Seaside Style Book Cover

This is a book review that I wrote for New Urban Living Magazine. The review was originally published in the September/October 2004 issue.

Despite the title, Seaside Style, by Eleanor Lynn Nesmith, is not only about an architectural style or interior decorative theme, it offers more than that. It also depicts a lifestyle – a lifestyle of living comfortably and satisfyingly along the Gulf Coast and enjoying what coastal life has to offer. It begins with a description of this lifestyle and Seaside’s physical locality that is so strong the reader can almost see, hear, and feel the sights, sounds, and salty breezes off the Gulf. The Introduction also includes a brief but detailed account of Seaside’s early stages and the development of its set of guidelines and codes which are based on engaging and complimenting the landscape rather than simply building on it.

From here, the book breaks into several parts which profile a cross section of homes in Seaside. As expected, most of the homes are rooted in Florida’s vernacular Cracker Style. However, their interiors are more modern because they are not chopped up like those of the past. They are open and free-flowing for contemporary living. While many of them seem simple at first glance, they are each sophisticated, classy, and unique. And they certainly are not about a trend or fashion.

Each profile features information on the homeowner and why the owner decided to purchase or build in Seaside, as well as how and why the home’s architect was chosen. I found that knowing this background information became very valuable because it provides a personal look into the home. It also gives meaning to each personalized home interior scheme.

Architecturally, the reader must rely almost completely on textural descriptions for each home’s size, forms, massing, and stylistic precedents. There are no architectural plans or sections, but there are plenty of photographs.

This book, in fact, is full of beautiful and narrative photographs taken by Steven Brooke. Each home profile includes one or two exterior photographs and many more of the interior, even though the text is fairly evenly split between descriptions of the interior and exterior. And as expected, they depict an inspiring, relaxed and easy coastal lifestyle. They also reveal more about the homeowner by exhibiting some of the homeowner’s likes, tastes, or hobbies.

I was surprised and impressed at the diversity of homes that were shown. Cottages, urban apartments, and townhouses are featured. As I stated earlier, most of them are rooted in the vernacular Cracker Style, but some homes are urban and do not rely on vernacular precedents or traditions at all. There is even one home featured that is based on the Prairie Style. No matter which, each one fits perfectly into its own place in Seaside and Seaside’s lifestyle. This diversity is further represented in the personal stories about the owners and why they are in Seaside.

One need not be an architect or interior designer to enjoy this book. It is not dense and certainly not written solely for the design professional. The language is clear, and the book does not try to be anything that it is not. It is not about the town planning element of Seaside, like most previous Seaside books. Yet, it does compliment earlier Seaside books by exploring and digging in at a smaller, more personal scale. Most of this could not have been photographed or written about until now. The landscaping has matured, homes have weathered a little, and residents have settled into the town and their homes.

What I consider to be important about this book is how it shows what can be accomplished to express unique interests or individualism under mandates, codes, and guidelines which at first appear to be limiting. That is always one of the first complaints I hear about New Urban communities from the opponents. These homes truly do reflect their owners’ unique lifestyles and interests, while nonetheless maintaining and being a part of a harmonious community.

This is more than a coffee-table book. It is worth repeating that it is not really about an architectural style or even an interior style. It is a composite of architecture, interior design, and the coastal lifestyle of several residents of Seaside. It is an in-depth look into Seaside, a slice into town life, via some of its homes.

Nesmith does a wonderful job of weaving in the homeowners’ motivations which allow for much deeper involvement and enjoyment by the reader. She does not indicate if the owners or homes that were profiled are a true cross-section of life in Seaside. However, as far as home styles, sizes, architecture, and location in town go, she has done a great job making us believe that it is. And as for the reader, you might just be inspired to cash out that 401k and buy yourself a beach house.

Author: Tory Parish