This art-filled Kiawah ode to symmetry and serenity was years in the making, and the making was half the fun
Amid Kiawah Island’s show houses and resort retreats, there aren’t many DIY projects, as in “design it yourself.” But by the time the owners—an architect and his wife—found the lot of their dreams, then finally got ready to build, they knew what they wanted, and how to accomplish it. First step: gather up those early sketches scribbled on airplane napkins—lots of them.
“Turns out that 18-hour, one-way flights to Abu Dhabi give you a lot of time to conceive of house designs,” says the husband, whose work from 2010 to 2014 entailed construction projects in the Middle East and beyond. Though he was traveling frequently for work, his mind would drift to his passion project—envisioning concepts for their South Carolina island home. Actually, it was something the Washington, DC-based couple had been dreaming about since shortly after they married in 2000.
It was a second marriage for both, at a point in their lives and careers when looking for a summer home to one day become their retirement residence made sense. “We drove down the East Coast, looking at every beach community from DC to Florida,” says the husband, who grew up in North Carolina. “We’d vacationed on Kiawah before. Despite being open-minded to other places, when it came down to a decision, we both agreed nothing equaled Kiawah.” They bought a lot that same year. Shortly thereafter, in 2001, the newlyweds moved to Paris and London for four years for business; their Kiawah dream was on hold.
In Paris, the husband practiced architecture for a global business, overseeing work in France, Italy, and Spain, and the wife served on the founding board for Les Amis Du National Museum for Women in the Arts. “We spent many hours walking the neighborhoods looking at art and architecture,” the husband says.
During their European sojourn, the couple began building their joint art collection and considering how it would inspire the vision for their Kiawah home. “We also fell in love with rugs, unfortunately,” the husband deadpans. “We spent a lot of time at rug auctions.”
While overseas, the owner of the neighboring Kiawah lot made an offer to buy them out, and they sold. After returning to the States, they realized they still wanted to build on the island and found a new, deep lot with magnificent marsh views and nice proximity to golfing, shopping, and a kayaking dock. “It actually suited us better,” says the wife. In 2008, they purchased the property and began imaging their plan B, fronting the marsh, with pristine views back toward Charleston, says the husband—“Our final destination.”
Art Abounds: Years of global travel and a stint living abroad have boosted the couple’s art and rug collections. A soothing neutral palette allows the art, including that of Charleston-based artists Jonathan Green, Robert Lange, and Mickey Williams, as well as works by Chagall, Matisse, Miro, and Picasso, among others, to take center stage.
Over the next few years, the architect dug out all his old napkin notes and scribbled some more, and eventually enlisted his longtime friend and former business partner, who worked at the Charlotte-based LS3P Architects, to help refine their plans. “We knew we wanted to experience the views and the marsh when walking through the front doorway,” says the husband, who incorporated a design concept for the motor court and symmetry from the British Embassy in DC, the only example of Sir Edwin Lutyens’s architecture in the US. (Both the homeowner and his LS3P colleague are Honorary Fellows of the Royal Institute of British Architects.) “Living in the Capital, we passed by embassies in our neighborhood every day. I liked their use of entrance courts, their formal symmetry, and how they separated guest quarters from the main house. I borrowed those concepts and reinvented them,” he says.
Once he had the concept of two one-car garages flanking an arrival court, each with private guest suites above them, the rest of the design fell into place. A stickler for symmetry, the husband organized the home along a center axis aligned with the marsh view (and, it turns out, a tall palm out back that inadvertently, and surprisingly, punctuated the axis, an exclamation point at the end). They brought on Kingswood Custom Homes as contractor, and the husband made site visits every other week, with project manager John Glyder under orders to “call immediately” in the interim should there be any alignment or symmetry challenges.
“The design concept allowed the first floor rooms to showcase our art and for the house to feel open and comfortable, whether we have 15 people here or just the two of us,” the husband says. “And the house really does accommodate that,” adds his wife. The main living area is one large space with a graceful flow between great room, dining room, and kitchen, which they wanted to be “larger than life, with lots of light.” Both are avid cooks with a large cookbook collection. “Though I cook from the heart; my husband’s a rule follower,” she says.
Parallel bluestone foyers with floating walls double as linear galleries, showcasing the art. Their collection includes works by Wolf Kahn and William Berra, as well as local artists West Fraser, Robert Lange, Rhett Thurman, and Mickey Williams, to name just a few.
A Study in Classics: Outfitted with shiplap walls, bluestone flooring, and select furnishings by Baker and Ralph Lauren (many designed by architects), the library features a cozy fireplace, plus a wall of custom built-ins (pictured right).
While the husband masterminded the architectural plans, the couple teamed up on the interiors, selecting all finishes, fixtures, and paint colors. “It was a detailed process and very time consuming, but rewarding in the end,” says the wife. “Amazingly, we saw eye-to-eye on pretty much everything,” she adds. “People come in and ask who our designer was, and they don’t believe me when I say it was just us.”
Much of their furniture has an architectural tie-in, including several Baker pieces designed by a fellow architect, a Michael Graves settee in the master bedroom, and Venturi dining room chairs. The mod glass shelf light over the kitchen island was a sleek Paris find, one meticulously packed, shipped, and piece by piece, re-installed to line up perfectly with the window mullion. “It took me a whole day to get it right,” the husband admits.
But that’s the kind of attention to detail that makes this house sing. After taking their time crafting plans and poring over each design element, the homeowners now enjoy every one they fretted over, particularly since they’ve spent all of COVID-19 season quarantined on Kiawah.
Looking out those windows now at their pool terrace designed by Cindy Kline and at their expansive marsh view brings nothing but serenity, joy, and deep satisfaction. “It’s definitely our house,” says the wife—a work of art, and architecture, perfectly aligned between the two of them.