In Mount Pleasant’s RiverTowne neighborhood, a Brazil-born builder and his design-driven wife relish life indoors and out in their modern farmhouse-style abode
In Valmar Nunes’s hometown of Natal—the largest city in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil—cooking outside under an open sky is part of the fabric of daily life. “The pace is slower there,” he says. “It’s common to see people gathered around a grill of meat, just talking and laughing on an average Wednesday afternoon.”
“That’s his culture,” adds his wife, Melissa. “On my first visit to Brazil, when I met his family and saw people selling churrasco on street corners, it all clicked. This was part of his childhood, and it’s still part of who he is.”
Since moving stateside in 1999, Valmar has continued the tradition, making a point to regularly cook Brazilian fare and dine alfresco with Charleston-born Melissa and their three kiddos: Teghan, 19; Riley, 12; and Cruz, eight. It’s no surprise, then, that in 2014, when the couple set out to design and build a home in Mount Pleasant’s RiverTowne neighborhood, an open-air living space outfitted with a kitchen was priority número um.
In terms of residential design, this wasn’t their first rodeo. Valmar, a builder by trade, helms Guaranteed Framing, which frames up hundreds of new homes in the Lowcountry each year, as well as Master Home Builder. Over the last 13 years, he and Melissa, with her knack for interior design, have renovated and custom built seven residences, from a West Ashley fixer-upper to a new build on Daniel Island. By the time they came across the unique half-acre lot in RiverTowne, the couple had a clear vision of their dream domicile: a clean-lined but cozy abode on the water where they could artfully blur the lines between outside and in.
Melissa and Valmar fell for this particular parcel’s long views of the Wando River. They were also attracted to RiverTowne itself, citing the natural beauty and salt-marsh vistas of the quiet golf community. But the land presented some challenges, too: shaped like a triangle, the lot is bordered by marsh on two sides, making it tough to carve out space for a traditional backyard. “At first, it was difficult to figure out how to get everything situated,” Melissa notes.
Undeterred, she and Valmar drew up plans for a 6,000-square-foot modern farmhouse that, thanks to a T-shaped layout, made the most of the angular tract. With the design ideas in place, they enlisted area structural engineer Matthew Wilks of MW Design, LLC for help drawing up the plans. From there, Valmar’s firm, Master Home Builder, built the place from the ground up, with construction wrapping in 2016.
Situated within the T’s would-be negative space is the home’s ne plus ultra: an elevated back patio overlooking the Wando. From this perch, a travertine-bordered infinity pool draws the eye into the landscape, where Melissa says she often spots egrets taking flight. The pool deck itself feels connected to the terrain, too, and not just because of the fiddler crabs that congregate there during high tide: it looks like wood, but it’s actually a low-maintenance faux-wood tile. “I like it because it’s got a little bit of traction, you don’t have to worry about splinters, it doesn’t get too hot in the summertime, and you can just spray it off—but it has the warm look of reclaimed beams,” Melissa notes.
But the raised patio is more than a place for swimming, sunning, and watching wildlife. It’s truly an outdoor living room for all seasons. During chillier months, the Nunes clan can be found gathered around the plein-air fireplace or taking in an Alabama game on the outdoor flat-screen. “You’ll hear us yelling ‘Roll Tide’ for sure,” Melissa says.
Perhaps their favorite spot to hang, though, is the outdoor kitchen. Outfitted with top-of-the-line grilling equipment, it’s certainly fancier than the front-yard set up Valmar enjoyed back in Brazil, but the spirit is the same. And lest the cook feel lonely at his post, the open-air scullery is situated right next to the pool house, which boasts a kitchen of its own. A roll-up window links the two, creating a natural space for an outdoor bar. “This design lets you stand at the grill and pass dishes to people who are cooking or eating inside,” she says.
Inside the home’s main structure, a generous allotment of windows and sliding-glass doors brings river views—not to mention easy patio access—into most every room. A variety of houseplants reinforce the connection with nature, while acacia floors and reclaimed wood accents add a sense of earthiness throughout. On the walls, wide-plank shiplap feels distinctly coastal, yet modern and clean.
The overall effect is luxe, but Melissa prides herself on seeking out budget-friendly finds. “I’m all about things that are stylish but don’t break the bank,” she says. In a genius cost-saving move, Melissa transformed a slightly damaged, discounted blue bureau from Steven Shell Living into a vanity that wound up in Cruz’s bathroom. “It was a little dinged up, but once we put a sink on top, the flaws weren’t even visible,” she notes.
This down-to-earth approach is part of what makes the home so inviting. Since the Nuneses moved in nearly two years ago, the place has become a de facto headquarters for their family and friends. “When I say we entertain, I mean a lot of people,” Melissa says. “It’s nothing for us to have a cookout with 80 guests.”
No matter the occasion, Valmar can be found in the outdoor kitchen, rocking out to bossa nova and grilling up churrasco, Brazilian-style steak. “It’s a type of meat you can only get at Brazilian Market in Goose Creek,” he says. “It’s a very tender, very juicy cut called ‘picanha’ that I season with rock salt.”
For her part, Melissa is known to help whip up some of the family’s other signature dishes: salpicao, a Brazilian chicken and potato salad; rice; and feijoada, a black bean stew. But perhaps most popular is the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail made from sugar-cane liquor, limes, and sugar. For the couple’s friends, sipping one of these while overlooking the marsh or taking a dip in the heated pool is like a mini-vacation. To which we say: ¡Felicidades!