Take a Tour Through The Coast’s Most Modern Home

Photography by Jack Gardner

Full photo gallery at bottom of page

It takes a stellar design pedigree for a house to merit a name and not just an address. Stairway to Heaven is such a house. Even in artfully quaint Seaside, its sleek lines and spiraling rooftop staircase reaching upward toward the sky attract much attention, practically making the house a travel destination. Adding to the home’s fame is its role in the 1996 movie “The Truman Show,” which is still referenced by a Rubeo Architects sign hanging out front.

The cube-like, glass-walled house was built in 1996 by architect Alexander Gorlin for himself and his wife, Debra Solomon, a cartoonist and filmmaker. It’s a corner unit opening up diagonally to Ruskin Place, an eclectic block of shops, art galleries and unique residences surrounding a small, forested park.

Although the home’s minimalism is a strict departure from Seaside’s whimsical bungalows and wee versions of antebellum mansions, Gorlin feels that his design affirms the town planners’ vision of neighborliness.

“The open stair leading to the living area above the ground-floor space recalls both the open loggias of Italian houses around a piazza and the classic brownstone stoop,” he explains. “It invites public interaction.”

And, of course, the staircase — though unconventional — serves as an observation tower, a building whimsy encouraged in Seaside. Soaring upward from a roof terrace, the staircase with its two platforms is the tallest tower in town and provides stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico, the 80-acre community’s rooftops and the green expanse of forest stretching north.

On the second floor, the open plan sweeps easily from dining area to kitchen to living space, with abundant natural light pouring in from floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The balcony off the living space offers views of the tree-lined park and lively shops of Ruskin Place.

Quirky details add uncommon luxury to the house. They include a spiral staircase from the living room to the third-floor master bedroom and bath, white marble countertops in kitchen and baths, and a pebbled walk-in shower with a skylight.

Redoing an Icon

Stairway to Heaven now has a new owner, and Tamera Massey, an architect/designer with a studio practically next door, is the creator of the iconic home’s updated looks.

“Living at Ruskin Place, my admiration for Stairway to Heaven grew in multitudes,” she says. “Every morning I’d wake up and relish its amazing details. Then the owner chose to relocate to a Dune lakefront home that I had just finished designing and furnishing, and I was handed the fabulous challenge of updating and furnishing the structure I had admired for so many years.

“The new owner left it to me to do what I felt was right for the house,” Massey says. “That was, of course, to respect the original architect’s creation and treat the interior space as a dynamic venue for mid-century furnishings and contemporary art. Manipulating wall colors, I was able to create subtle depth and add sculptural character to the maze of forms and surfaces.”

Many of the furnishings that Massey selected are as iconic as the house itself.

“I pulled from the influences of influential early and mid-century architects and designers,” she says. “For example, there are Eero Saarinen’s Tulip armchairs and pedestal table; Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair; stools and chairs by Charles and Ray Eames; and lighting by Louis Poulsen.”

Art Showcase

In addition, the house celebrates the work of such locally respected artists as Cheryl Troxell, Beau Bradberry and photographer Michael Granberry.

But one element remains from the home’s original decor: the living-space curtains made of white parachute cloth.

“The glass walls are a modernist’s dream,” says Massey, “but Alexander Gorlin felt they looked a little bare. The parachute curtains proved the answer. Their light weight was crucial, because the windows are nearly 20 feet tall. Many architects cringe at the idea of draperies, but these have a diaphanous quality that changes the room without compromising its clean lines.”

On the ground floor, there is studio space with a mural hand-painted by Grayson Beach-based artist Justin Lyons. Part of the mural is a phrase that perfectly captures the essence of the house. “Change is Forward,” it pronounces.

Categories: Homes