The area of the Florida panhandle between Destin and Panama City, lovingly referred to as 30A, is considered by many to be the premier coastal destination for Southern beach-goers. This quaint 24-mile stretch of lush, scenic highway is dotted with charming beach towns like Grayton, Seaside, Seacrest and Rosemary, and provides a relaxing escape for visitors. While tourists come and go each season, the local residents and their homes are what keep the area thriving long after the last bag is packed and the last vacationer departs. Author and 30A local Lynn Nesmith, along with photographer and Birmingham resident Jean Allsopp, recently teamed up to show a glimpse of the residents and residences of 30A. In their latest coffee table book and second title together, 30A Living, Lynn and Jean showcase 18 homes from nine of 30A’s endearing beach towns. From the way the homes complement their settings to their Gulf-inspired color schemes, Lynn and Jean cast a net over a selection of 30A’s petite coastal cottages and sprawling Southern homesteads. They sit down with us today to discuss 30A Living, their favorite 30A haunts and how to add a little of 30A into your own home. Meet today’s FACES of the South, Lynn Nesmith and Jean Allsopp.
What do you think is so alluring about 30A as a beach destination?
Lynn: I’d say the beach. I’m a local, and a lot of times people will say, “Oh you live here! So do you go to the beach?” And I say that I try to go every day. I either walk in the mornings or take a walk at sunset. If I’m busy and I don’t have time to step away, I at least run down to take a sunset photograph. I grew up in North Carolina really close to the coast, and I thought our beaches were beautiful, but I have to admit, the Gulf Coast is pretty special.
Jean: Working for Coastal Living, I got to go to a lot of great places: Hawaii, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and many more. I really feel like the water on the Gulf Coast and the sandy beaches are just as pretty as anywhere else. It’s a cool little area. It’s the water. It’s the sand. It’s the feel. It’s really different.
30A Living introduces each chapter by giving readers a glimpse into the beach town where the featured homes reside. Why was it important to explain the history of each community as well as the interior design elements?
Lynn: When I did my first book, 30A Style, people loved the decorating, and they loved the homes, but a lot of people come to the area for the beach and the nature. I felt like giving a little bit about each town, even if you don’t own the grandest house, makes you identify with the area and with the book. We included more lifestyle pictures and more beach pictures, which added another element. It’s not just a coffee table book about houses; it’s a little bit more about the lifestyle, entertaining and the beach — the fun things that bring everybody together.
Is there a way for people to bring a little 30A Living into their own decor even if they’re not living in a coastal home?
Lynn: Start with materials. I love shiplap siding and wood walls. Next, think about furniture. Years before I moved the beach, I had a white slip-covered sofa. I lived in Washington and had one. I lived in Birmingham and had one. You can’t go wrong with a white slip-covered sofa. Last, consider art. I have a cousin who is an artist, and I have three paintings in my home that are beach scenes. Even if it’s just a small piece, investing in a piece of original art from a place you love is such a great way to take a memory back from the beach.
Living at the beach is a bucket list item for many people. Why do you think it’s such a romantic idea and part of that quintessential American dream?
Jean: Being around the water is relaxing. A beach house is something that represents a place to get away. It’s solitude. It’s peaceful. It’s a refuge. People just want to be near the ocean.
What advice do you have for blossoming photographers, or those who might have their own stories to tell?
Jean: Pick something and stick with one thing. Don’t try to be good at everything. I see so many photographers who try to be good at a million things. I can shoot food and other things, too, but residential interiors are what people call me for. Choose one thing and try to be really good at that one thing.
Visitors flock to 30A to live like locals, and as a local we have to ask: What is your favorite 30A hidden gem?
Lynn: I love our state parks. We are so blessed on 30A to have five state parks in the area: Topsail Beach, Grayton Beach, Deer Lake, Eden Gardens and Camp Helen. To have five state parks in South Walton is an incredible asset. People should take a break from the beach and check out some of these parks because they’re really amazing. Eden Gardens is a different experience, but it’s only six miles from Seaside/Watercolor. It’s an incredible house built in the 1800s that shows a different side and the history of our area.
Jean: Bud & Alley’s for a sunset. Little-known secret: If you can predict exactly when the sun is going to set, you get a free drink.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Lynn: It’s a cliché, but I’d say, “The regrets you have in life are the things you didn’t do, not the things you did.” I’m frantically living my life to make sure I’m not missing out. Anytime I think Should I walk down to look at the sunset? I never regret that I took 30 minutes to walk down to the beach, take a picture of the sunset and put my feet in the water. Stick your head under the water, you’re never sorry that you did.
Jean: Take your time with the business part of photography. Creative people are notorious for not being organized or business-oriented, but that’s probably why I was on staff at different magazines for so long. That was easy for me. I was able to move on to the next project because I didn’t have to bill it or edit it or market it. I took time to try to understand what works and what doesn’t.
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Lynn: I’ll always have to live near the water. I love swimming, and no matter where I go, I try to take a swim in a body of water. Nature. I love to be outdoors. I love to walk. If I was locked up in a house or a building, I would pull my hair out. Creativity. I love going on photoshoots. I love putting books together. I love making things. When I was in high school or college, I didn’t see myself as a creative person, but I’ve been able to find creative outlets all my life. The older I get, the more creative outlets I have. I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to find a career that I love.
Jean: Laughter, coffee and a good book.
Thank you Lynn and Jean for giving us a glimpse into some of the spectacular homes of 30A and sharing your own beach stories with us. Get your hands on your own copy of 30A Living, or one of Lynn’s other books, at 30alivingbook.com. And a special thank you to Jean Allsopp for sharing images from 30A Living with us for this feature.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES series. Click here and prepare to be inspired!