Pillow Fort

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A young family breathes new life into a one-of-a-kind Tybee Island gem

Photography by ANDREW FRAZIER

After nearly a decade spent living in Atlanta and Florida, Brent and Rebecca Watts moved back to their native Savannah in 2015 to start a family — and a business. As Brent’s specialty finance firm, Cabretta Capital, gained steam helping developers take on historic buildings with an eye toward preservation and stewardship, he and Rebecca began to develop projects of their own throughout Starland, Thomas Square and the Victorian District. Five years, three kids and a dozen properties later, they headed to the beach. More specifically, they headed to Tybee Island’s Fort Screven, where they set about revitalizing the fort’s 110-year-old former enlisted men’s barracks as a family retreat and vacation rental.

At 10,000 square feet and in major disrepair when they bought it, the Barracks is easily their most major undertaking to date, and yet the Watts were undeterred. “We grew up spending a lot of time on Tybee, and we were actually there for a family vacation when we found out about the property,” Rebecca says. Lackluster past vacation rental experiences became a point of consideration as they reconfigured the space, and every decision, from the gourmet kitchen to the hard-wearing surfaces, was made in mind of the Watts’ vow to keep things “light, bright and durable.”

The couple worked with Ward Architecture + Preservation to ensure they passed all the necessary checkpoints, a reminder that projects like these — which require developers to keep as many original materials as possible and replace those beyond salvage in kind — are not for the faint of heart. Still, for Brent and Rebecca, the appreciable difference is worth the effort. “When you walk into a place that’s been done like this, you notice the materials in their true form,” Brent says. “The trim, the floors, the window pulley systems and door hardware … everything feels solid and substantial.”

Substance also begets style: Rebecca worked with her sister- in-law, Betsy Ormond, to cozy up the building’s historical bones with clean, coastal interiors, and a new swimming pool out back is a tasteful concession to modern family life. All in all, the Barracks is a testament to the fact that a building preserved tells so many stories — not only about how it looks, but about how it lives and what it stands for. rpropmgt.com