More Than Words

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A new build on Tybee Island takes a fresh approach to beachfront living

As a Florida native, I’m practically fluent in the language of beach-house witticisms, typically emblazoned in folksy script upon whitewashed wood: “Life is better at the beach”; “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”; “Sky above, sand below, peace within.” It’s decor that literally makes a statement, and for me, such signs also conjure up fond childhood memories. But there’s no need to spell out any guiding maxims when flawless design can embody them outright. Such is the case at this sophisticated Tybee beach house, dreamed up by Rethink Design Studio.

Beach house, Tybee Island
Beach-themed bedroom
Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

“We were designing for a beach home, but I use the word ‘beach’ with a bit of hesitancy, because when you use that word, it can start going toward a theme,” says Rethink co-founder and designer Joel Snayd. “You might feel the need to bring in objects and colors that represent the beach in a very literal way, but we wanted to do it in an emotional way. We didn’t want anything that would be cliché.”

Snayd achieved a relaxed, refined look for the space by taking cues from historic properties on Tybee — not 1950s or ’60s builds, but “homes from the early part of the 20th century, during the 1910s and ’20s,” he says. Of course, establish- ing vintage-inspired charm in a new build (the three-bedroom, three bathroom home was completed in 2017) is easier said than done. Rethink used materials like reclaimed beams to delineate space in the open-concept floor plan while also adding patina. Texture, from shiplap walls to hardwood floors, also played an important role, creating warmth and conveying visual interest through era-appropriate materials. Snayd acknowl- edges the influence of California design, too: clean, white walls throughout the home’s downstairs add a modern West Coast touch.

Beach House, Tybee Island
Sophisticated and simple sitting room

Though the overall effect is undeniably sophisticated, it wasn’t necessarily expensive, Snayd says. Take the wall treatment in the guest rooms, which mimics board and batten siding, a popular exterior treatment for Lowcountry homes (it’s weathertight and can resist harsh winds). “One trick of the eye was, how do we create interest in such small rooms? Some of these old beach houses were really stripped back and built out of wood framing, so we brought in a simple, easy application of 1×2 vertical boards to recreate the board and batten look,” he says. “Spaces meant for guests can sometimes fall flat, and I always try to push against that. It doesn’t have to be pricey, but it needs to have something.” Hence the woven sisal runner Snayd added on the interior stairs heading up to the guest rooms. “It’s a very inexpensive means of getting some texture onto a hard surface, and it creates a defining moment for the staircase,” Snayd says. The runner also “picks the sand off,” he says, laughing.

Functional design is on display in almost every room: note the sliding barn door in the kitchen, which shields a supply closet and creates a visual resting spot for the eye. In the master bedroom, a custom built-in is part headboard, part bookshelf. To further maximize square footage in the master, Rethink used space from the attic, cutting into the walls to the exact dimensions of a purchased console — the result looks completely custom, but it isn’t.

The home’s small bedrooms are “meant to sleep, not hang,” Snayd says. “We took that to heart and made the public spaces even more inviting, to draw you out into them.” To wit, in the downstairs living space, guests can sprawl across an oversized sectional studded with pretty, sea- green pillows, or slide into the custom banquette in the dining area. They can also sneak away for a moment of tranquility: a partitioned sunroom just off the living room creates a noise-dampening effect, facilitating peace and panoramic views from the comfort of two upholstered chaise lounges.

For Snayd, the home’s virtue lies in its tranquility. “The palette, the textures, the floors, the beams — they add strength and character in the home, and create a grounding effect. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a space where you feel very anchored and secure,” he says. “But I’m not going to put an anchor on the wall.” 


Year built: 2017

Year purchased: 2015 (lot)

Square footage: 2,000

Number of bedrooms and bathrooms:

3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms

Time to complete renovation/remodel:

New build; took 12 months

Architects/planners: Cowart Group Architects

Interior designer: Rethink Design Studio

Contractor/builder: Feehley Nyberg Construction

Tile/flooring: Garden State Tile, Coastal Tile, Morris Wood Floors

Paint/Wallpaper: Beasley and Sons Painting

Windows/doors: Coastal Sash & Door

Kitchen design: Rethink Design Studio

Bath design: Rethink Design Studio

Lighting design: Rethink Design Studio

Landscape design: Tanner Landscape Architecture

Hardscape design: Southern Pavers Electrician: A&V Electric
Audio/visual: Rody’s Audio Warehouse Carpenter: Feehley Nyberg Construction Plumber: Anthony Plumbing
Landscaper: Tanner Landscape Architecture HVAC: S&S Mechanical

Furniture/lighting: Circa Lighting,
C.R. Laine, CFC/Noir, Hickory Chair, Restoration Hardware, Design Materials, Bungalow Five, Asher + Rye, vintage

Appliances: Livingoods Appliances & Bedding Accessories: Asher + Rye