The City Magazine Since 1975

Right At Home

Right At Home
June 2009
A small Spring Island hideaway finds one Tarheel couple living large among Lowcountry foliage

Sometimes it takes getting away to wake—and shake—us up. Maybe it’s getting away physically to a new setting; or perhaps it’s getting away from an old style or even escaping old ideas. In the case of Kinston, North Carolina, natives Eleanor and Charles Beasley, their petite Spring Island hideaway offers all of the above.

While the two (high school sweethearts who’ve been married for 39 years) have long been in love with their eastern North Carolina home—a traditional brick residence with a formal garden of boxwoods and roses—these days the pair cherishes the contrast that their Lowcountry retreat brings. “When I open the front door, I look forward to being refreshed,” says Eleanor in a rich Eastern North Carolina lilt. “I think that’s why I love coming down here so much; the house just has a serene feeling about it.”

She’s right about that. The dwelling, a diminutive but hard-working 1,260 square feet, is a two-story, two-bedroom, three-porch oasis on just over a dense, acre-and-a-half mix of live oaks, palmettos, palms, and wax myrtles. A natural-stained cedar shingle and pine-planked exterior allows the gabled home to blend into the landscape, while inside, fresh white shiplap walls, towering ceilings, and pocket doors amplify the blend of private and public spaces. As Eleanor points out, the shift between the wild outdoors and tame interior—apparent only when you step over the threshold—is striking.

Considering it’s become a twice-a-month destination for the Beasleys, it’s funny that the whole thing (briefly) got off on the wrong foot. Back in 1997, they were traveling from Savannah to Charleston, and a friend mentioned they ought to stop and check out Spring Island, a minimally developed golf course community just south of Beaufort. When the pair arrived, the real estate agent called to say he was running late and suggested that they play nine holes and then meet up. “I am not a golfer,” laughs Eleanor. “I wasn’t even all that fired up about coming here, so when he said that, I thought, ‘Oh, great, just what I want to do, ride around on a golf course.’ But we hadn’t been out 15 minutes before I realized this place is amazing. The way they’ve preserved the natural habitat while still developing it is just wonderful.” Affirms Charles, “From the very beginning, we were struck by how they built a community within a nature park.”

The couple soon bought their lot, which, much to Charles’ delight, overlooks the tenth hole. “He grew up on the Kinston golf course,” smiles Eleanor. And though she, a homemaker who raised their three kids, could skip the greens, both share an affinity for the outdoors. “We like the quiet peacefulness here,” he says, “and the outdoor activities—boating, kayaking, and taking long walks with our dog. Spring Island has something like 35 miles of hiking and riding trails.”

Today, though, rather than play outside, Eleanor offers an indoor tour. And perhaps because the house is still so new—they waited to build until 2008 and finished this past January—she points out some of the differences between their Kinston house and the getaway place. For example, this kitchen is a mere six feet wide and includes a modest under-counter refrigerator, dishwasher drawer, and two-burner stovetop. “I can just stand in one place and do everything I need to do,” she marvels. And, she adds, “The grocery store here is about 30 minutes away, but that forces you to be creative. Where I might look into the refrigerator at home and say I don’t have anything, here I look and ask, ‘What can I do with this?’

“I love our place in North Carolina,” she continues, “but I have to say, this house is just so manageable. It’s small and efficient, which allows me more time to enjoy the outdoors. Also, a contemporary home is great because it can be clutter-free without appearing empty.”

As for striking that balance between comfortable and contemporary, the Beasleys credit Charleston architect Jim Thomas of Thomas & Denzinger (2008 AIA South Carolina firm of the year); his colleague Joel Newman; and Jim’s interior designer wife, Paola Thomas. “We loved how they made use of the natural light,” says Eleanor. “We wanted lots of light and windows and that feeling of being up in the live oaks. And the house is tall, so you get that in-the-trees sensation from the first floor.”

Paola, an Italian-born interiors whiz known nationally for spare spaces, judicious use of color and pattern, and modern fixtures, had an aesthetic that took a little while for Eleanor to warm to. “Paola really likes simplicity,” explains Eleanor, “but she’s a soft person, too, so I knew we wouldn’t be dealing with harsh, minimalist lines. And that was important to me, because I wanted this to be a place where you can just curl up.”
So the women teamed up and scoured Charleston for furniture, fabric, rugs, and more. “The only things that came from home were the books,” says Eleanor, “and I have to say, all the shopping was really fun.” Every now and again, Paola had Eleanor stretching her comfort zone. Take the lamps, for instance. “They are very contemporary. I thought, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t at all what I had in mind.’ But Charles loved them. It was our biggest compromise in the house, and now? I think the lamps worked out great.”

In the end, the place delivers just what the Beasleys craved. “We wanted something manageable and to feel like we were outdoors as much as possible,” says Charles, of the final mix of fresh-air living spaces and ample windows framing the lush landscape. “My favorite part is the upstairs porch and sitting room,” adds Eleanor. “It’s so peaceful up there. The sun sets on the tenth-hole pond, and it’s just like being in a tree house—a really, really comfortable tree house.

“We have family in North Carolina,” continues Eleanor, “so this won’t be a permanent residence. But that’s okay. I’ve often heard that when you move to your vacation house, it’s no longer a vacation being there. So for us, just being here every few weeks is exciting.”