By Molly Donovan, Photography By Matthew Peterson
Tree-lined roads in the College Point neighborhood lead to a beautiful stucco home, the red roof visible from afar. Tucked in a quaint corner of Lynn Haven, Diane and Hayes Morris have built their dream home and enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with 4-year-old granddaughter Paisley and the family dog, longhaired dachshund, Deuce.
A wrought-iron gate marks the driveway and leads to an ornate front door. Off to the side, an inviting breezeway runs between the home’s two wings, leading to the outdoor living space. “We told our architect that we wanted as many rooms as possible to have a view of the water,” Hayes and Diane say; this was accomplished.
The family savors the natural light that floods through tall transom windows and the panoramic sights of tranquil Beatty Bayou. Ceilings range from 12 to 20 feet high with intricately arranged wood beams. They combine with white walls and jewel-toned decorations to create an airy atmosphere. Travertine flooring extends from inside the house to the exterior areas and large French doors open from the indoor area into an outdoor living room.
Sinker cypress, knotty alder, and pine can be found throughout the house and it is so much more than material. Timber represents a large part of their lives and careers. Hayes followed in his family’s footsteps and opened his own timber company in 1987. He met and married Diane shortly afterward. “Diane and I were co-owners of a sawmill that specialized in cypress. I knew that we would build a new home and every time a buyer rejected a delivery because the lumber did not meet expectations or specs, I would save it,” he explains. “In the last 10 years, I have collected a lot of the lumber that has been used in our house. The wood was destined to be destroyed, and we found a way to make it work.” He explains that many people would throw away wood that seems “imperfect” or “unsellable,” but he adores the imperfections and knew he could put it to use one day.
When they found the perfect property, the building plans took shape. “We hired architect Mike Hunnicutt. The house is his brainchild. I described the features we wanted and that we were looking for a Spanish hacienda-feel. He and I talked a lot. He got it right on the first try.” The couple has traveled all over the world and say influences from Europe, the Caribbean, and South America were incorporated into the home design.
For the homebuilders, it meant thinking outside the box. “It took a really great team of craftsmen to put this house together,” Hayes states. “Our home builders, Griffin Mitchell and Evan Christensen of Griffin Mitchell Inc. went above and beyond for every aspect of the project. They knew it was going to be unusual. They enjoyed the challenge. It took a lot of innovative thinking as the solid wood is extremely heavy and difficult to handle.” As Hayes walks through the house, he points at wood accents that show unusual graining and detail. “Everything is custom manufactured and we love the character of the knots and burrs.” Benches, tables, chairs, and ceiling beams are manufactured of solid sinker-cypress that was reclaimed from local waterways and is hundreds of years old. From the dock to the baseboards to the rafter tails outside, the total, Hayes says, is around 30,000 board feet of cypress and heart pine used in their home.
Hayes and Diane agree that their favorite place is the 600-square-foot outdoor living area with a floor to ceiling fireplace and TV, Argentinian Asado grill and a custom-made swing bed that hangs from the ceiling. A large terrace with 20-foot pillars and circular stairs leads to the backyard, the boat dock, and pool. Kayaks, paddleboards, and surfboards rest against 100-year-old trees draped with Spanish moss. Hayes remarks, “We used to go to Shell Island all the time, but we hardly leave the house now. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon.”
“Everything happens outside,” Diane adds, laughing. The couple especially loves the wildlife present in their own backyard. “We have saltwater and freshwater species in the Bayou. We really get the best of both worlds. We have bass swimming around, otters, freshwater turtles, water snakes, and wood ducks,” they recount. They even see the occasional eagle. “We enjoy it here a lot. There is a family of bluebirds that we see every morning, a troupe of turtles across the fence that we feed, frogs trained to come up and eat mealworms. We love it.”
The only person who might love the house more than Hayes and Diane is granddaughter, Paisley. “Every day is a new excursion for her,” Diane says. A playground with a tree house and swings sits in the backyard and an underwater green light installed under the dock attracts hundreds of redfish every night that she loves to look at.
At night, landscape lights within the trees illuminate the elegant home. The view from the other side is so beautiful that the neighbors across the bayou have called to remark on it. It takes special resolve to get the best results when building a home and, as he thinks back to the many decisions that had to be made, Hayes thinks of one that was simple, “We were trying to decide which trees to put lights on, and I kept adding more. Eventually I just told the landscaper ‘Put lights on all of them.’”
About Hayes and Diane Morris
Hayes Morris’ family settled in Jackson and Calhoun counties in the mid-1800s. Diane’s mother was born in Panama City and married an Air Force navigator. Diane has fond memories of family vacations in Panama City while growing up. Her parents eventually came back to retire in the mid-1980s.
Diane’s great-grandmother was the owner of the historic Panama City Bay Hotel, and her grandmother attended Bob Jones College in the late 1920s. The college was built in 1927 and became the namesake for the College Point neighborhood.
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