For Jeffrey Dungan, architecture starts with art, pure and simple. The features of fine art that pull our eyes and imaginations—an instinctive play of light, the sensuous use of curves, and shapes that feel inborn—are some of the longtime architect’s favorite principles to draw on in his work. 

So it’s only natural that when Dungan, the principal of Jeffrey Dungan Architecture, was asked to design a home in beautiful Alys Beach, Florida, he immediately began to think of natural, pleasing shapes and malleable materials—something, in fact, like a sandcastle. 

“One of my favorite things is to dig into walls, nibble around the edges, and carve, like we did as kids with sandcastles,” Dungan says from his Mountain Brook, Alabama, office. “I also wanted to do something that felt simple.” His materials of choice for the three-story Alys Beach vacation home, concrete and stucco, fit his vision perfectly. “With concrete, unlike wood, you have this great flexibility in formwork, and I’ve always been drawn to curves. I just wanted to play with different opportunities.” 

Rather than a hindrance, Dungan found the Alys Beach design dictum—that homes have a white exterior—to be a lovely opportunity for creativity. “White is powerful; it’s a monochromatic palette,” Dungan says. “You’ve got all this white stucco. Shadow striking a white surface is very pure. I found that to be fascinating. What you’re left with is the detail.”

The home’s exterior details are stunning: deep windows with charcoal-colored frames; a porch with fluted walls; a chimney that becomes an artful creation, complete with teardrop shapes on top, almost like tiny fish. “The voids are also curved,” Dungan says, “so you get these delicious shadows.”

The interior architecture is more complex, with its varying layers, shapes, curves, and occasional vaulted ceilings. On the main level are the primary living spaces, including an elegant little pool set in a courtyard. The second floor holds the bedrooms, a den, and balconies for faraway views. The third floor is reserved for a terrace, bar, and hot tub. White oak cabinetry, designed in-house, and floors are bathed in a warm-hued stain. The creative work of many people—carpenters, builders, masons, metalworkers, artisans, and plasterers—lends the house a one-of-a-kind, easygoing spirit.  

“The house exterior has some muscular moments,” Dungan says. “We wanted the interiors to feel a little soft, a little quieter.” Paint colors in the interior, harmonious with nature, work beautifully on stucco, which takes on a creamier hue indoors. Interior designer Ohara Davies-Gaetano supported the interior’s architectural detailing with a light touch that is both sophisticated and calming. 

Dungan worked with meticulous detail on the play of light and the strong heat of the Florida sunshine. “When I design a home, one of the first things is to have an understanding of how the sun moves across that particular piece of dirt. Then you can understand your light source. I’m always interested in making the most of the natural light. I find natural light and the way it moves into the box can be very powerful, very emotional.” 

Unsurprisingly, Dungan entered architecture through an artist’s portal. Long before he designed homes, he painted watercolors and drew. The author of The Nature of Home: Creating Timeless Houses (Rizzoli), Dungan takes his cues from natural sources. He was very happy when the homeowners told him their simple request: that their vacation home have a relaxed vibe and be welcoming to children. Alys Beach, with stunning vistas and white sand like powdered sugar, was the perfect setting. 

The home’s north side, long and broad, has plentiful glass, allowing natural reflected light to drift in. “I was able to construct a carefully considered structure to allow in morning light but largely avoid direct sun. It’s fabulous,” he says. The garage is tucked on the west side, which in another location could have introduced harsh sun. 

A visitor senses that the house is exactly where it should be, in this stunning beach community. “Every house tells a story,” Dungan says. “The story starts with the roofline. It continues on the interior, but it’s more intimate. There is continuity. You want it to be the same story. Here, it’s the emotional feel, the vibe.” 

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