Decorating Feature: American Idyll
Written ByStephanie Hunt
Photographs byPeter Frank Edwards
A Scottish couple trades in traditional European architecture for modern lines and high drama on the Isle of Palms.
Frank and Linda Lynch can spot a good venue. As former proprietors of nightclubs, restaurants, and discos in Europe and the U.S., they know something about ambiance, location, and what gives a place pizzazz. At their best-known spot, the legendary Glasgow Apollo in their hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, Frank transformed an enormous, decaying cinema into a rock ’n’ roll haven, where everyone who was anyone in the 1970s and ’80s music scene—AC/DC, Diana Ross, The Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Elton John, Neil Young, and hundreds more—played to a packed house.
“Fans and bands loved the place. If a band was recording a live album, they came to the Apollo because it drew these exuberant Glaswegians—a tough crowd, but if you could turn them on, you really had something,” Frank says. “It was scuzzy and smelly, okay, a bit rough and ready, but that was part of its magic. There was passion; the place had atmosphere.”
So too is the Lynches’ current venue alive with passion and atmosphere, though it’s far from rough and ready—and not exactly a packed house. Situated on a small point with an unobscured panoramic view of the Intracoastal Waterway, their minimalist, modern Isle of Palms home is crisp and clean and soaring with imagination.
“The joy of this house is that it’s so totally new to us. It’s the complete opposite of anything we’ve ever lived in,” Linda explains, recounting their former abodes: drafty, austere Victorians in Scotland, a Normandy-style home complete with a turret in New York, and their first home after moving to the states in 1979, an “over-the-top Americana” house in Fort Lauderdale. “Every Scottish person loves America, you know, so here we’d arrived: we bought this sprawling brick place with four pillars, a rose marble Jacuzzi for six. I thought I was Elvis,” Frank quips.
But their Graceland days are over.
“We wanted to keep things as simple as possible here. We wanted no walls downstairs, no formal dining room, an open kitchen,” Linda explains. This, of course, meant that their pack-rat days were behind them, too.
After 25 years of relocating frequently and living amidst “total clutter” in more traditional homes, the Lynches’ shift toward spare contemporary wasn’t just another move, it was a midlife crisis. “Well, a midlife crisis for Linda; a geriatric crisis for me,” jokes Frank, who is actually a spry 65.
“Linda had 400 baskets full of stuff,” asserts old husband. “Forty-two,” counters young wife, “I counted when I gave them away. I’ve reinvented myself, you know.”
So with their children now grown and gone, and without a basket in sight, these veterans of the entertainment and theater business have settled into an invitingly open and intriguing living space, where the focus is on art, nature, architecture, and story—not stuff. “This house appeals to my sense of the theatrical,” admits Frank, who points to dramatic elements like the embracing elliptical curve that surrounds the entrance stairs and two Frank Stella lithographs, one circular and one convex, that give color and flair to the living room. At night, custom-designed theatrical lighting precisely frames the artwork in a dramatic glow.
Architectural mastermind Beau Clowney of Beau Clowney Design was given leeway by the Lynches for improv and spontaneity, evident in inspired touches like a narrow catwalk with a see-through steel grate floor off the second-story deck. Frank asked Clowney the purpose for this odd appendage when he initially saw the plans. “‘No purpose,’ he told me. ‘It’s for fun, for the view,’” Frank recalls. “I liked that; that’s what this house is about—fun.”
“You can walk out there and have a Titanic moment,” jokes Linda.
Indeed the view was the driving design factor. The house sits high on a protruding spit of land near the Wild Dunes marina, and an immense two-story wall of windows offers pristine vistas of every passing pelican, barge, and pleasure boat. From the living room or from the upstairs balcony, one has the feeling of being on the prow of a large ship cruising the waterway, a post Frank knows well. His introduction to Charleston was from such a perch, when he docked here as a young merchant marine sailing to the world’s ports. Even as an 18-year-old, he remembers being smitten with the city. And years later, when the Lynches’ current venture in the car wash business brought them to South Carolina, the couple knew that Charleston was where they wanted to stay. Though they also do business and keep a loft apartment in Atlanta, home is here, on the water.
“This is the longest we’ve lived anywhere,” Linda confesses. “We grew up by the water in Glasgow, so we feel very at home here. Charleston has got a little bit of everything; we think it’s the most special place in America.”
However, what Charleston does not have is a lot of ultra-modern architecture. The Lynches happened upon the inspiration for their home while driving along busy Devine Street in Columbia. “Whoa, stop the car, that’s a brilliant house!” Frank remembers saying. After knocking on the door and using his trademark Scottish charm to garner a tour, he learned the house was a Beau Clowney design and that Clowney was based in Charleston. Bingo.
