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Discovering Dewees: How a retired couple found an unexpected oasis for family and community on this unique barrier island

Discovering Dewees: How a retired couple found an unexpected oasis for family and community on this unique barrier island
October 2022

Architect Myles Trudell designed the multigenerational home to feel open, but with “distinctive, discreet spaces”

There’s a well-kept secret off the northern end of the Isle of Palms, one that can be spotted during a round on Wild Dunes’ Links Golf Course or an afternoon boat ride along the Intracoastal Waterway. This hidden gem is Dewees Island.

The 1,200-acre barrier island is a beautiful mix of maritime forest, pristine beaches, and unspoiled wetlands, a sanctuary where humans and nature coexist in near perfect harmony, thanks to a conservation easement. Dewees has no bridge leading to it, no paved roads, no motor vehicles, and only 150 houses will ever be built there.

One of those homes belongs to Mark and Toni Beischel. The couple, originally from the Cincinnati area, retired to this island paradise last year after spending 35 years vacationing on Isle of Palms. “My brother went to MUSC, and we came to visit him in the ’80s and fell in love with the area,” says Mark. Both siblings now live here full time, the Beischels having traded in their summer beach cottage in Isle of Palms’ Wildwood neighborhood for a custom oceanfront home on Dewees.

“This is a multigenerational house,” says Mark, who retired from a globe-trotting career with Ernst & Young in 2018. “That’s our goal. We hope this place is here for 50 years or more, and our kids and grandkids can use it forever.” Their four children, including the youngest who is 22, have been visiting Isle of Palms their entire lives. The family kept a door from their old home, marking every visit by each child and keeping track of their growth spurts. “Our youngest son has been here 95 times,” says Mark proudly.

Lighten Up: The second floor embraces open-plan living with a large sitting room, dining room, and kitchen all flooded with natural light. The clean lines of modern furniture in a neutral color palette are enhanced by natural woods and pops of blue.

The Beischels initially thought of renovating their house on Isle of Palms for their retirement. But Toni, who knew of Dewees but had never visited, decided to explore the secluded island. “We lived two blocks from the Dewees dock, and something just told me to come out here,” says the retired nurse of the hourly ferry that transports residents and visitors from the Isle of Palms Marina to the island. “When we first came out, I thought, ‘How can people live here? It’s just so beautiful,’” she says.

Shortly afterward, they purchased a lot and began building their dream retirement home. They enlisted Chip Naramore of Naramore Construction, whose company has built or renovated more than 40 homes on the island over the past two decades, and brought on Charleston-based architect Myles Trudell.

Mark and Toni knew they wanted to replicate some of what they loved about Isle of Palms, opting for a traditional beach house look for the exterior. “We wanted the gables, a porch, and a roof deck that didn’t look like it was stapled on,” says Mark. They also didn’t want anything too big or too formal. “For 90 percent of the time, it will just be the two of us.” To accommodate the four adult children and one grandchild (with two more on the way), Trudell developed a bunk-house concept that sleeps eight, providing plenty of space for the family while keeping the house at a more modest three-bedroom footprint.

“I wanted the house to feel very open but with distinctive, discrete spaces,” says Trudell. When alone, Mark and Toni essentially live on the second floor, where floor-to-ceiling windows capture sweeping views of the ocean. An open plan encompasses the living room, dining room, and kitchen area, where the clean, unfussy lines of contemporary furniture complement a warm, welcoming kitchen space.

There, Toni loves to whip up seafood-laden meals for her family and indulge in one of her favorite pastimes—baking. “Toni would frequently bring cookies for all to enjoy,” says Naramore. “She is a great cook!” A butler’s pantry tucked behind the kitchen helps keep the counters clutter-free in the busy space. “When all the kids are here, everybody is sitting on the bar stools, and there are bottles of wine everywhere, and everybody’s cooking and flying around; it’s really fun,” says Mark.

Soak it In: The primary bedroom is a simple space, where a wall of unshaded Henselstone tilt-and-turn windows, manufactured in Germany, allows the beauty of the surroundings to decorate the room and wake the couple naturally. “We’ve been getting in tune with nature out here,” says Toni. “We can tell what time it is by the position of the moon.”

The primary bedroom and screened porch anchor the rest of the second floor. The spaces cantilever out toward the sea, with an open patio between them. The family loves to gather here and enjoy an evening cocktail and a board game or two. Back inside, a full staircase leads to a rooftop deck nestled between the two gables, providing privacy and a cozy, yet open feel.

On the first floor, a guest room resembling a spacious ship’s cabin offers built-in
storage under the bed and a large closet. These mimic the style of the bunk room at the other end of the house, where three single and two double bunks, each with its own cubby, provide a fun space for the siblings to convene when they visit. “If we gave them each a separate bedroom, they would end up in the same one anyway; they’re so close,” says Toni. Between the two guest rooms is a large media room with a huge comfy couch that provides another space to congregate. A porch spanning the length of the house connects the three rooms.

The bunk room concept was partly inspired by the Beischels’s desire for a “touch of whimsy” in the design. “They didn’t want anything overly formal; that was a driving aspect for the design,” says Trudell. This fresh approach is accentuated by a late addition to the project, a charming gatehouse that greets visitors from the main “road” before crossing the boardwalk to the house. “The gatehouse design mimics that of the front gable,” says Trudell, connecting the structure to the house. Screened like a porch, the idyllic spot has become a favorite family hangout.

(Left) View From the Top: The rooftop deck is shielded from the neighbors while offering a spectacular view of the island’s unspoiled beach and a great spot for wildlife watching. The couple is working on renewing the landscaping with native plants such as sweetgrass, dune sunflower, and broom sedge; (Right) Among the Trees: The screened porch off the dining room is Toni’s favorite spot. Here, she likes to sip her morning coffee or retreat to read a book—which she can do in any season thanks to the fireplace.

The boardwalk continues around the house, extending east to the Atlantic Ocean over ample, undulating dunes. No roads are on the property, and the only mode of transport is by foot, bicycle, or golf cart along the boardwalk. “We go out to the beach at least once a day,” says Toni. She spends her time here walking, reading, and enjoying the wildlife. She has joined the Dewees Island Turtle Team and a book club. “That was something we didn’t think about when we moved here,” says Mark. “We came for the quiet and discovered this very nice community.”

“They are all wonderful people; there’s such a social life here,” says Toni, who just finished baking a tray of oatmeal and raisin cookies for a sunset cruise with her neighbors. For her, the true blessing of Dewees is how close it brings her to nature. “When I ride the ferry, I feel like I’m slipping into another existence. Everything is calm and peaceful and beautiful.”