On Another Waterfront

Lake Martin has long been a popular vacation destination away from city life. It also turns out to be the perfect change of pace for a Florida family with Alabama ties.

Located at The Ridge, a Russell Lands community on Lake Martin, the house enjoys a commanding stature with a gracious scale and engaging proportions. Compelling natural materials, attention to detail, and craftsmanship of the stone and wood in this home instill its character. Photography by Jean Allsopp

A weekend home should be a respite from the stress of work and the responsibilities of day-to-day life. But when you live and work along Florida’s 30A, where else do you go to relax and have fun? Especially if you prefer waterfront over a mountaintop?

In the fall of 2020 during Covid, Sister and Neill O’Connell were looking to get away, so they rented a house on Lake Martin for an extended family vacation. “For years we had talked about buying a farm or land with running water,” recalls Neill. But for an active family who loves nature and is drawn to water sports, a big beautiful lake within easy driving distance to Santa Rosa Beach was an obvious choice. The couple soon found a desirable lot in The Ridge, a Russell Lands on Lake Martin community that offered a preferred builder and an existing Russell Lands house plan by Dungan Nequette Architecture.

As an engineer with decades of experience, Neill wanted to put his own stamp on the design. He tailored it specifically for how their active family lives today while addressing future needs as their three girls grow up.

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“We flipped the floor plan, raised the ceilings, enlarged the windows, and stretched the bedrooms, but we also focused on small details like placing kitchen switches and outlets to correspond with our full-time house,” says Neill. Most importantly, he revised the scheme to take full advantage of the property’s prime spot overlooking big water. And since the O’Connells had worked in the past with interior designer Georgia Carlee, who had recently relocated to Lake Martin, everything came together quickly.

A waterfall ledge on the pool is a bonus water feature that overlooks Lake Martin.

Approachable and familiar, the house offers refined proportions and a welcoming scale. “We wanted a native Alabama stone and selected Napa Valley Mix for its warm earth tones,” says Georgia. Along the street elevation, stone accents pair with the cedar beams and wood-frame construction.

To embrace the lake, the family chose a solid foundation and a trio of sturdy pillars that allows the local stone to take center stage as the home rambles along the gently sloping shoreline. The result is a series of outdoor rooms that seems to be naturally carved. Finely cut and honed Tennessee bluestone in complementary tones distinguishes the stepped terraces, covered porch, spa, and infinity pool for a commanding stature and sense of permanence.

A bank of windows and a soaring vaulted ceiling create a welcoming sense of space. The coffee table made from a teak root was chosen for its organic appearance. “I appreciated the visual texture it offered against the solidness of the sofa and the rug,” says Georgia.

Inside, authentic materials are repeated in an equally expressive and tranquil way, creating a consistent thread that runs throughout. To complement the tones and textures of these stone and wood surfaces, Georgia opted for furnishings and finishes that are deliberately warm and subtle in a color palette that strikes a balance with the landscape.

With a friendly composure, spaces flow one to another in a livable layout. In the living room, tall windows that reach to the floor put the focal point on the outdoors. “The chairs swivel to take in views of the lake rather than a television,” adds Georgia.

Wood paneling animates the bedroom walls.

A deep framed opening delineates a kitchen, resonating with a mood that is both refined old-world and refreshingly contemporary. The same stone provides a backsplash that rises to the ceiling and pairs with two-inch-thick concrete countertops and substantial hardware. “There’s nothing delicate about the materials and fixtures,” says Georgia. “Stone and wood make great partners because of their complimentary tones and textures. It’s the perfect mix of rustic and sophistication.”

Connecting with nature is a luxury to be embraced and encouraged. In the spirit of any vacation getaway, this new home radiates an open invitation to unwind, relax, and delight in good times with family and friends. Isn’t that what it’s really all about?

The pool, firepit, and dock on the lake side of the house reflects the family’s focus on outdoor fun.


Interior Design: Georgia Carlee, GCI Design, Alexander City, Alabama; gcarlee.com
Engineering: O’Connell & Associates Consulting Engineers, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida; oconnellengineers.com
Builder: Lake Martin Signature Construction, Alexander City, Alabama; lakemartinsignatureconstruction.com
Superintendent from Lake Martin Signature Construction: Lyle Nickles
Interior and Exterior Stone: Napa Valley Mix, Alabama Wholesale Stone, Oneonta, Alabama; alastone.com

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