by Juliet Johnson // Photos by Wally Sears
She is from Birmingham, Alabama. He is a fifth generation Jaxson. The Jenkinses were living in Seattle with Thomas Fain (T. F.) in construction law and Mary Lyn in set design when they acknowledged that how they wanted to raise their family involved being much closer to family. They bought Aunt Robin’s cottage, sitting pretty next to the 16th green of Ponte Vedra Beach golf course. With its short walk to the ocean and lush greenery under tall live oaks, it was the ideal spot to create a home fitting for how the Jenkinses wanted to live.
T. F. was working on a project in Colorado where he became good friends with Steve Mouzon. Mouzon is involved in a number of businesses, one of which is with former film set designer, now Jacksonville area architect and interior designer Julia Starr Sanford. The Jenkinses had met Julia at a Paradise Key event. Everything was falling into place.
“Julia immediately understood that we wanted a modern house with an old soul,” says Mary Lyn.Sanford is well-known for her classic exteriors with contemporary interiors and spare, almost Spartan rooms, cleverly angled for light, privacy and utility. She has an innate sense of history in context and has been designing on Amelia Island and the greater Jacksonville area for more than 25 years. Sanford has the team to blend provenance with practicality, with the end result a timeless home that would take the Jenkins family through elementary school, the teen years and well beyond. Even aging in place principles have been incorporated.
The cedar shingle home’s design is based on a traditional Atlantic seaboard style. Shingles allow one to create curves, which Sanford did—with a dramatic asymmetrical swoosh from the gable to over the front door. The counter-weight drop covers a grilling area and an outdoor shower. It is an indoor-outdoor house, with shiplap, lots of porches, a neutral palette and breathable, mostly wood finishes, impervious to humidity and Floridian temperatures.
What might strike visitors most is how little space is occupied by furniture in the home, and yet it feels warm and inviting at every turn. The rooms are not Ponte Vedra ginormous. The L-shaped house is only ever one room wide, to maximize the cross-breezes. Each room is properly proportioned and harmonious. So much so that it’s hard to imagine an active 13-and 10-year-old living here.
“When you elevate your children to contribute to a space, they step up to keep it that way, grateful that home is calm, peaceful and safe,” Mary Lyn says. The foyer is floored in peacock pavers
(“I love them, they’re from Alabama,” says Mary Lyn) and connects all of the downstairs rooms—the master suite, office, kitchen and dining room. The dining room is partitioned with sliding panels from the foyer and double French doors from the kitchen. It is usually kept open to the main family porch out back, though there is another porch between the master bedroom and the pool. It is no accident that the dining room is located centrally—it’s used daily.
The raised ceiling makes it feel like a tent. The box linen shade adds further to the notion. Both Mary Lyn and T. F. were raised by working moms, who nonetheless produced a sit-down dinner at the end of each day. The tradition continues.
The living room has a TV, but it sits on an easel. “Initially we did that so as not to damage the wood. But now, because it’s on such a formal stand, we are mindful of what we choose to watch. Our time is limited on this planet, I want our family to be intentional about how we spend the precious resource of time,” Mary Lyn says.
Instead, on restless afternoons, the activities sitting just outside the family’s doorstep provide the entertainment and stress relief. “When I feel the energy change in the house, I suggest the kids take a run on the beach, ride a bike, swim a few laps in the pool—essentially, go work it out outside,” Mary Lyn says. “We’re surrounded by beautiful elements here. When everyone can come back calmer, the space stays tranquil.”
The living room’s walls are an unusual treatment of pecky cypress, where all of the nubbly bits have been filled with spackle. Then a white-wash is rubbed over the top. It’s a contemporary twist on an Old Florida look.
Upstairs, vaulted into the roof so that there is no wasted space, sit two en suite bedrooms connected by a sleeping porch. “Nobody does them anymore,” sighs Sanford, wistfully. “It used to be a staple in Deep South homes.”
The Jenkinses use them often. Upstairs, they’ll play cards after brushing teeth and before everyone’s ready for bed.
Son Hill’s bedroom is dominated by a large stag head, thanks to Uncle Alan, Mary Lyn’s brother, who introduced Mary Lyn to T. F. in college. Daughter Mary Crawford shares her room with “Stormy Sunset,” a white gecko so named because they were studying Native Americans then and it had just rained. He sits under sun lamps and is impervious to whoopee cushions and other such fifth grade pranks.
When building the home, T. F. got the office on the first floor and Mary Lyn took a smaller space—basically a closet—upstairs. T. F. now shares his office with kids doing homework and assorted insomniacs tempted to fiddle with the computer. Mary Lyn has been richly rewarded for her sacrifice. Behind a door that looks like attic storage sits a long empty room with double windows at the far end, overlooking a water hazard on the 16th hole. It’s a personal yoga studio. Encroachment is, however, also a problem here. T. F.’s inversion table, a contraption that helps him hang upside down, is temporarily sharing the space, allowed in only because it was needed for healing.
“I always thought three bedrooms would be more than enough, but I miss a guest room,” Mary Lyn says. Uncle Alan did need a place to stay,as do Mary Lyn’s parents when they visit from Alabama. A garage apartment fits the bill. The bedroom,sitting room, bathroom and dainty morning kitchen make guests feel welcome while they have their own distinct space. A house evolves over time. The Jenkinses have added artwork from Jim Draper, Wally Sears and Thomas Hager. They’ve also added more of their particular pecky cypress finish, and some cedar planking to the powder room.
Like all families, the Jenkinses have faced challenges along the way, but, says Mary Lyn, “We have had great role models. While we all are conditioned to want an end result quickly, and moving on if it doesn’t work out, the great treasure of life is being committed to something and persevere through a process. Then the setbacks become, simply, part of your story. Yet, you have to discover the way for yourself.”
After 19 years and counting, T. F. says, “The paths we have taken have not always lead to where we thought they were taking us, but we’ve always been thankful where we’ve ended up.”
Family. Tranquility. Responsibility. Gratitude. Doesn’t everyone want to lean into this kind of life?