Anna Maria Island Getaway Emanates West Indies Charm

Circumstance and fate draw an Atlanta designer to Anna Maria Island, the ideal spot for a custom beach getaway for her and her family


“Location, location, location” were the first words interior designer Laura Freeman expressed when describing the inherent charm of her family’s new vacation spot on Anna Maria Island. Having just sold their Atlanta home of 17 years, the designer and her husband Render began looking for the ideal place to build a getaway retreat. Their must-have list included easy access to a beach where they could walk barefoot for miles, a place to ride bikes safely, a nearby major airport for business travel and visiting guests, and lots of terrific restaurants and cultural offerings. 

“Anna Maria’s proximity to Sarasota is absolutely perfect,” says Freeman, founder and principal of Merits Design Group, an award-winning interior architecture and design firm based in Atlanta. “We can spend quiet time on the tip of the island, and when we feel like a bit more bustle, we can head to downtown Sarasota for shopping, restaurants, art exhibits, and theater.” 

During the home search, Freeman was also working as an art director for interior projects at Walt Disney World. She would strap her beach cruiser to the back of her car and spend weekends in coastal towns that were on the couple’s list. “Anna Maria was a no-brainer,” she adds. “It has a quaint small-town feel with old-school architecture, and there are no cookie-cutter franchises and no gated communities.” Plus, there were also serendipitous signs guiding the family to land there. Freeman’s father played minor league baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Pirates’ spring training camp is now in the area. The Freemans’ new home sits around the block from the homes of famous ball players like Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn, who built a group of cottages there in the 1950s and baptized them with names such as Catcher’s Mitt and The Diamond. “We called my grandfather ‘Poppo,’ and there is a Poppo’s Taqueria,” says Freeman. “The karma was strong, and it felt like fate had brought us here—we loved it immediately.” 

After discovering an overgrown lot, the couple’s builder, Dan Gagne, flew his drone above the property, showing them potential views from a main second floor, third floor, and proposed roof deck. “We saw gorgeous views of the Gulf and vistas of the Skyline Bridge to St. Pete,” Freeman notes. “Those drone shots sealed the deal.” 

Before breaking ground on their 3,000-square-foot home, the couple consulted with David Wash, an area architect who came highly recommended by Gagne. Armed with an inspiration photo deck, they mapped out their vision—a place where family, friends, and young kids could gather to cook and eat amazing food, socialize, play games, enjoy peaceful spaces, and take in the views.

“After discussions with Laura and Render, it became clear that taking advantage of the outdoor setting and maximizing the perception of space would be top priorities,” says Wash, who heads up his own firm. “While the upper-level primary suite and roof deck enjoys the beach view, it was imperative to organize the ground and main levels around a private central courtyard to create an internal space secure from outside influences.”

“David’s modular approach was perfect and knocked our vision out of the park,” says Freeman. “He and I worked really well together, and I thought he captured the exterior style of modern-California- meets-West-Indies that we were going for very well. Once the exterior shell was settled, I got to work on the interior spaces.”

Freeman’s leading source of inspiration celebrates the natural landscape—the colors of the dunes and driftwood, the incredible hues of the Gulf of Mexico, the sunsets, and the wildlife of coastal birds, shells, and turtles. Additional inspiration came from a family trip to Greece in 2018, where she fell in love with the open-air concept of living, white materials like linen and stucco, and layers of texture. 

“Composite siding, stucco, pergolas, and aluminum pipe railings are consistent with the traditional island structures but expressed more modernly,” notes Wash. “This modern touch—a collaborative effort between Laura and me—is probably the most satisfying aspect of this design and one that could only be achieved with the client’s openness to alternative ideas.”

A graphic designer with a master’s degree in interior architecture and design, Freeman is well-versed in building custom architectural elements and furniture. Because space was tight, she designed all the built-in components, including a primary bathroom vanity, floating nightstands, a laundry room, a kitchen banquette and desk/mini home office area, the family room’s TV wall, the kitchen layout and pantry, a coffee/wine bar, a guest bunk room, an outdoor kitchen, and a pizza-oven station. An advocate of sustainable design, she deliberately chose salvaged pieces, reclaimed woods, and materials that were functionally and aesthetically eco-friendly. Durable, easy-to-clean organic linens, washable slipcovers, jute rugs, and performance fabrics were priorities, as was the hard-wearing and sustainable hickory engineered flooring—an essential for wet and sandy feet. 

“My COVID silver lining was that I was furloughed and then laid off from Disney, which coincided exactly with the time we broke ground on our home,” she adds. “It allowed me to take a super deep dive into all the details, and, as divine intervention would have it, I was called back to Disney two months before we moved in. What incredible timing—we feel so fortunate to have this wonderful home to share with the people we love.”

Story Credits:

Interior Design by Laura Freeman, Merits Design Group, Atlanta, GA

Architecture by David Wash, David Wash Architect, Bradenton, FL

Text by Jeanne de Lathouder

Photography by David Cannon, Monroe, GA

Open to see Interior Design Sources:



Console table – Vintage, Scott Antique Market, Atlanta, GA

Round mirror – Kelly Clarkson Home,

Pendant lighting – Graypants,

Area rug – Pottery Barn,

Family Room

Sofa – Pottery Barn,

Club chair – Acquisitions, Atlanta, GA

Cocktail table – RH, Atlanta, GA

Side tables – Vintage, Scott Antique Market, Atlanta, GA

Table lamps – Palecek, ADAC, Atlanta, GA

Area rug – Serena & Lily, Atlanta, GA


Cabinetry and island designed by Merits Design Group, Atlanta, GA, and fabricated by Progressive Cabinetry, Bradenton, FL

Pendant lighting – Rejuvenation,

Stools – Palecek, ADAC, Atlanta, GA

Outdoor Nook

Table – Vintage, Scott Antique Market, Atlanta, GA

Stools – Kathy Kuo Home,

Lighting – Hinkley Lighting,


Banquette designed by Merits Design Group, Atlanta, GA, and fabricated by Sundance Fine Carpentry, Bradenton, FL

Table – Room & Board, Atlanta, GA

Alfresco Family Room

Seating and cocktail table – RH, Atlanta, GA

Music and Movie Room

Sofa – RH, Atlanta, GA

Ottoman – Crate & Barrel, Atlanta, GA

Side table – Merits Design Group, Atlanta, GA

Wallcovering – Winfield Thybony, Kravet Showroom, ADAC, Atlanta, GA

Area rug – Dash & Albert, Codarus, Atlanta, GA

Bunk Room

Bunk beds designed by Merits Design Group, Atlanta, GA, and fabricated by Sundance Fine Carpentry, Bradenton, FL

Area rug – FLOR,

Primary Bedroom

Bed – RH, Atlanta, GA

Club chair – Acquisitions, Atlanta, GA

Wicker side table – Vintage, Scott Antique Market, Atlanta, GA

Desk and chair – Pottery Barn,

Area rug – Serena & Lily, Atlanta, GA

Outdoor Dining

Table and chairs – RH, Atlanta, GA

Pizza-oven station designed by Merits Design Group, Atlanta, GA, and fabricated by Californo,


Builder – Gagne Construction, Anna Maria Island, FL

Landscape architecture – Jeff Gilchrist Landscaping, Bradenton, FL

Landscape lighting – Bright Lights Landscape Lighting, Sarasota, FL

Exterior sconces – Hinkley Lighting,

Shutters – Gulf Coast Shutter Co., Bradenton, FL

Pool and jacuzzi – Tom Sanger Pools, Bradenton, FL

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