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View Finders

View Finders
March 2015
On Sullivan’s Island, a young family teams up with designer Cortney Bishop and architect and builder Oliver Dungo to conjure a fresh twist on the beach house with vistas for days  

A few years ago, on the west side of Sullivan’s Island, a young family fell in love with a particularly gorgeous view—and it was more than just a passing romance. The longtime island dwellers were seriously smitten with a stretch of wetland first glimpsed from the front porch of a friend’s house. On each return visit, they fell deeper for this singular slice of marsh and sky, with its earthy palette of greens, browns, and blues occasionally shot through with the neon hues of the sunrise. In the distance, they could see the Ben Sawyer Bridge ushering folks from the bustle of Mount Pleasant to a more relaxed place where the pace is slower and the beach is never far. “There’s something about that bridge that makes time stop, even in the middle of a Monday,” muses the wife and mother, who’s also a marriage and family therapist. The couple was so besotted by the whole tableau that, along with their three-year-old son and newborn daughter, they eventually moved a matter of blocks to make its captivating beauty the backdrop of their everyday lives.

But alas, their path to domestic bliss was not without roadblocks. Though they were sold on the location, the structure that originally occupied the site was another story. “The house felt very ’80s, with low ceilings and murals all over the walls, and it was set too far back in the lot,” recalls the man of the house, a real-estate investor and mortgage broker. In its place, he dreamed of a clean-lined update on the traditional beach house, complete with plenty of floor-to-ceiling windows and roomy porches, all built at an elevation designed to capture the marsh from the best possible vantage point. “The lot is so wide that I knew the views could be almost panoramic,” he adds. With this vision in mind, the couple called on architect and builder Oliver Dungo and interior designer
Cortney Bishop to help bring their ideas to life.

The partnership with Bishop was a no-brainer, as the duo first hired her back in 2008 to refresh their previous residence, a classic cottage nearby. “The process we took with the first home was so vital to this second project, because the clients had spent the time honing in on what they liked and refining their personal style,” Bishop says. As a result, the couple already had a firm grasp on their desired aesthetic, which Bishop describes as “elegant and clean, with romantic, Old-World details.” They used this knowledge to guide Dungo towards blueprinting a 4,500-square-foot house that’s organic with a modern edge. And there is something decidedly contemporary about the space throughout, from the geometric patterns embedded in the entryway’s iron staircase to the white marble accent walls and the use of sculptural light fixtures that feel like pieces of modern art. “I love how Oliver didn’t use crown molding, and there aren’t any shiplap walls—it feels newer and fresher than the typical Sullivan’s home,” the husband and father adds. But all that modernity is balanced by natural details such as wide-plank French oak floors and exposed wooden ceiling beams, which both work to maintain a sense of warmth.

The straight edges are further softened by the gorgeous natural landscape, as Dungo oriented the house at an angle that maximizes the northeast-facing view from most of its 11 rooms. “Because the house is twisted just so, even the back guest bedroom has a porch that captures the marsh,” he continues. This bring-the-outside-in approach is perhaps most evident in the adjoined kitchen and dining room, where mirroring retractable glass doors can be flung open to create one 800-square-foot indoor/outdoor room. Here, the front porch flows seamlessly into the dining area, allowing for effortless alfresco meals whenever the mood strikes. And in the rear, the kitchen continues out onto another spacious porch outfitted with a wood-fired oven, all overlooking a pool, jacuzzi, and backyard cabana. The whole set-up is ideal for ocean-breeze-kissed entertaining. “We just had my son’s birthday party here, and we opened the doors up and had a band playing on the back patio,” the owner recalls. “There were some 75 people in here, and everything just flowed.”

That sense of airiness is another thing that sets this domicile apart. “Most Sullivan’s houses, you’ve got this bedroom here and that bedroom tucked over there, and the ceiling is sloped because of the gabled roof,” says the husband. By comparison, this floor plan is refreshingly uncluttered. On the first level, the open layout makes room for wide, clear pathways. And on the second floor, the roof’s more relaxed pitch allows for 10-foot ceilings, and the bedrooms are arranged in a logical row. “The rooms flow nicely, and it’s just so efficient,” he adds.  

With the architectural bones established, Bishop began layering in the finishes. “Part of my design philosophy is less is more in terms of materials,” she says. With that in mind, she curated a small group of high-quality accoutrements, which she put to work across multiple rooms to create a cohesive feel. The front and rear patios are crafted from the same European limestone, and the floors throughout the interior are made from French oak—with the exception of the first-floor jewel-box powder room, where patterned tile makes a bold statement underfoot. An expanse of Calcutta gold marble works as a striking accent wall in the living room, and slabs cut from the same quarry look equally stunning on the countertops in the kitchen and master bath. “We’re not trying to jar you with crazy features,” Bishop explains. “Using the same special materials throughout the house makes everything feel more serene and spacious.”   

Furnishings and accessories maintain the careful balance between Old-World romance and of-the-moment freshness. In the foyer, a feminine floral chaise lounge tempers a graphic gallery wall populated by black-and-white family photos and navy-and-white figures painted by area artist Lynne Hamontree. Glass chandeliers, crystal knobs, and an antique oriental rug bring vintage flair to the otherwise sleek master bath. Nods to the scenic setting are threaded throughout, from the green grasscloth wallpaper that wraps the master bedroom to the tobacco-stick fixture that lights up the three-year-old boy’s bedroom. “It’s bringing in the colors of the marsh landscape, the blues and greens and browns and creams,” Bishop says. With this palette in place, the interiors complement, rather than compete with, the views. And in keeping with this approach, one of the most eye-catching pieces in the owners’ art collection—an abstract painting by Tim Hussey—hangs in the foyer, one of few areas without any windows.  

The homeowners couldn’t be happier with the finished abode, which exudes a sort of understated, salt-soaked glamour. “I love the quintessential Sullivan’s cottages, but I feel like we really captured this new wave, a fresh twist on the beach house,” Bishop says. And of course, despite all the stunning architectural details and furnishings, the views are still the star of the show. “Every morning, I take a cup of coffee to the porch and watch the sun rise,” says the lady of the house. “We’ve been here for a year now, and I’m not desensitized to this beauty. It’s still the thing about this house that I love the most.”