Tour a Naturally Chic Beach House on Ono Island

Step inside the design of an Ono Island stunner and get tips on how to replicate the coastal look in your own home.

Outdoor Dining setup with a view of Ono Island
Photos by Laura Rowe

The beach is the perfect setting for a day of play, relaxation or just to get away for a while. For Joan and Leo Ounanian, it’s their go-to place for all of the above. “We have both visited the Alabama and Florida panhandle areas annually throughout our lives,” says Joan Ounanian. “I have so many fun memories from high school and college trips.” Leo is originally a Mobile native and Joan hails from New Orleans; both are familiar with and particularly fond of Mobile and Baldwin counties. Although the couple eventually moved to Houston, they made special trips each summer to the Alabama Gulf Coast. “Once we started our family, a boy followed by three girls, we started bringing them to the beach each year from infancy through post-college years,” says Joan. “It was always the perfect family vacation.” During those trips, they discovered Ono Island.

The couple first became aware of the barrier island in the 90s. Later on, their oldest child was invited to spend several days on the island with some Houston friends in high school. “He loved it and brought us over here to water ski on future beach trips,” says Joan. The family embraced the island with open arms, and it quickly became a much-loved staple in their travel plans. Then, in 2019 during the family’s annual crawfish boil, a secret let out. “I saw my husband and kids talking in low voices, with big smiles on their faces,” she says. “When I went over to see what was going on, I was informed he had placed a bid on a lot on Ono! Apparently, he had taken a vote as to where they thought we should build a home.” The home was meant to be a summer or vacation home, with plans of becoming a place the couple retired later. “By the time we had the house designed and built, all four of our children were married and our first grandbaby was on the way,” she says. “We are all so happy with this decision.”

The almost 6-mile stretch of private coastal heaven is a serene abode, and the Ounanians needed a house to match. Designed by architect Pete Vallas and built by Mark Colglazier, the beach house reflects timeless seaside style with its nautical copulas, wood-plank exterior and spacious porch area to watch the waves go by. “We started by getting on a boat,” says Vallas. “And we rode around Ono Island, and they showed us what they liked, what they didn’t like and the things that stood out to them were more traditional.” Keeping that in mind along with the pie slice-shaped lot facing east at Ono Island’s point, Vallas employed architectural elements that brought their vision to life. “They loved the exposed rafter tails, the very traditional double hung windows, we have panes on the top part of the window, but no panes below, which is a historic pattern. The mix of materials on the exterior — lap siding mixed with cedar shingles — and the galvanized metal roof. That’s all very traditional.”

The big house is an ideal lodging for the summer for the Ounanians’ grown children and grandchildren. “Their goal was to finally have a place that all the family could come, and where they could eventually retire,” says Vallas. “They wanted to make it very inviting, enticing to get the family together.” “With three of our four kids having moved away from Texas, there is a desire to eventually transfer back, on a more full-time basis, to the Alabama coast where I grew up,” says Leo. “There is a distinct social quality and culture in the citizens of South Alabama that is refreshing.”

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Interior designer Brooke Chamblee ensured that the ageless style transitioned inside. “We used a lot of natural elements in the house like pecky cypress on walls, reclaimed wood beams, and antique white oak floors,” she says. “Subtle blues and greens were incorporated throughout the house through paint colors, casual finishes and family-friendly fabrics.” The house’s interior exudes coastal charm without feeling stereotypically “beachy,” with abundant natural light and waterside textures to boot. “Pete Vallas and Brooke Chamblee, in collaboration with Joan and me for 3 years, made our Ono home an exceptional success,” says Leo. For the Ounanians, the coastal-chic beach house is a dream come true. “We love being on Ono, and the kids love coming as often as they are able,” says Joan. “Every time we cross the bridge to get on, I think, ‘Welcome to my little paradise.’”

7 Ways to Capture the Coastal Look


In the game of space, windows are a key player. Large windows primarily serve to showcase the stunning outdoor views of the coast, connecting the exterior to the interior. The Ono house is mostly windows, and architect Pete Vallas ensured they were all the same size, an old technique that recalls a time homeowners bought windows locally (all of which came in one standard size).


Replicating the feeling of a wide expanse of sand and water inside a house requires creating bright, open rooms. Thanks to the house’s design and execution, interior designer Brooke Chamblee had plenty of wide-open rooms with high ceilings — measuring 11 feet tall on the main floor — to work with. Another way to emphasize space is to be mindful of the height of your furniture; anything too tall in comparison to the rest of the room will take up visual room.


While a white or light-colored canvas brings space, accent colors allow a surf-and-sand-inspired vision to truly shine. Chamblee used a combination of coastal blues, watery teals, marine grays and deep greens to bring color to the interior.

The colors of the water outside echo across painted furniture, doors, kitchen cabinets and more. Splashes of unexpected hues, such as soft lavender and natural yellow, bring a layer of added interest to the rooms. Similar shades look great in any home for a touch of coastal elegance.

Chamblee utilized light woods, metals and materials that furthered the seaside theme. Wicker and rattan are both accessible and bring a durable but classic coastal feel to mirror frames, chairs and dressers in any home.


Wallpaper and fabrics can be used to bring a bit of the beach indoors. Smaller areas present an opportunity to have fun with busier patterns without feeling overwhelming. Chamblee used palm wallpaper, grasscloth and coastal colors to liven up a few of the bathrooms. In one, the blue wood paneling painted to complement the wallpaper give the feeling of being below deck.


Chamblee opted for brass and gold-trimmed accents in many of the bathrooms and bedrooms. Brass calls to mind ships’ hardware and adds a warm feel to rooms. Chamblee used a shiny brass that is unlacquered and will age over time.


The designer chose durable textiles for the chairs in the living area that won’t mind a few wet bathing suits or sandy feet that come with life at the beach. White or cream cotton bedspreads feel light and well-suited for beach living.


Even the smallest details help contribute to an island feel. In the living area, a painting by Mobile artist Sarah Otts depicts a water’s horizon with a cloudy sky, acting as a coastal centerpiece against the painted paneling.

The most important thing to convey is an air of laid-back living. Nothing should look too curated or perfect. It’s the beach, after all, and the true coastal way of life is far from fussy.

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