If you get stuck behind someone driving the legal speed limit heading to the Swaim’s house in northern Atlantic Beach, it can feel like you’re crossing the International Date Line. Atlantic Beach seems to stretch on and on. Eventually a sign bearing the word “Oceanwalk” appears. Tucked into this charming subdivision is a Mediterranean mashup with exquisite character.
Bought and built in 1990, the Swaims have raised three children here. As their empty nest chapter loomed, they realized they probably didn’t need the playroom anymore. There were other updates the house could use, especially the upstairs bathroom. Three years later, every room has been refreshed or renovated. They even made the deadline of hosting the rehearsal dinner for their eldest son’s wedding.
While the floorplan is not particularly unique, the house has a one-of-a-kind feel thanks to the tone-on-tone layered décor. Tori’s a local girl, a Bolles graduate who studied marketing at UF. She met Steve, her future husband, during a sales training program at IBM.
With each baby (the couple has three children) came another tastefully, lovingly appointed nursery. Of course, each was marred by the inevitable eyesore that exasperated Tori more and more—the boxes of baby wipes. So, she invented the Hide-A-Wipe box. Gone were the standard bright blue plastic boxes. In their place, a more decorative alternative. What began as a little business in her garage led to six stores around Jacksonville and three websites, with distribution relationships. Today, Tori is the designer behind New Arrivals Inc., a one-stop-shop for nurseries, and My Baby Sam, a line of baby bedding. Her celebrity client list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood (think Jennie Garth, P. Diddy, Snooki and even a Jonas brother).
Tori’s gentle design aesthetic infuses every corner of her home. Here, you’ll find 50 shades of white: ecru, cream, ivory, snow, old lace, champagne, flax, bone, vanilla, linen, ghost white, seashell, corn silk—the list goes on.
The stucco exterior (in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove) is punctuated with a Mexican tile border, which surrounds the new front arched doorway, and a romantic Juliet balcony above. What had been a porch is now a covered entrance with a foyer beyond. Huge, heavy solid pine “Knotty Adler” custom doors with wrought iron grills take guests past exuberant plantings in terracotta pots resting on the new Belgian block circular driveway.
Ornately hand-carved, twin mango wood cabinets anchor the foyer with a white tiled floor. Family photos and clusters of mirrors with starburst frames create an inviting welcome. An oak-topped staircase leads to the second floor and provides a tall canvas for a substantial gallery of family photographs, old and new. The eclectic mix of custom and store-bought frames make this living history one of Tori’s favorite places in the house.
The house opens to the left, with a formal dining room set apart by a half-wall with low, fat square posts to mark an opening. The dining room set is the same the Swaims have had for years, freshened now with a white tablecloths and delicate, frilly slip covers. Simple white linen drapes are elevated by a bobble fringe. An elaborate, gorgeously aged chandelier (Castle Howard from Aiden Gray Home) drips in good cheer, made practical with its milky crystal pendalogues. The clear prism chains refract light merrily through the room. “My experience in design is that if I buy what I truly love, I find the pieces all work together,” says Tori. “So long as they speak to my heart.”
An intimate sitting room transitions from the dining room to Steve’s office (the former playroom). An elegant, painted off-white iron coffee table with glass top sits between two Rachel Asheville chairs now covered in a tufted taupe linen opposite a linen-skirted sofa. Flanking the sofa are a pair of antiqued black and gold tables, in the style of Duncan Fyfe, sourced at the Atlanta Market. A tall cabinet has been refinished in milk-paint (by Tori, over one rainy weekend). The jute rug, which hails from West Elm, lends a contemporary note.
"I designed my whole kitchen based on Pinterest,” laughs Tori, who spends much of her free time on the social media site and on Instagram chatting with her young mom clients.
White cabinets are from Ozbuilt; some with glass fronts for display, while others are fronted by a discrete solid panel. Honed white marble counters contrast with the wide wood planked center island and iron finished handles on the built-in Subzero Refrigerator. Open-barrel iron pendants light the center island, from the Park Hill Collection while a collection of baskets add texture above the cabinets. Small, chunky wood topped stools make for great spots to park and chat.
“I chose white on white because I wanted it fresh and clean,” says Tori. “It’s not that I’m opposed to color. I’ve decorated with color often enough before. It’s just that I find the excitement from varying texture rather than color to be where my personal aesthetic is at the moment.”
The laundry room is clad in white shiplap with framed sayings to lighten boring chores. “Land Of Sunshine” is the caption for a hand drawn map of Florida; “ Today is a good day for a good day” infuses a positive attitude. The white cabinets are given fresh perspective with rope handles.
This most recent renovation caused big changes in the master bedroom area too. The entirety of Steve’s previous office was turned into Tori’s closet. (Steve was moved to the playroom, where he now has a view of the pool and verdant planting, and where he is in handy proximity to the kitchen for coffee and snacks.) Now, with this new storage space, Tori has a library’s worth of shelving for shoes, bags, boots and hanging space the Kardashians would envy.
It isn’t until to you reach the upstairs bedrooms that you find huge swaths of color. The couple’s daughter Macy chose a Tiffany blue for her beach-themed bedroom. There’s a gallery wall with teal and white cottage frames and a sweet string of shells above the custom turquoise and white striped padded headboard.
The white ruffled quilt is indulgent and sublimely girly (from Anthropologie) and topped with a playful pile of pillows in varying beachy motifs. A giant canvas of surf completes the graceful, ocean-inspired space.
Their son Sawyer is still home, and his room is full of bold, primary colors. What was once the bedroom of Austin, the couple’s newly married son, has been redone in white. The layers are still coming together, but it too will eventually host a lush combination of storied pieces, textures, and soft, organic fabrics.
Words by Juliet Johnson • Photography by Agnes Lopez