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Meet the Man Who Designed The Truman Show Town

The word “placemaking” takes on a whole new meaning in South Walton, Florida. When you arrive here you’ll know it immediately — because the look and feel of this acclaimed 26.2-mile beach destination is unlike anywhere else. South Walton is located along Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast and consists of 16 unique beach neighborhoods that each has their own distinct style. One architectural favorite is Seaside — a picture-perfect pastel-colored town that served as the main set of The Truman Show.

Seaside house featured in The Truman Show

We interviewed Robert Davis, founder of Seaside, as well as Mark Schnell, a renowned urban designer, to learn more about the architectural styles of South Walton. Read more as these two design masters explain the three main types of architecture found in South Walton’s beach neighborhoods.

The Architectural Styles of South Walton

South Walton’s old Florida-style homes (also called Florida cracker style) show the historical side of our beach neighborhoods. Built and designed before most families could find or afford air conditioning, original old Florida-style homes were designed to adapt to their environment, reduce heat from the sun and maximize airflow — which is why many of the homes include shaded verandas and large windows.

Common construction materials for original old Florida-style homes included local cypress and cedar, as well as oak and pine. Many of these homes from the 1950s and 1960s still stand in South Walton — and you’ll see a resurgence of new “old” Florida-style homes being constructed, too.

Take a look at the former Washaway Hotel (now a residential property) in Grayton Beach to get an idea of this architectural style. “It’s the quintessential beach building, with a porch wrapping both floors,” says Robert.

Porch in South Walton

Our resort communities are intelligently designed to make visitors feel right at home, with everything they need within reach. From the family-friendly and festive resort accommodations in Sandestin to the secluded, serene escapes found in WaterSound, South Walton’s nine resort properties each offer something a little different. Book a stay at one of our resorts and enjoy easy access to breathtaking pools, world-class golf courses, fine dining restaurants and luxurious spas. Each resort was perfectly planned with guests’ needs in mind.

Aerial shot of Sandestin

New Urbanism is a signature style found throughout South Walton. Founded by Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and a small group of other architects and designers in the 1980s, New Urbanism focuses on simplicity, community and ease of transit. New Urbanist communities often feature homes that are placed close together, a central neighborhood square, plenty of green space and walkable streets. Homes and cottages are simple and practical, architectural lines are clean and straight and sidewalks are large and welcoming.

In sum, the communities are “built on a human scale,” according to Mark. “They’re comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists, full of beautiful architecture and landscapes and designed to enhance one’s quality of life.”

Robert says that his inspiration for Seaside, the first fully New Urbanist town, stems from his childhood.

“I spent childhood summers on Northwest Florida beaches, staying in old-fashioned beach cottages with big porches, high ceilings and cross-ventilation rather than refrigeration. When I decided to develop the 80 acres near Seagrove that my grandfather bought in 1946, Daryl [Robert’s wife] and I drove through the Southeast looking for places that contained cottages like those I remembered. We found them in small towns with narrow, walkable streets.”

The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach

Looking for a perfect example of New Urbanist design?

“Downtown Seaside and Rosemary Beach both have some excellent buildings; and more importantly, they are both very good urban spaces,” Robert says.

Similarly, Mark suggests focusing first on South Walton as a whole before searching for individual standout structures. “There are great individual buildings within the New Urbanist communities, but much of the magic lies in how the individual elements relate to one another,” he says.

Beachfront homes in Seaside

After taking a stroll through all of South Walton, these two architectural experts recommend checking out the Seaside Interfaith Chapel, Seaside beach pavilions, Caliza Pool in Alys Beach and the Rosemary Beach Town Hall. The Stairway to Heaven House in Ruskin Place and the Chatham House on East Ruskin Street are also fabulous examples of modern New Urbanist design.

Biking in Alys Beach

As you explore New Urbanism in our beach neighborhoods, remember that South Walton isn’t simply a place where the style of New Urbanism can be found. It’s also a place where the spirit of New Urbanism is celebrated.

“The residents and visitors of these communities embrace the values of New Urbanism just by participating in everyday life,” Mark says. “They reside or vacation close to shopping, restaurants or their workplace and they have the option of walking or biking to their destination instead of getting in their car for everything they do. The implementation of these design principles has helped build a strong community.”

“Many of the towns and villages here are, in fact, extraordinarily beautiful,” Robert says. “Life at the beach in South Walton is laid-back, but with sophisticated shops and restaurants.”

As these two urban design experts have expressed, South Walton is a place specifically designed to make it easy to live, work and enjoy life. Come visit to see for yourself.