Chapter 2: Keep It Simple – 30A

Chapter 2: Keep It Simple

Photos by Alissa Aryn Photography

The Ragsdale family lost their home in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida during a flood in April 2014. This is the second chapter in a series of VIE Magazine articles about their rebuilding process. The Ragsdale’s new home will be featured in VIE Magazine’s “Architecture & Design” issue (July / August 2016) and in a series of features on New to the story? Click here to read Chapter 1 first.

“I used to rule my world from a pay phone
And ships out on the sea
But now times are rough
And I’ve got too much stuff
Can’t explain the likes of me”
— Jimmy Buffett, One Particular Harbour

“Shipping containers?”

“Yes,” I beamed with confidence.

“You mean like those big metal box car looking things,” she asked.

“Yes, box cars. Exactly.”

“And… we would… live in it?”

This might be harder than I thought.

After our home was flooded during a “200-year storm event,” we discovered that its aging walls were infested with mold, rot, mildew and other coastal unpleasantness. Ultimately, we demolished our family’s home, and now we were facing the daunting task of starting from scratch on a muddy bay-front canvas. In keeping with my time-tested financial intuitions, we had purchased our home at the very pinnacle of the housing market, and so we’ve pretty much been underwater ever since — metaphorically at first, and then physically when rising flood waters unceremoniously ushered us out the front door in the middle of the night.

The Ragsdale's new home design was inspired by homes made from shipping containers. SOURCE: YouTube.

The Ragsdales were inspired by simple modern homes made from shipping containers. SOURCE: YouTube.

“People are doing all sorts of really innovative things with shipping containers,” I said to my unconvinced wife Angela, while flicking through Pinterest pages of visually stunning homes constructed from discarded metal shells.

Even before the flood, I had been reading books on how to simplify one’s life, focusing on what really matters — travels and experiences — rather than material possessions. Titles like Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau, and Simplify by Joshua Becker were usually within reach, and yet as I was still mentally shackled to all of the things that we’d hoarded over the years, their real-world recommendations read more like abstract theories.

:: But now times are rough, and I’ve got too much stuff ::

Like a tidal surge that abruptly changes the landscape of an entire region, the flood forced any decision to simplify upon us. It was no longer a philosophical goal as much as a financial mandate. Like an unplanned baptism, the water had washed away many of our possessions, leaving us shell-shocked and yet optimistic about starting anew.

Kristi Stevenson

Kristi Stevenson of HART Builders. Photo by Alissa Aryn Photography.

As the waters receded, we called our friend, Kristi Stevenson of Hart Builders (Phone: 850-586-1070). Kristi had always been there for our family, day or night. AC unit dies smack-dab in the middle of the sweltering summer heat? Call Kristi. Faulty flashing causing the chimney to leak? Call Kristi. She’d always been there to help us whenever we felt in over our heads.

“We’re in over our heads, Kristi,” I said. “Way over.”

After hearing of our midnight plight, Kristi promised us that we could build a nice home on our budget. “We’ll make it work,” she said reassuringly.

In the weeks and months ahead, Kristi became our most valuable ally, waging war like a smart phone Spartan to keep us on track and on budget.

In time, my crazy notions of living in a box car concoction receded. Ultimately, I didn’t want to be “that guy.” You know, the guy they discovered cooked alive inside a 225-degree metal box one August afternoon, or the guy they found weeping atop a large pile of rusty rubble after just a few years of salt air corrosion. “No, you definitely don’t want to use shipping containers,” local builders would warn others in the future. “You heard what happened to that guy, didn’t you?”

We decided to leave such architectural adventures to those who don’t break out in hives upon entering Home Depot.

Thom Grant of HART Builders

Thom Grant of HART Builders. Photo by Alissa Aryn Photography.

Despite the fact that this was going to be a uniquely challenging project, Kristi and her business partner Thom Grant never made us feel bad for needing to “keep it simple.” Perhaps they could sense our desperation, or perhaps they saw our vision. Either way, we knew in our hearts that Kristi and Thom were the ones who would one day bring our family back home.

We also called several local architects to see who was best qualified to help us design the decidedly simple yet modern home that we’d envisioned.

Again and again, the name Ed Rolen of Rolen Studio (Phone: 850-814-2642) kept coming up.

“You mean the guy who’s always doing those crazy kite surfing jumps out on Grayton Beach,” I asked.

Yup, that’s him. And this project has Ed’s name written all over it, they said.

Ed Rolen of Rolen Studio

Ed Rolen of Rolen Studio. Photo by Alissa Aryn Photography.

They were right. While Ed has designed sleek modern homes in other parts of the U.S., he had yet to find someone here in South Walton who craved the clean, simple lines that permeate his portfolio. In Ed, we saw the perfect combination of vision, talent and passion. In us, I think Ed saw an opportunity to perhaps nudge our community’s architectural style in a bold new direction.

As we stood with Ed, Thom and Kristi upon the dusty remains of our recently demolished home, I sketched out a rudimentary floor plan on a scrap piece of paper. A master suite on one end. A wide open great room and kitchen in the middle. Two guest rooms on the other end. And a whole bunch of big windows gazing out across Choctawhatchee Bay.

“Looks pretty simple,” said Thom, looking over my scribble. “Just a big rectangle up on pilings.”

“Yup,” I grinned. “Kinda like a box car.”

Here are a few photos of the project-in-progress:

Rendering by Ed Rolen

Rendering by Rolen Studio

Read Chapter 3.

Watch for the final chapter of the story in the July / August 2016 issue of VIE Magazine. For more information about the project, visit Sincere thanks to our partners:


Hart Builders

Residential Design:
Rolen Studio – Modern Residential

Interior Design:
Cassidy Lyons Pickens (Lovelace Interiors)

Joey LaSalle (Lovelace Interiors)

Original Art:
Matt Lyons
Allison Wickey
Mary Hong
Fusion Art Glass

Flooring / Tile:
Renovation Flooring

Custom Furniture:
Not Too Shabby Boutique

Beautiful Lights

Master Bathroom Custom Cabinetry:
Zimerman Enterprises

Plumbing Fixtures:

Classic Design Stone / Caesarstone / MSI

Home Automation:
AVX – Audio Video Excellence

Glass / Mirrors:
Seaview Glass and Mirror

Landscape Plan:
Terra Firma Landscapes

Green Earth Landscape Services

Swimming Pool:
Cox Pools Sales and Service

Pool Pavers:
Riviera Stoneworks

Pool and Patio Furniture:
La Place USA Furniture Outlet

3D Home Tour:

Infrared Sauna:
Finnleo Sauna and Steam

Kitchen Work Station:
The Galley

Interior and Exterior Paint:
1300 County Highway 283 South
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

Painter / Contractor:
Venez Painting


Kitchen Appliances: Builder Specialties (BSI), Destin (850-650-9092)

Home Security: Planet Secure (850-278-6226)

Custom Window Treatments: Concept Blinds and Design (850-797-6819)

Custom Closet Design: Alpha Closets and Murphy Beds (850-516-8827)

Doors and Windows: Southern Windows and Doors (850-546-1773)

Pool Paver Installation: Flamingo Hardscapes (850-974-0819)

Insulation: Mid-America Insulation and Supply (850-312-8400)

Electrical: Xcell Electric Inc. (850-865-3254)

Plumbing / Gas: SSE Plumbing and Gas Contractors (850-441-3458)

Gutters: Architectural Gutter Systems (850-226-6207)