Text by Tiffany Adams
“Happy is our theme,” says homeowner Marci Houff of the coastal Georgia home she shares with husband Stephen and their teenage daughter, Marissa. For the family, who resides permanently in Nashville, creating a second-home getaway wasn’t just about finding a house in an enjoyable location; they wanted a place where memories would be made and treasured. “We had vacationed here for a number of years and decided this was the place we wanted to put down roots,” Marci says. “It’s where we wanted our daughter to think of when she looked back on her childhood and on trips that we took as a family.”
After agreeing on Sea Island as their destination for happiness, the Houffs set out to find a home. “We’re a small family, so we didn’t need a huge house,” Marci says. “We got on a rancher kick and found this mid-century one that we loved.” And when the Houffs brought on designers Adrian Johnson and Bethany Vann of Johnson Vann Interiors, they discovered a shared admiration for the property. “The house is on a main drive in Sea Island, so we had seen it many times,” Vann says of the residence, which is located in close proximity to the Sea Island Beach Club. “Before the Houffs ever approached us, we had said it was a house we’d really like to get our hands on.”
As fate would have it, the designers were introduced to the Houffs through a mutual friend. They also were recommended by architect Chad Goehring of Harrison Design, who was already working with the family to renovate the one-story, four-bedroom home. The Houffs wasted no time teaming up with Johnson and Vann to incorporate happiness into every aspect of the project. “This was our first time to purchase and renovate a second home, and we really had fun with it,” Marci says. Adds Johnson, “We love getting to work with people on their vacation homes. We’re helping create a retreat that sets the tone for many memories.”
Overall, the parties agreed the house had good bones and a native character that needed to be retained. “This is a true Sea Island cottage; it’s really the perfect beach house,” Vann says. Rather than completely reworking the home, the design team set about breathing new life into the space and adding modern elements. For example, they opened up the kitchen to the dining and living room to create a more livable flow that allows conversation to easily carry from room to room. Additionally, they vaulted the ceilings in the master bedroom and living room to make these spaces feel larger and more open.
Perhaps the biggest—and happiest—change to the home came in its infusion of color. “I’m definitely a color person,” Marci says. “It makes me feel alive.” She notes that her love affair with color began after a health scare in 2008. “I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, and I think I began to gravitate toward stronger colors after battling that and going through chemo. The hues we chose are a big part of why I love this house,” says Marci, who is now in remission and working to raise awareness about the disease.
Johnson and Vann took cues from the surroundings to give the home its bright, smile-inducing palette. “Sea Island is colorful and vibrant; it’s an easy, breezy place with lots of lush landscape and lots of people walking and riding bikes around,” says Vann. To reinterpret this inside the home, the designers used a range of hues from rich cobalt blue to soft, refined lavender. They also subtly incorporated beach-themed elements such as palm prints, capiz shells, and rattan without going overboard. “It’s coastal without being kitschy,” Johnson says of the end result. “And it perfectly blends beauty with a laidback attitude.”