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A Fresh Take

A Fresh Take
January 2017
Behind a stately colonial façade, an Old Village residence overflows with color, pattern, and texture

From the outside looking in, Melanie and Sam Rosen’s circa-1865 abode—with its trim boxwood border, stately columns, and double front piazzas—is the picture of traditional Old Village. Step one foot through the front door, though, and you’ll immediately see signs that a very modern family makes its happy home here. You might spot nine-year-old Ben and a playmate from next door zipping around the corner, with Henry, age seven, and Addie, four, hot on their heels. “We want our house to be beautiful, but we also need it to be usable and functional,” says Melanie. “There would never be a room roped off where little ones aren’t allowed to go.” The historic property’s playful interiors—outfitted with help from area designer Jenny Keenan—seem to bubble over with lively colors and patterns, underscoring this kid-friendly philosophy.

Many of those bright hues come courtesy of the couple’s art collection, which doubles as a map of Melanie’s personal history. Some of the works that dot the walls recall the travels of beloved family members who have passed. In the study, a dreamy blue-and-yellow underwater scene rendered by Indian artist Laxman Pai presides above the fireplace; it once belonged to Melanie’s maternal grandfather, who worked for the Indian arm of international nonprofit Ford Foundation. “I remember admiring it at my grandparents’ house as a child,” Melanie says. “Then it belonged to my mother, and I love that it now has a place in my home.” Other pieces, like the vibrant silk painting of three purple guinea hens hanging in the 
entryway, were inherited from Melanie’s mother, who also worked in the nonprofit sector on an international scale, serving as director for the Africa-America Institute—a gig that took her to nearly every country on the continent.

More recently, the Rosens have added works that reflect their own story—where they’ve been and where they’ve landed. The cheerful bathroom shared by their three kiddos is brightened by a blue-and-cream abstract the duo scored at a charity auction in Brooklyn, which is where they lived until recently, occupying the same 19th-century brownstone where Melanie resided as a child. But since meeting Sam, who hails from Little Rock, Arkansas, the born-and-bred Brooklynite had been warming to the idea of moving south. “Sam has a college friend from Orangeburg, and he’s been visiting Charleston since then,” Melanie says. “We came here on our honeymoon, and we always talked about maybe retiring here eventually.”

But in 2013, when Sam’s boss gave him the go-ahead to work remotely (he’s in commercial real-estate finance), that timeline accelerated. Melanie’s gig as a freelance writer was also transportable, so with nothing holding them back, the two decided to take the plunge. One lucky real-estate-scouting trip later, they were holding keys to the Old Village gem. They loved the classic architecture, quiet neighborhood, and proximity to the water. But the house needed some work: the couple hoped to open up the floor plan of an existing addition, update the fixtures and finishes to reflect their modern taste, and fill it with furnishings and décor to echo their family’s youthful energy.

Enter designer Jenny Keenan. “The fact that she has two young kids made me think she’d understand the needs of our family,” Melanie says. Plus, Keenan’s portfolio brimmed with evidence of her knack with color and texture. “I absolutely love pattern, and we’ve played around with mixing and matching in our homes before, but we thought Jenny could help us take it even further,” she adds. The couple entrusted Keenan to oversee the project while they remained in Brooklyn.

Keenan kicked things off by enlisting local firm Crawford Contracting and Consulting to knock down a wall in the rear addition, carving out an unobstructed cooking, dining, and lounge space tailored to the needs of a 21st-century family. Next up, the designer spearheaded a gut rehab to give the traditional kitchen a fresh look. Post-reno, a blue-tile mosaic backsplash glitters in the sunlight, while oversized brass pendants and pebbled-mirror cabinet fronts cultivate a feeling of casual glamour. Earthy elements keep the scene grounded: open shelving stretches across two windows that overlook lush foliage, and mid-century walnut stools add warmth to clean-lined waterfall marble countertops.

In the adjacent living room, a low-profile sofa from North Carolina furniture maker Verellen, a vintage rug, and pillows sewn from mix-and-match pattern textiles strike an eclectic note that’s chic but inviting. “This is where we spend the majority of our time,” says Melanie. “I cook almost every night, and I’m able to be part of the conversation.” This means that while the lady of the house is busy pulling a loaf of her signature challah bread out of the oven, she can still listen as Sam and the boys jam out to bluegrass music or take in an Arkansas football game on TV.

Out of respect for the home’s history, the Rosens opted to keep the original footprint—three stories with two rooms per floor—
untouched. To connect this space with the 1980s addition, Keenan infused it with a similarly eclectic mix of furnishings—many of them from the mid-century, Sam’s favorite design era. Vintage fabrics and rugs were another important part of the design strategy: “Those types of textiles make it feel more lived-in and not so perfect,” Keenan says.

The resulting rooms show a masterful mix of old and new, with plenty of bright hues and geometric motifs thrown in for good measure. In the first-floor formal dining room, mid-century chrome chairs commingle with a contemporary concrete dining table and a Sorenthia Quad chandelier. The study boasts a vintage sofa Keenan scored on, a multicolored rug, a white Eames chair chosen by Sam, and a Sputnik-inspired light fixture.

For the project’s finishing touch, Melanie worked with Allison Williamson of the Charleston Artist Collective to source works to help her collection reflect her present as well as her past. “We wanted fresh, modern, and colorful pieces,” Melanie notes. Mission accomplished: the current chapter in her life is represented with vibrant paintings by local artists such as Way Way Allen and Emily Brown.

Those cheerful works seem appropriate for the halcyon life the Rosens have found in the Lowcountry. “When people hear we left my childhood home in Brooklyn, they’ll ask rather skeptically if I’m doing okay, given how big a change it is,” Melanie says. “The answer is ‘absolutely.’ People have been so welcoming, and we’re grateful for the relationships we have with our new neighbors. We’re just super happy here.”