Grayton Revisited

The beach cottages in Grayton Beach, Florida, were deemed by the planners of Seaside as vernacular examples for architects to emulate. Along with the many other distinct styles found through out the different regions of the south; such as the “side loaded row houses” of Charleston, South Carolina, were the influence of early Seaside. The Grayton cottages however, were indigenous examples of the architecture for our design inspiration.  Indeed many of our early designs for our clients in Seaside were greatly influenced if not down right stolen for their simple forms and their humble materials. We admired the human scale and unpretentious quality of Grayton but most of all it was the authenticity of the beach town that we found most livable. This unexpected, eccentric, unplanned and eschewed quirkiness made Grayton Beach perfect for us as opposed to a “planned” community which was not the goal of Seaside.

Here are some of the houses of Grayton Beach as shown in these photos shared by Dawn Thornton, Amy Hughes and Sarah Kay Hughes. You can see more on the Facebook page of “Summer Memories of Grayton Beach in the 50’s and 60’s” here, 

These houses served as inspiration for our early Seaside house designs.


The Van Ness Butler House became a landmark for locals to describe their relative location point.
The Hughes family vacation cottages built in the 1930’s. The trek from Hartford, Alabama to resort along the Gulf coast was a long and difficult days travel for the family.

These houses are still much the same except for paint, mature vegetation and of course all of the necessary modern up grades.  Here are a few samples of the original cottages as they appear today. Please click on the highlighted text to view the VRBO site for further information.

“Presence” Cottage one of the early beach cottages belonging to the Lanier  family”
“Oar House” one of the many original beach cottages


Pearl Cottage
“Little PearlCottage” a true eclectic cottage
The Taylor families rental cottage the –“Cole Bin” –Original cottage style home in Grayton Beach. The ‘Cole Bin’ has been in our family since 1936, and has been our home away from home ever since. It belonged to my grandmother-Sallie Cole-from Opp, AL.
One of the many Hughes houses as a cute vacation rental
The Buzzett families rental cottage the”Smith House”–” The Smith House. Originally built as a 1-room cottage in 1925 by Tuff Smith, he used cypress boards that washed up on the shores of Grayton after the ship that was transporting the lumber caught fire and sank.
Robert and Daryl Davis in their Pontiac, Bonneville parked outside of the “Smith House”
New Butler
The Butler House now as a vacation rental

See more of the history of the Butler family and Grayton Beach’s origins here.  For more reminiscences of bygone days visit here.

The following house’s have particular historical importance:

The Dog Trot

The “Dog Trot” house plan is a open center hall or breezeway with rooms open on to the breezeway. The combination of this breezeway and open windows created air flow in the pre-aircondition era . This house in Grayton is a rare two story version of a dog trot. The house was moved a short distance to its present location in 1999 but originally the house was one story and raised to create living space above the open breezeway. The front upper floor was a porch and then converted to enclosed bedrooms.  (see Hibiscus House for more rental information and history)

Screenshot 2016-07-10 17.45.16

Dog trot
Now a part of Hibiscus House B & B in Grayton, named Bert’s Barn.
Slightly dilapidated the “old barn” is given a new home.


The “Washaway Hotel”


Washaway Hotel0ed7f341-0194-412f-88b4-8b1432828ab4.1.10
The “Washaway ” as locals are still likely to refer to the once only hotel located in early Grayton Beach, Florida.

The “Washaway Hotel” is only a few hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico and has been raised up on pilings for the obvious reasons of encroaching storm waters.

Washaway Aqua
The green”Washaway” before it’s recent renovation.
Debra Larson Washaway
Debra Larson-Parson’s photo of the “Washaway” taken somewhere in the 60’s or 70’s, notice how much lower the house was to the ground.

Renamed as “‘A Grayton Tradition’ “The Washaway” is a historic beach house and a local treasure located in the heart of Grayton Beach. Built in the late 1800’s by Capt. Gray and later used as the Coast Guard Headquarters for a cavalry unit during WWII, this home survived a major hurricane in 1926 (but was almost washed away), as well as standing strong during Hurricane Eloise in the late 1970’s, and Hurricane Opal in the fall of 1995. ”

Washawy Breezeway1d7b1a5f-37c9-4336-aa9d-506442ed8b6d.1.10
The “Washaway” also boasts a open breezeway.
Washaway breezewayaedbebc3-bda9-46f2-ade1-bdadd4119dd4.1.10
The opposite end of the breezeway with the barn style in the closed position.
Washaway Stair
The center stair hallway door also opens on to the upper porch to pull any cooling breeze up throughout the house.
Washaway fireplace2a564d39-f445-4a70-9479-c1c447edf288.1.10
Original field stone fireplace was the only source of heat in the cold months.


