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From The Porch of the Begin Family

Among the questions we’re frequently asked are things like:

 “How’s the market?” 

“What’s available in my price range?”

And, “I want to move to the beach, but how do I do it?”

For the latter, we offer one word of encouragement — Begin.

Photo courtesy of the Begin family

Perhaps that single word as a command is easier to say than do, but one family in our area knows it all too well, both as an imperative statement and their family name.

Meet Trey and Leslie Begin, proud parents of six beautiful daughters who range in age from three to 15. Originally residents of New Orleans, the couple made a single visit to Seaside, Florida, where they stayed in a one-bedroom condo overlooking the square with views of the gulf. It was February then, with the chilled breezes and cold water that time of year is known for. 

“I just remember thinking, ‘We could live here. If I like it in the winter, then I might like it in the summer,” Leslie said. 

The Begins previously spent time in Orange Beach, Alabama, because it was a quicker trip from their New Orleans home and it meant an hour less driving time with a passel of small children. Years ago (and with two fewer kids in tow), they had camped at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, but had not been back until the couple sought a weekend getaway.

Married 18 years, the couple has been involved in a variety of industries including owning their own cleaning company, which they later sold, and working as health coaches to help people reach their personal wellness goals. 

Unlike our typical “From The Porch” features where we chronicle the design-build journey of a family on the Emerald Coast, the Begins have a different story, opting to purchase their home on Brenda Lane near Kaiya and Alys Beach mid-construction in late 2020. And, as is much the story around the country in all aspects of life over the past 18 months, COVID-19 prevented them from making the usual customizations and finishing details.

“Everything took much longer than it was supposed to because of that,” Trey said, adding that backordered materials were the culprit for much of the slowdown. “Even now, they’re still finishing up a few things around the house. If we were going to special order anything or change anything out, it was going to take another six to eight months so we decided we’d change things out later if we wanted to.”

The Begins’ home on Brenda Lane is a seven-bedroom, 10-bath, three-story home with just over 7,100 square feet of living space. Among its notable features is a private heated pool with hot tub, a home theater, gym, game room and oversized two-car garage. They’re just a short stroll to deeded beach access directly off Scenic Highway 30A.

Before the Brenda Lane house and even before the pandemic, the Begins had made the decision to commit to at least a transient life shuffling between their home in New Orleans and a long-term rental they had leased in the Panhandle. Leslie said the family believed they were meant to be in Florida so they packed up everything, including toilet paper and without the help of movers, and spent their first two weeks in Florida in quarantine.

“We were like, would we rather be quarantined on Camp Creek Lake or would we rather be quarantined in a really great neighborhood in Louisiana,” Leslie remembered. “And, we’re like, ‘Camp Creek Lake.’”

“Half of our vehicle was paper goods,” Trey said, with a laugh. 

It didn’t take long for the family to realize they wanted to put down roots in the area. They started looking for a primary home with the help of a real estate agent at Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty. After viewing a dozen or more houses, they were still no closer to a residence that felt like home. 

“He talked to us about this one and I really didn’t want to go see it,” Trey explained. “I saw it online. I didn’t really love it. We actually drove by it and didn’t really like it. And, he said, ‘Listen, I need you to trust me. You told me what you need in a house and I want you to walk through it.

“And, as soon as we walked through the front door, we’re like, ‘Yep, this is the house.’”

The home on Brenda Lane appealed to the couple because of its location primarily, both bikable and walkable to shops, restaurants and playgrounds for the kids.

Photo courtesy of the Begin family

“The kids can bike to Raw and Juicy and play at the playground. We shop at Gigi’s and Stellar. Those are our places,” Leslie said. “We bike to The Hub. Being true locals matters to us and being able to bike and walk and be active is important to us.”

The Begins did their homework, checking out the walkability score for communities throughout Florida before settling on the active lifestyle options, from biking and hiking to swimming and paddle boarding, found all along 30A. 

If you talk to Trey about the family’s new home, one feature, in particular, stands out to him.

“We have 10 bathrooms, which is unreal because just about three, four years ago, we were remodeling and we had one bathroom,” said Trey, speaking as the only male in a home with seven women. “Someone was always using my restroom. And now, I’m like walking to my bathroom and no one’s in it and it’s freedom.

“And, when someone asks to use our bathroom or whatever, I’m like, ‘No, I bought nine other bathrooms for you to use. You are not using my bathroom.’”

Even for a family of eight, the home may seem over-the-top to some. But, when you understand the Begins’ heart for what they believe is the home’s purpose, everything becomes much clearer.

“Our heart is to host missionaries and pastors … people who run nonprofits and people who are just laboring and serving people … I want to give them a place where they can rest and relax. We call it our ‘free B&B,’” Leslie said. “That was something we prayed for — ‘Give us a carriage house’ — so we can do this.”

Dave Warren Photography

Since moving into the home, the Begins have hosted the families of eight different pastors, putting them in the carriage house that they actually completed before the main home itself. As previous non-profit workers, Leslie said they know how taxing that kind of work can be. 

“The vision was really for people who were at a place where they either couldn’t afford it or it’s something they would dream about and couldn’t afford on their own, a place to relax and renew,” Trey said. 

It’s paying it forward for the couple who said someone did the same for them years ago in a studio condo in Fort Walton Beach.

“We said, ‘What if we could have a condo like this someday to bless people with?,’” Leslie remembered. “And, God has given us these businesses and this entrepreneurial spirit and now we have this amazing space that people get to come to and we can remind them of God’s goodness.”

In the main home, the Begins cherish the simple things: A kitchen island with space for all the kids, plenty of space for everyone to work or learn from home and a flex room that works as a “man cave” of sorts for UFC nights or entertaining. As Leslie put it, there’s space for everyone “to just be.”

When asked how their beach home compares to their former home in Louisiana, Trey offered this succinct observation.

“How does it compare? It’s finished,” he said, with a laugh. “I always want to go to ‘fix-it mode,’ but I’m not responsible. I’ve got to stop looking at all the stuff that needs to be fixed.”

Living at the beach full time for the Begins means that they no longer have to soak up every minute at the beach, rain or shine. They get to choose the best moments at the beach — an early-morning trip to the water before virtual school starts, sunset walks, nature hikes where they encounter sea cucumbers and coral. The family’s perfect 30A day involves freedom, exploration and a few stops at some of their favorite spots like North Beach Social and Kahve & Cream.

The Begins real message for others who are contemplating big dreams is to realize them — whatever it takes.

“What if the dreams are actually possible? So many times, people are like, ‘How did you do it? We’ve always dreamed of living at the beach.’ Well, what’s stopping you? Instead of staying stuck, could you get creative? Could you be curious? Could you get to the place where you’re allowing your mind to wonder again, like that childhood wonder?

“Because, from that space, you focus on possibilities, not limitations,” Leslie said, adding that some could approach a move as temporary to give it more time to really sink in. “People are so committed to permanency, but what about adventure right now? What if you could always move back to the place you feel stuck in? It’s in our last name. We like to say, ‘Dare to begin.’”

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