This Florida beach town is a must-visit for design lovers

Stretched along a scenic corridor of the Florida Panhandle, Alys Beach is a modern exploration of geometry, simplicity and sculptural architecture. Drawing inspiration from Mediterranean, Moorish and Guatemalan influences, the planned luxury town spans 158 acres, where residents and vacationers alike enjoy a fully walkable beach community. With the backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico and azure skies, the white-courtyard homes and villas are a study in linear form.

The project, which began in 2004, offers a sense of communal living, with a significant degree of aesthetic intimacy. All town buildings and amenities are within walking distance of each other and the beach. Plus, there are 20 acres of nature reserve with 1,800 feet of trails meandering throughout, offering views of pine and cypress forests from elevated boardwalks.

Here, architects Marieanne Khoury-Vogt and Erik Vogt of Khoury Vogt Architects explain the city’s iconic design elements and why it’s a great beach getaway for architecture lovers.

A rich history

“Because many houses are lotless, which means that each house is built around the edges of the property, it was a question of composing cohesive and harmonious streets.” said Khoury-Vogt.

This world-class destination began as a legacy project of Elton B. Stephens, who purchased the property along Florida’s 30A in 1978 and named it after his beloved wife. When Andrés Duany and Galina Tachieva of DPZ CoDesign were first commissioned to design Alys Beach, a few ideas were in mind: to create a planned development with public plazas and the ability to capture great privacy. Since then, Stephens’ ambitious vision for a seaside community has continued to evolve over the years under the leadership of husband-and-wife architectural team Marieanne Khoury-Vogt and Erik Vogt.

“[The original town planners] wanted to find this marriage between topology and the courtyard house, inspired by Antigua in Guatemala. Because many houses are lotless, which means that each house is built around the edges of the property, it was a question of composing cohesive and harmonious streets. said Khoury-Vogt. “The architecture had to be relatively discreet, sober and elegant. There were other influences, but the original vision started with DPZ. We are seen as the protectors of the vision and this is one of our main roles as architects of the city,” she adds.

stairs in alys beach
The all-masonry construction opens the door to unique architectural twists.

M.K. Sadler

Since the main building material is masonry, there were a number of ways to carve and mold things, which was not lacking in creativity. “One of the things that people always comment on when walking through Alys is that even though the code seems strict and prescriptive, the architecture is still very sculptural. There is plenty of room for individual expression,” says Khoury- Vogt.

The various architectural influences, including Bermudian, Mediterranean and Antiguan, Guatemalan court buildings converge to form a nondescript, yet integrated style. “When people first come Alys Beach, they say they’ve never been anywhere like this. They were transported. It’s otherworldly,” she says. As a result, you could visit for a few days, fall in love with the place, and decide to stay forever – or just return as a guest to enjoy the extremely walkable town just minutes from the beach.

beach club bikers
Cruisers are the perfect way to enjoy design details en route to the beach.

Chris Lucer

Consistent Elements Everywhere

captured at alys beach on october 26, 2020 by bryan johnson studio
Foliage peeks out from behind a courtyard wall, creating a leafy walkway to the beach.

Bryan Johnson

Courtyard houses like those of Alys Beach are relatively rare in the United States. Not all homes have the same floor plan, but each is integrated with an open-air space nestled within the all-white walls. “The palette is relatively limited, so you have to develop something distinctive and that’s been our approach from the start.”

Private houses are also designed to beautify the streetscape. “Projects are reviewed holistically,” says Khoury-Vogt. “Homeowners are encouraged to give a gift to the street, which can take the form of a fountain, planter, stoop or fireplace. These individual expressions enrich the pedestrian experience. The overall effect is the playful effect, a bit of sculpting and unexpected moments, so you don’t always walk past plain white facades,” she adds. Any new architectural or design addition is intended to enhance the public realm, as well as the individual home.

Destination-worthy extras

alys beach club
The newly completed Beach Club is open to residents only, a tempting reason to stay longer than a vacation.

Chris Lucer

Exclusive Alys Beach amenities available to owners and vacation renters include the ZUMA Wellness Center, a 15,000 square foot campus designed by Nequette Architecture & Design that features steam rooms, swimming pool, spa treatments , aquatic programs and fitness Classes; several on-site restaurants, cafes and retail stores; waterfront access with food and drink delivery; the Caliza Pool designed by Khoury Vogt Architects (and a favorite of city architects); and more.

swimming pool alys beach
Mediterranean to Moorish influences can be seen in the detailed tile work, open-air pools, and intricate pendentives.

Bryan Johnson

Residents and guests can explore the nature preserve on the north side of town, which borders the Point Washington State Forest. “The nature trail that is part of Alys weaves its way around the nature reserve. You can be in the city center – relentlessly urban with solid four-story buildings – and you can also find a moment of peace where you are surrounded by relatively untouched trees, pines, flora and fauna on the north side of ownership,” Khoury-Vogt describes.

The interplay of public and communal spaces, coupled with streamlined sophistication, make Alys Beach an unforgettable place with plenty of design to offer.

Alys beach
Common spaces and cohesive urban planning have created a Florida city like no other.

Bryan Johnson

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