after burying their toes in the sand just as they did when they spent summers at the family beach house.
The sense of adventure begins at the villa’s double front doors, which are defined by a Moorish arch. “It’s a Zaguan entrance—a passageway leads to a small cloistered space then another door that goes into the house,” he says.
Luxurious Bedroom Suite
Each of the first three floors became a bedroom suite that Dungan likens to a luxurious hotel room.
“There’s a great sense of privacy,” he says, “which is rare in a beach house.”
Because he could not expand horizontally Dungan went up, creating a tower on the partial fourth floor that features a 10-foot by 10-foot glassed-in den, complete with a gas fireplace and cathedral ceiling, that also can serve as sleeping quarters.
“The tower’s shape is reminiscent of childhood treehouses and forts,” he says, adding that he was allowed to add this statement story because the house faces the green, which overlooks the gulf.
Reaching for the sky allowed Dungan to create a spacious indoor-outdoor house that maximizes water views and that in addition to the three bedrooms includes a two-car garage, two living spaces, five terraces or balconies and a swimming pool.
One of the more noticeable and interesting space savers is the exterior cantilevered stairway, an exciting geometric catwalk that links the third and fourth floors. It is especially appealing when climbed by the light of the moon or in the noon sun. “It is a sculptural element,” he says. “It was made possible because the house is concrete.”
He’s also never had a chance to repeat the design of the attached garage, which features three arched bays—two for cars and one for the mechanical systems. The HVAC, pool pumps, electrical and gas systems are hidden behind a louvered door and vented roof that allows for maximum ventilation.
The villa’s interior and exterior spaces speak a common language that is crisp and clean with a contemporary accent. The white stucco facade of the outside becomes white plaster walls inside, and the black-and-white color scheme flows throughout. In keeping with the exotic architectural theme, the tower’s den is clad in Moorish tiles on the floor and walls, and the signature central stairway is a clone of its outdoor cantilevered cousin.
“I copied the shape of the interior balustrade from one I had seen in the service area of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile in Paris,” Dungan says. It is such details that never cease to delight. “The family likes it so much that they decided to name it Gramby’s Place in honor of the wife’s mother and the beach house they had such good times in,” he says.