Some refer to it as Palm Beach design, but in upscale Sea Island, Georgia, residents give it their own twist called Sea Island style. So, just what are the ingredients of this delightfully happy look? It helps to have incredible architecture and a tropical view, but even a small apartment can be infused with this preppy decorating style. The recipe for Sea Island chic includes a bright color palette (think Lilly Pulitzer-style colors), tempered with LOTS of crisp white as a contrast, throw in plenty of bamboo and wicker, some motifs with an Asian flair, and season liberally with pattern and texture.
Sea Island designers Bethany Cassell Vann and Adrian Pressley Johnson merged their talents for the interior design firm (and store) Johnson Vann Interiors, where Sea Island style is the superstar. There’s always the challenge to respect history and architecture and not get caught up in the wow factor, they say. “Achieving the preppy look while keeping things stately is a delicate dance,” says Adrian. “It’s about balance, and the bright colors complementing other elements in the room — not competing.” The key to their fresh look is selecting “clear colors” and then pairing them with white. Similarly, the duo might take a traditional chair and reupholster it with a bold fabric, successfully blending old and new.
Although it looks like the mansions built in the 1920s elsewhere on posh Sea Island, this home was constructed in 2014. Sea Island houses were influenced a lot by architect Addison Mizner, who also flourished in Palm Beach, Florida. “Because of him, there are a lot of similarities between the two styles,” says Bethany. “We, of course, prefer to think of this house as Sea Island style: It’s fresh, it’s fun, and there’s just a hint of formality. Balancing classic + modern + elegance.”
“This is where all of the colors merge,” says Adrian. “Since the living room is open to the dining room and kitchen, we wanted to tie it all together here.” A sectional covered in an Alan Campbell outdoor fabric provides cozy seating for the large family as well as durability. “We kept it ‘old school Sea Island’ with the Scalamandre floral on spool chairs,” she adds. “It’s a nod to the chintz fabrics that covered so many sofas in original Sea Island cottages.”
Vivid pillows in Thibaut and Alan Campbell fabrics hold their own on the living room sofa even with the abstract giclee art behind.
“We wanted to bring in yellow in the kitchen, but not too strong,” says Bethany. “This soft, buttery-yellow wallpaper from Clarence House was the perfect choice; it’s an all-time favorite.” Other great features include Lilly Pulitzer fabric on roman shades, soft gray lanterns with a scalloped trim, and mirrored cabinets.
Thibaut curtain fabric — an embroidery in a traditional quatrefoil pattern — was the starting point for the dining room. The coral chandelier added the perfect coastal touch without being kitschy, adds the designers, while the pink grass cloth walls really pack a punch. “Because the grass cloth is broken up by a doorway on every wall, you get a little visual relief,” says Adrian. “It’s not overwhelming.” A white lacquered table also provides some glossy contrast.
“Who doesn’t love a wallpapered powder room?” asks Bethany. “The green palm paper is lush and fabulous; we loved the color so much that we painted the baseboards the same green. Green is everywhere in our landscape here … it’s part of the beauty of Sea Island.”
“The master bedroom is like being in a cloud,” says Adrian. “It’s a serene retreat from the otherwise colorful palette.” Pagoda-patterned wallpaper has a bit of shimmer in it, a nice foil to the dark antique bed. A palm chandelier adds an unexpected touch of tropical whimsy.
The designers chose a vintage-inspired Meg Braff wallpaper to set the tone for this guest bedroom. Other elements were simple to coordinate: white curtains and a white headboard, both trimmed in turquoise, with white lamps on white lacquered nightstands.
The house has two bunk rooms, one for girls and one for boys. The designers added pink to the preppy coastal palette of navy and white in the girls’ room. (In the boys’ bunk room, they incorporated green.) The white bunks are custom, with a built-in bookshelf and reading light. The rug and bedding are from Pottery Barn Kids.
Plain white curtains in the girls’ bedroom are jazzed up with pink pom-poms.
Their latest challenge was this stately new Georgian-Mediterranean house on Sea Island built for a St. Louis family. “Architect Paul Fendler drew inspiration from traditional Mediterranean architecture that’s prominent in Sea Island, as well as classic homes elsewhere, and even in the Hamptons,” says Bethany. “One of our goals, then, was to make the house look as though it had been there for decades rather than new construction.” The design team chose a muted shade of white for the stucco exterior, as one example … one that was warm, not cream, and felt “perfectly aged,” adds Bethany.
Inside, Bethany and Adrian incorporated a few family antiques, but otherwise started from scratch with a design goal of crisp and colorful. “We kicked off the design process with a trip to Palm Beach,” says Adrian. “We found a great pair of vintage sconces painted the best shade of yellow … that was a real starting point for our color palette.” And yes, even designers rely on Pinterest. Adds Bethany, “We were able to share images all the time long-distance, since the client was 800 miles away!”
“We really played up the nautical theme in this boys’ bedroom, creating almost a ship-inspired design,” says Bethany. Walls and beams were kept white for a fresh look, with color brought in through the shade made with China Seas fabric, and preppy bedding from Serena and Lily. Lighting is by Circa.
The green awning stripe rug from Dash & Albert is a fresh take on a classic. “We adore pink and green together,” says Adrian. The trim details make a difference in this room, she adds, such as pink tape trim to the raffia drum shades on the lamps and brush fringe on the bamboo chair’s pink and white cushion. The bird prints over the bed were framed in a gold bamboo-style frame.
An oval window and window seat add architectural charm to a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. The nautical theme is played up here with cage lights, jute-rope mirrors and an awning-stripe Sunbrella fabric. Mirrors are from Ballard Designs.
The back foyer off of the garage had to be functional … able to corral the tennis rackets, bags, and hats that come with beach living and four children. The designers added shiplap on the walls and introduced a coastal vibe through the nautical lantern and the woven seagrass console. The lantern is from Circa Lighting. The tropical lamps are vintage from Palm Beach.
Even the laundry room gets the charm treatment, with shades of white and turquoise and plenty of storage.
Arched passageways are a hallmark of Sea Island architecture.
Thanks to Bethany Cassell Vann and Adrian Pressley Johnson of Johnson Vann Interiors for the tour of this fantastic Sea Island home! And thanks to Kelli Boyd Photography for the gorgeous photography.
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