“The site on Isle of Palms was screaming for something exceptional,” notes Clowney, whose training is in modern architecture (at the Architectural Association in London and with Michael Graves at Princeton). Yet since this home would be situated in Wild Dunes, a severe, international-influenced style would have to be tempered with more traditional elements. His solution: “There’s the obligatory street-facing façade that is sympathetic to the neighborhood aesthetic, but then there’s backstage, if you will—the view from the water, which is all glass, all modern.”
Borrowing from Southern vernacular, Clowney used a dogtrot to connect the main house with the private guest quarters. A simple hipped roof added at the request of Wild Dunes’ architectural review board uses exaggerated overhangs to enliven its sense of scale, while playfully leaving gaps for added openness and light. “The diagrammatic nature of the plan, the choice of materials, and their detailing are what make this house modern,” explains Clowney. Portholes and punched window openings of various sizes give the exterior a carved geometric feel, while a continuation of travertine tile from the living area to the pool deck blends the interior and exterior spaces. The anchoring central portion acts as a linear room with windows on all sides, inviting light from all orientations.
Mirror Miró On The Wall
The Lynches could tell stories all day long, each finishing the other’s sentence or injecting a lovingly comic jab. They are delightful, warm, and gregarious, and have appointed their airy abode with items imbued with almost as much personality as they themselves have. “We didn’t want to just go buy all this Italian furniture, plunk it down, and say ‘Here’s our modern house,’” says Linda (despite their two Italian sectionals). Instead, they took their time perusing in Miami, Atlanta, and elsewhere for interesting pieces—except for the most striking purchase. An immense, century-old mirror that commands attention in the living room was acquired before the house was built, and in fact, the windows and the room itself were designed to accommodate this remnant from the legendary Paris bistro, Maxim’s.
With graceful angular vines slithering around its frame, this unusual Art Nouveau work has obvious sculptural appeal, but its untold stories are what captured the Lynches’ imaginations. From 1902 to 1992, when it was removed to make room for a kitchen expansion, this piece hung near Maxim’s restrooms. “Imagine how many people have looked in that mirror,” Frank muses. “Marlene Dietrich adjusted her skirt in that mirror. Jackie Onassis, Maria Callas, Josephine Baker, Liz Taylor. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Dalí, Warhol, and Cocteau…all the divas and celebrities of the ’30s and ’40s and beyond who came to Maxim’s are reflected in there.”
The Lynches are drawn to other objects similarly infused with life and story. In the mezzanine glass-sided sitting room, Joan Miró’s handprints are embossed within his splashy surrealist painting. The hefty living room coffee table, now bearing a framed gallery of smiling children and grandchildren, was once an Indonesian weavers’ worktable, complete with cutting marks and worn notches. “It’s a living thing,” Frank remarks, running his hand over the scarred wood. He admits he is awed by the size of the tree that offered up the beautiful rosewood slab. Yet Linda marvels at the manpower required to install the massive honed slate hearth. “It took eight men to lift it. One almost had a coronary! And then Frank comes in and says, ‘I liked it better before, nice and bare. You’re just going to put candles and flowers on it.’ I told him, ‘Well then, you’re going to have to tell the poor guy you want it out.’” The slate remains (complete with candles and flowers), providing contrast to the towering white fireplace—and, no doubt, relief to the workers.
Clowney and his clients wanted to merge the inside living space with the natural environment as seamlessly as possible, though this can be a challenge when a home must be elevated in a flood zone. Linda insisted that she have a screened porch (“I’m not living in South Carolina without it!”), so Clowney and “Neil the Builder” of Daly/Sawyer Builders obliged with a playful circular nook off the kitchen, inviting fresh breezes into the home and a bug-free outdoor escape. Landscape architect Sheila Wertimer further married the interior and exterior by making a courtyard the primary entry point for the home. One walks through the garden foyer—a fragrant allée of potted citrus trees and annuals—before ascending the exterior entry stairs.
Wertimer’s minimalist water garden “blew our minds,” says Linda, who especially enjoys the garden views at night, when tiny lights illuminate the narrow linear fountain. In keeping with the couple’s unpretentious nature, most of the landscaping is informal, featuring abundant native grasses and sea oats. On the waterfront side, an architectural grouping of six palms stands at attention below the Infinity pool.
The Lynches may have left behind their rock ’n’ roll days for a laid-back Isle of Palms lifestyle, but they haven’t lost their knack for the cutting edge. Back when Europe’s largest cinema was a dilapidated theater, Frank saw potential for creating a major music venue and ended up making a contribution to rock ’n’ roll history. He claims he chose the name “Apollo” mainly because it was short and the signage would be cheap, but also because at the time, the Americans had just landed on the moon and “it was of today, it was about looking forward.” The couple’s contemporary home in the heart of the Old South is similarly “of today.” It’s playful, smart, and above all, fun. And for two former disco owners, that’s entertainment enough.