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Mid-Century Magnificent

Mid-Century Magnificent
October 2015
An interior designer updates her grandmother’s brick colonial in The Crescent to suit modern family life and, in the process, carves out beautiful new spaces for outdoor living  

It’s a sunny Saturday and, behind the grand façade of a seemingly traditional white brick colonial in West Ashley’s The Crescent neighborhood, the Hastings family is abuzz with activity. Twins Henry and Thomas, age nine, race through the airy, light-filled entry hall to the first-floor master suite. The room projects elegance—a sculptural chandelier presides overhead, while plush ivory drapes and a splashy painting by area artist Tim Hussey add a sense of glamour—but it’s kid-friendly, too: the covers are already mussed, and the boys hop on the bed and start a pillow fight. From their vantage point, floor-to-ceiling windows look out on a trim lawn bordered with boxwoods; in the center, a locally made Swurfer swing beckons from a tall water oak tree. Just beyond the oak, in a swimming pool nestled between two column-festooned cabanas, older brothers Charlie, 12, and Jack, 14, captain rafts they crafted themselves from cardboard boxes.

This action-packed scene is just what Sarah-Hamlin Hastings and her husband, Matt, hoped for when they relocated here from Connecticut in 2010. Tired of long commutes to New York City and lured by the promise of more time spent in the company of kin while soaking up the Lowcountry sun, the couple pointed their rudders south and steered their brood back to Sarah-Hamlin’s hometown.

Plans to settle downtown were quickly scrapped when Sarah-Hamlin’s grandmother offered to sell them her circa-1952 home just over the Ashley River Bridge. The house needed considerable updating but presented a powerful emotional pull: “Matt and I got married here under a tent in the backyard, and as a child I came here nearly every weekend for Sunday dinners,” Sarah-Hamlin says. She dreamed of her sons supping alfresco where she once savored her grandmother’s signature dishes (“she made the best creamed spinach and Charlotte russe”) and playing on the same lawn that’s long hosted her extended family’s annual Thanksgiving football game. She was also sold on the circa-1926 development—designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted of New York City’s Central Park fame—that boasts landscaped walking paths, scenic lakes, and streets canopied by mature oaks and magnolias. And so Sarah-Hamlin, an interior designer who is debuting her Fritz Porter Design Collective—a combo art gallery, design showroom, and antique shop in the recently refurbished Cigar Factory—this month, dove in and began mapping out the renovation.

For her active family of six, plus their yellow lab, Sawyer, Sarah-Hamlin knew she needed a more open layout with plenty of flow. “Before, it was like a maze, with a warren of little rooms,” she says. And while existing details such as dentil mouldings and paneling hand-painted with an Asian motif had vintage charm, she craved a more streamlined aesthetic. “I wanted to keep the spirit of the traditional colonial but bring it into the 21st century,” she explains. Perhaps most importantly, she aimed to reboot the underutilized backyard and transform it into a headquarters for family fun. After all, she moved here to relax and enjoy the scenery, which meant taking full advantage of the property’s acre-and-a-half double lot.

To make it all happen, she enlisted architect Bobby McAlpine of Montgomery, Alabama’s McAlpine Tankersley and Nashville-based landscape architect Mike Kaiser of Kaiser Trabue. “They collaborate often, so they speak each other’s language,” Sarah-Hamlin says. “When your team is simpatico, the results are so much better.”

McAlpine kicked things off with a new U-shaped floor plan featuring a spacious entry hall connecting two symmetrical wings with mirror rear additions. To free up space within the original footprint, he cut rooms that were superfluous to modern life from the layout. For example, Sarah-Hamlin’s grandmother once entertained in a formal sitting room decked out with chintz curtains, oil paintings, and an oriental rug, but in its new configuration, the house doesn’t have a parlor. “Nobody uses those formal spaces anymore,” Sarah-Hamlin points out. Instead, she steers impromptu guests to a lounge area within the entry hall.

With the new floor plan in place, they curated an edited palette of timeless materials and colors. “Almost everything is white, pale grey, or a dark grey called ‘Black Fox’ from Sherwin Williams,” Sarah-Hamlin says. Atop this neutral base, she freely layered in statement-making light fixtures, such as the Lindsey Adelman number in the kitchen; punchy textiles; and lots of modern art to keep things feeling fresh. Still, there are nods to the mid-century era, and to her grandmother’s legacy. For family hang time, the gang gravitates to the glass-ceilinged sun porch. With its white-washed brick walls, stone floors, and recessed footprint, “it’s Bobby’s interpretation of a sunken den, which was a ubiquitous architectural element of homes in the ’50s and ’60s,” Sarah-Hamlin says. And while the aforementioned hand-painted paneling felt dated and heavy lining the walls of the dining room, she knew it was special to her grandmother, who had it commissioned while on a trip to China—so a few of the panels found a new home in the first-floor powder room, where they really pop against walls painted a deep shade of grey-green.

Sarah-Hamlin’s inspiration through the whole project was light, which meant “adding as many windows and skylights as possible to create a seamless flow to the outside,” she says. Their placement informed Mike Kaiser’s landscape design: “For each window, we tried to have something beautiful to look at, whether it was an object or just a well-proportioned space,” Kaiser explains. For example, the entry hall, sun room, and master all overlook the courtyard that occupies the center of the U-shaped abode, where a graceful fountain provides sound and movement. “It’s my hope that they fling the doors and windows open and hear that water bouncing off the walls,” he notes.

Kaiser was also guided by the merging of old and new. Out front, two crepe myrtles frame the front door, but an open lawn leaves the original façade otherwise unobstructed, while palms and magnolias soften the new parts of the building. Privacy was a key consideration, too: in the backyard, Kaiser used a border of evergreens and a pierced brick wall to allow air to flow while still “providing the sense of an enclosed room.”

The pool and cabanas are the property’s crown jewels. Knowing this, Kaiser elevated the entire area. “You go out, walk across the lawn, and go up steps to access it,” he says. “It gives you a beautiful view of the back of the house and gives the pool a sense of prominence.” On a fall day, this prime spot is where you’ll likely find Matt and Sarah-Hamlin. He might grill up his signature beer-can chicken in the outdoor kitchen that occupies one cabana, while she kicks back and sips a glass of wine in the shade. “Maybe we’ll have a couple families over to cook out, let the kids run around outside,” Sarah-Hamlin says. “It’s just great—and the fact that it was my grandmother’s house makes it that much more special.”