One young family marries design with daily life on South Battery
Finding the ideal place to raise a family is never easy, but for Cate and Hugh Leatherman it became a quest that encompassed every square inch of Charleston County, three homes South of Broad, and an 18-month renovation—only to find their happily ever after just down the street. “It was sort of like Goldilocks and The Three Bears,” says Cate. “The first house was too small, the second was too big, but we finally found this one and it was just right.”
Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Cate’s family moved into a home on Legare Street when she was eight years old. While she describes her childhood in downtown Charleston as “idyllic,” when it came to the prospect of raising her own family there, she was hesitant. “We looked everywhere—James Island, West Ashley, Hampton Park, Mount Pleasant, and Sullivan’s Island,” she says. “I wanted to check out every area before committing to living downtown.” But South of Broad lured her back. “We just love it—being able to walk and ride the golf cart everywhere was a huge draw.”
After becoming pregnant with their first child, Cate and Hugh moved out of their small Council Street home into a large house just two doors down from her parents, Cathy and Tuck Morse. But the couple quickly realized that a cavernous home is not ideal for a young family, and they started their search anew. Hugh, who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, had always admired the red brick homes on South Battery because they reminded him of home. So, when Cate came across a circa-1930s, colonial-style red brick on South Battery, just a few streets away from her parents, she knew she had found it.
“It was perfect for us, both in its size and that it needed some serious updating,” she says of the 3,800-square-foot, four-bedroom home. “I wanted to put my own spin on something that truly needed some love.” Plus, it had a manageable yard, off-street parking, and a dazzling water view. “When I walked up the stairwell and saw the Ashley River, I was like, ‘I’m done. What else do you need?’”
They were far from “done,” however. Next up was a major renovation that began in May 2017 and lasted almost two years, with a move-in date just in time for the arrival of baby number two. With the expertise of friend and interior designer Stephanie Molster, architect Tyler Smyth, and contractor Todd Poore, the boxy two-story went from dark and dated to light and airy. “It was very compartmentalized,” explains Molster. “It needed a facelift and updating for modern family life.” The team started by removing the doors between living spaces and enlarging the doorways with cased openings. Then, room functions were reconfigured for better flow: the formal dining room became the family room, and the formal sitting room in the rear of the house, a casual dining area that opens to a screened porch (previously a sun-room) to allow those river breezes to flow through the home.
“We were constrained by the ceiling height and the actual square footage, as we couldn’t bump out,” explains Cate of working in a nearly century-old home. They also needed approval from the Board of Architectural Review to do things such as paint the exterior shutters white. “But it was fun to play around with the rooms, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, and figure out how to make it all work.” Along with a dramatic kitchen overhaul, a key piece was the addition of a mudroom/laundry room where the HVAC units once stood. Poore built the room to connect the detached garage and its finished room (now a playroom) to the kitchen. “This tiny little space was a game changer,” says Cate. “It solved all of the flow issues in the house.”
Once the mudroom was managed, the rest of the puzzle pieces fell into place, and Cate and Stephanie got to work furnishing the rooms by focusing on Cate’s love of art and rugs. “My dad is a big art guy—it’s our thing to do together—and I’d always ask for a painting for Christmas or my birthday,” she notes. The resulting collection, a veritable Who’s Who from the Charleston art world and beyond, dictates the palettes for the individual spaces, while the rugs, many from Elson & Company in DC where Cate once worked, supply the texture.
Stephanie largely stuck to Cate’s directive for light walls and light floors but introduced a few pops of color, such as the brilliant blue velvet Jonathan Adler sofa from ESD in the formal sitting room at the front of the house, and green grasscloth wallpaper in the dining room and master suite. “While we wanted everything to be simple to let the art and rugs shine, I always try to layer in some warmth through a space,” the designer notes. Elegant, patterned drapes cover all of the original, six-foot-tall windows, providing height and visual interest. In the family room, natural bamboo reed shades offer privacy and lend a more casual feel. A green-and-white surfboard on the wall supplies a touch of whimsy. “It’s my homage to my husband, who loves to surf,” Cate says. “I have to throw him a little bit of design in each room.”
For this active family with two young boys, furniture choices were as much driven by function as form. “It wasn’t like this is going to be modern or this is going to be traditional, we have a mix based on need,” says Cate. The barstools that transition the family room into the new, more open-plan kitchen are modern and also practical: they can be wiped clean with Clorox. “The decor is transitional,” Stephanie says. “Not too traditional but not too contemporary, lots of clean lines and fresh colors.”
From the main hallway, a grand staircase leads to the second floor where the remaining three bedrooms fit cozily together. The guest room currently does double duty as a nursery until one-year-old Tucker will join his brother, Hicks, in the boldly painted boys’ room. The master bedroom, reconfigured to provide one large master bath in place of two smaller ones, takes in scenes of the Ashley River.
It’s that view that originally compelled Cate to fall in love with this house and to make it the perfect place to raise her family. “There’s just something about this neighborhood that can’t be replicated,” she says. “I was a little nervous that the whole familial landscape of this area seemed to be changing. But it’s coming back. I have lots of friends moving in, and there are kids out there all day long riding their Power Wheels, bikes, and Rollerblades. It’s a great street for families, and I think it will provide a wonderful childhood for my boys.”