Looney Ricks Kiss architect Darrell Russell must be the envy of all his colleagues back in Memphis, Tenn., where he worked and lived for 19 years as a principal in the forward-thinking firm. He's still with LRK, but earlier this year he got to live out what would be just about anyone's fantasy when his firm opened an office in the Florida panhandle community of Rosemary Beach. That's where Russell just happened to have designed and built a charming two-story vacation cottage. He quickly withdrew the beach house from the resort community's rental program, packed up the eclectic furnishings from his hip Memphis house, and started living the good life.

"It's been fantastic," says the Union City, Tenn., native in his broad Southern accent. "I told someone recently, 'I haven't been this happy since I was in college.' The air is fresh, the seafood's great, and there are lots of smiling tourists around having fun!"

His West Indies-inspired, 1,800-square-foot cottage positively exudes those good vibrations of sun, sand, and simple pleasures. From the rickety dune fence and double-decker porches out front to the tin-ceilinged screen porch, Russell's house had what it took to get this year's Home of the Year award.

Jeffrey Jacobs Architectural Photography

The beauty of his design is its simplicity. Guidelines set out by Rosemary Beach, a development designed by the Miami firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk, called for a small two-story house with a vertical element to be built on the 78-by-47-foot lot. Russell realized that a familiar floor plan--his own house back in Memphis--would, with some tinkering, lend itself to the small lot.

"I really liked that floor plan, but I had to make some changes so that it could be used as a vacation house," says Russell. "Architecture isn't like interior design where you get to build mock-up after mock-up." Here was a chance for Russell to take another stab at an old favorite.

He added porches to the front and exaggerated the roof, clad now in galvalum to suggest tin, a mainstay of what he calls "classic Florida Cracker" style. Russell turned what was a carport in Tennessee into a screened porch in Florida. And he tweaked things inside and out when it came to materials.

"The idea was that the exterior would look simple and a little bit historic, while the interior would be a mix of contemporary elements and traditional textures and materials," says Russell.

Inside, the floors are antique "sinker" cypress. The walls of the simple box are finished with pine flush board covered in a blue/gray/green translucent stain; dividing walls are done up in crisp clean gypsum board with simple wood details. "I wanted to let the box be as if it had been an old house," says Russell. "Inside, I wanted all the walls to be either crisp or funky."

Jeffrey Jacobs Architectural Photography

Russell used corrugated galvanized aluminum in what he deemed "fun places": on an angled wall shared by the kitchen and downstairs hallway; on the porch ceiling; on the powder room's wet wall. But one particularly inventive use on the second floor was as much practical as whimsical. He covered a wall with the tin-like material, added some hooks, and concocted a mosaic still life underneath from shells, crab sculptures, and broken limestone. "I designed it as a place for people to hang wet suits and towels so that everything can drip into the mosaic instead of on the floor," says Russell. "People love it."

Needless to say, people love to visit Russell in his simple but infinitely interesting house. That can be a problem when it's your full-time abode, so the architect took steps to curb the snowbird migration. Not long after moving south he converted the smallest of the three upstairs' bedrooms into an office.

"That cut the guest population in half," he says with a laugh.

Categories: Home of the Year; Custom home, 3,500 square feet or less (grand); Entrant/Architect/Interior Designer: Looney Ricks Kiss, Rosemary Beach, Fla.; Builder: Residence by Ritchie, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.; Developer: Rosemary Beach Land Co., Santa Rosa Beach; Land Planner: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., Miami

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Memphis, TN.