There are several more houses I would like to explore further here and if I can I will include in my next post.





Dear Jamie

“Dear Jamie, Well here I am, it’s about 2:00pm, Monday afternoon. I decided to take a break and write a letter. I’m sitting in the Beach Pavilion overlooking the Gulf to the south and Seaside to the north. The ocean is absolutely perfect brilliant aqua &  green and smooth. The sky is clear and it’s about 55 degrees.Awfully perfect, only wish I had your company…

In this letter Tom describes to me the brilliant aqua and emerald color of the water and clear cloudless blue skies and this still rings true today.

FullSizeRender-8 copy 5
Grayton Beach, brilliant blue sky and emerald waters

In the beginning a Butler beach cottage is where Tom was housed by Robert Davis in the few months before I was able to join him from Miami. The cottages did not have a telephone, television, air conditioning, barely running water, and it was without insulation in the winter months with only a small room size heater. He LOVED it! Those cottages are long gone, replaced with huge “modernized” McCottages now, and very few examples are left of the original vernacular cottages of old Grayton.

FullSizeRender-8 copy 4
Vernacular cottage from 1940 circa repurposed country store/gas station moved to the site in the late in the 1950’s as as family retreat.

Their names are Butler, Florence, Patterson, Eyer, Belcher, Cannon, Taylor, Haynes and a handful more that made up the early families in Grayton Beach, Florida, when this letter was received by me, from my husband Tom, and it was those families which welcomed us into the fold of the small beach hamlet nestled in the dunes. When friends asked us where we had moved, we had to always describe our little corner of Shangri-La as somewhere between Jacksonville and Pensacola and work towards the “between Panama City to Destin” location. It’s no longer necessary to give this descriptive location as 30A has been found!

One of the last old cottages left in Grayton Beach, Florida

to be continued…

Driftwood Obsessed

Somewhere along the line I developed a obsession with “God Art.” To me God Art is anything from nature used for a purpose or simply for art’s sake. Driftwood is one of those natural elements that fascinate me.

Standfoto RIVERS AND TIDES - Stickdome
An Goldsworthy driftwood sculpture

It all began when our friend Jake Ingram, a landscape architect and all around cool person created an Andy Goldsworthy-inspired stick beehive sculpture on the trail to the beach where we lived in Little Redfish. Our son Matt was 6 at the time and when he came across it with his father on one of their jogs, he ran all the way back home for some paper to leave a note thanking the artist for the “God Art.” At the time we did not know Jake was the artist and needless to say Jake has gotten a lot of mileage out of retelling this story.   So, you see it’s really all of Jake’s fault that I have this obsession and I blame him squarely for exposing me to the beauty of found bird nest’s, discarded snake skins, jewelry made from raccoon penis bones, (see Gogo jewelry here) and twisted dune sand pines, to name a few of God’s art projects.

This has it all: found driftwood with barnacle , repurposed star fish (see the CrossBottle Guy, here) and root carved Guadeloupe statue.

In as many as I can of my interior project I will try to convince my client into incorporating some natural elements. If it’s just adding fresh palmetto fronds at the entry or a whole room of pecky cypress paneling, these elements speak to our area’s natural beauty and defines our sense of place.

Palmettos as minimalist art. The light fixture was selected not just for its orb shape but also for the light shadow it would throw, softening the grid wall’s regularity and mimicking the palmetto fronds.
Pecky cypress study. Note the oyster body of the desk lamp.

Over the past few years driftwood has become quite popular and many have found beautiful uses for displaying their beach “finds”.

Orchid in a cypress “boat” knee. These are so versatile for displaying orchids and fresh greenery or just plain naked.
Love the sink under this driftwood mirror. Notice the octopus painting reflected in the mirror. I found both of these at
Driftwood floor lamp. Still in its wrapper before we styled the room.

I have friends who tackle large projects like refinishing whole stump tables, or contractors whom painstakingly white-wax old wood beams and painters that meticulously dry wipe off white wash from entire pecky cypress room.

Stump Table Work in Progress-2
Our friend Wayne Beard sanding the table top to his cypress stump dining table.
Stump Table 1-2
The finished product with a clear sealer finished.
Old wood beams white waxed, from one of our projects in Watercolor.


Mid-journey through the wipe down of the white wash in the cypress study. It’s a process, but so worth it.


This may be old news to some of my friends as these light sconces are in my own home, but I feel it’s important to share them here as an example of what necessity can breed. My hand blown art glass sconce shades came loose from their connections and came crashing to the floor; leaving the light fixture “guts” still intact on the wall. What’s a gal to do when your budget is tight and you can not seem to find a suitable replacement? Answer: make it yourself!

FullSizeRender-8 copy
This is a torch shaped sconce with two layers of torn heavy weight watercolor for a shade and embellished with silver leaf.
FullSizeRender-8 copy 6
Here the driftwood is a beautiful shade of silver with the torn paper shade wrapping around the wood hiding the light socket.
FullSizeRender-8 copy 5
This forked piece presented a perfect opportunity to nest the paper shade with in its branches.

I wish my photos were better quality, but hopefully you will be able to imagine and see the meaning of the posts. I guess they are not bad for a iPhone6 edit manager.

FullSizeRender-8 copy 4
My latest edition to the obsession is this large cypress stump. I haven’t electrified yet, but I’ll probably add a portable battery type light fixture in the future.

Another Dirt Road Dream

It started for my husband, Tom, and I some 35 plus years ago on a short visit to Seagrove Beach, Florida to search out the fledging town of Seaside, Florida. As very young designers from Miami, we had an interest in the possibilities the area could afford our craft and life together. We visited with Robert Davis and listened to his exhortations of what the dream was to become. At the time, the dream begged disbelief because the “town” of Seaside and the surrounding areas seemed to us city-slickers as nothing more than a series of dirt roads. But there was something romantic about those dirt roads that all led to the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the snow-white sand of the beach. It’s little wonder that we couldn’t shake the idea of the New Town with the Old Ways, and within two years we returned to find out how this dirt road would shape our lives, forever.

Our first office in the Tupelo Street Pavilion in Seaside, Florida. Circa 1985. 

The year was 1984. Tom was the town architect of Seaside. I was trying to keep possums from clawing their way through the shower wall (true story–but better told another time). We both worked out of the Tupelo Street pavilion, in what are now bathrooms. Tom with a drafting board and bumwad paper with his desk facing the Gulf.  And I with the same setup but looking toward 30A. I would watch the same red pickup truck travel east along 30A early in the morning. When the truck traveled back west in the late afternoon, I’d yell over to Tom that it was quitting time for the day.

Eventually, Tom would design over 90 homes in Seaside. I ended up designing the interiors of many of those homes.  Along the way, we ended up designing our own life along 30A:  First in Seagrove, then a slightly larger home in Grayton Trail to accommodate an addition to the family–our son Matt–and then later a home on Little Redfish Lake, until we finally decamped to “the Bay House” where Tom and Matt’s water toys could be easily accessible in the backyard (aka the dock).

Grayton Beach House
Our first home in Grayton Trail, Grayton Beach, Florida.
89 Sienna Court
The Little Redfish Lake home.
The Bay House
The Bay House
Early Seaside Beach House
One of the early Sea Cabins that Tom designed in Miami before moving to Seaside.
Early Seaside Street Scene
An early vista of Seaside from a widow’s walk.

Along the way we realized that those early dirt roads were not just dirty, oyster shell roads. They connected us to other recent transplants and natives, and we realized that the area that’s become known as “30A” was special not just because of its serene, natural beauty, but because the diversity of its residents: From the visionaries to the bullheaded, from “lifers” to newbies, you never knew who you were talking to and could safely assume that everyone was related. Because, in a way, we all were. In the early 1980s, those who were discovering Seaside were building a community together. Friendships formed. Bonds tightened. A community-wide family was created.

Savannah Street Walkover 1
The Savannah Street Walkover (Seaside, Fla.–late 1980s)
Savannah Walkover TC
Tom Christ sitting in front of the Savannah Street beach walkover he designed during his tenure as Town Architect of Seaside


Grayton Beach during the bustling late 1980s.

Provenance is defined as “the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature.”  30A and the communities that dot the scenic road, and those who have built their lives on that road, are the valued work of art. This blog is the gradual recounting of how the art of 30A came to be. It’s just one version of history; no doubt there are countless others. But in this blog, I hope to offer my observations on how my coastal home along 30A represents the lifestyle and attitude found only along 30A.

For while the dirt roads have long since been paved, the dirt road dream still lives on.

Bio pic

Jamie and Tom Christ