Three suitcases. That’s all Dianna and Jim Goldman brought last year when they traded a brick Colonial on Chicago’s North Shore for a townhome on the tip of the Charleston peninsula, just steps from the Ashley River. The couple came to this spot in search of a fresh start. It wasn’t about downsizing, although their new 3,000-square-foot abode is roughly 25 percent smaller than their previous residence. And it wasn’t about escaping the harsh, grey winters of Illinois—though that’s certainly been a boon.
Rather, the travel-loving couple—who crisscross the globe on regular family trips—made the move chiefly because they were ready for their next big adventure. After spending nearly a quarter-century in the Midwest and sending two of their four children out into the world (Carson, 23, is a Naval Academy grad training to be a submarine officer, and Hope, 19, studies at Georgetown University; Amanda, 15, and Kitty, 13, still live at home and now attend Ashley Hall), they craved new scenery and a simpler way of life. “We just felt we needed to change things up a bit,” Jim says. “We have always embraced change, rather than feared it,” Dianna adds. “In fact, there was a time in our adult lives when we thought we might actually be change junkies. New job? New house? New kid? Bring it on!”
A new city was the next frontier. And with nothing tying them down in Chicago—Jim’s business in private equity allows him to work from anywhere, while Dianna’s a retired attorney—they were free to cast about for an exciting new place to call home.
Charleston drew them in with its warm climate and small-town feel. And finding the townhome on the Battery cinched the deal: its copper roof and bronze fixtures reflect the South of Broad neighborhood’s Old World charm. But the abode, which was built in 1970, vibes more modern than its historic counterparts. The exterior color palette is particularly fresh: celery-green shutters pop against wood siding painted a crisp shade of ivory. Inside, large expanses of glass from French doors and casement windows overlook a courtyard garden, facilitating effortless indoor-outdoor living. Upon touring the place, Dianna could see that with a few minor tweaks, the layout would work well for her family.
And so they bought the place, aiming to open up the floor plan, streamline their own furnishings and décor, and, perhaps most importantly, facilitate easy, low-maintenance living. “Our last home was surrounded by manicured lawns on the outside and carefully placed objects on the inside,” Dianna says. “The upkeep was constant and, honestly, kind of silly.” For this next stage of life, their goal was comfort and style without hassle. “The idea was: let’s just live in our home and enjoy it,” Jim says.
To make it happen, they turned to interior designer Cortney Bishop and contractor Brett Elrod, who kicked things off with a few small but impactful tweaks to the interior architecture. A first-floor powder room was enlarged by removing a neighboring closet. And down came a wall separating the living room from a formal dining room, making way for a larger, more fluid living space.
This high-traffic zone is adjacent to the kitchen and breakfast nook, where a built-in banquette stands in for the dining area that was nixed in the reno. Designed by Bishop and built by Eurocraft, Inc., the banquette is super efficient, incorporating benches with hidden storage and a concrete table that comfortably seats the couple and their two youngest daughters for everyday meals. In a pinch, though, it can hold up to 10, which comes in handy when their oldest kids visit with friends in tow, as they did last Thanksgiving. Bishop says this type of flexibility was one of her main goals throughout the project. “The Goldmans have two grown children dropping in and two girls living at home,” Bishop says. “I wanted the house to be easy for them, to go with the flow of their family dynamic.”
With the open floor plan established, Bishop’s focus turned to décor. She knew her clients wanted to depart from the traditional aesthetic they’d cultivated back in Chicago. “In our old house, the coffee table was piled with books on Colonial Williamsburg design; every room had a different color and theme—a blue bathroom, gold dining room,” says Dianna. “That’s the last thing we wanted here.”
The couple’s tastes have evolved toward cleaner lines and more cohesive color palettes—just the type of spaces that dot Bishop’s design portfolio. And so, after discussing how they hoped the house would live and feel, they gave the designer creative freedom with guidelines. “We handed her the project, soup to nuts,” Dianna says. “Once you decide someone is an expert, the best thing you can do is get out of the way.”
To that end, the couple gamely agreed to hold off on peeking at the design-in-progress until move-in day—leaving Bishop free to outfit the abode down to the smallest detail. The result is a space that feels truly unified. “It fits one of my fundamental design philosophies: the whole home is cohesive and shares the same palette,” Bishop says. “You can take any piece from one room and pull it into another; this makes the house feel spacious and serene.”
A well-edited library of materials, hues, and finishes carry from room to room. Most of the walls are painted with Farrow & Ball “Elephant’s Breath,” a pretty shade of pale grey. (The trim sports a high-gloss version of the same color, a trompe l’oeil that makes the ceilings look higher.) Textiles and finishes, such as iridescent kitchen tiles from Oceanside Glass, are sumptuous yet neutral and contrast nicely with the blue, charcoal, and warm wood accents that appear throughout.
A few modern touches—such as an abstract painting by local artist Brian Coleman and a funky, sculptural light fixture composed of tobacco sticks and fabric-covered wire by Old Modern Objects—add visual interest without distracting from views of the courtyard garden, designed by landscape architect Glen R. Gardner and his associate, Elizabeth Pope, and maintained by Potted Pleasures.
With everything in place, it was time for the big reveal. “I really mean it when I say we came with just our suitcases,” Dianna says. “I didn’t know what I would find when I opened the kitchen drawer because everything was new: flatware, sheets, towels. Cortney thought of everything, down to the specialty foods in the fridge.”
It was a risky move—and one that paid off for this daring couple. A year into their Charleston adventure, they’re still feeling the thrill. “The house is sophisticated, but it’s incredibly livable; there’s not a chair that’s not inviting or a candle that’s too pretty to light,” Dianna notes. “It’s all touchable; you can tell people actually live here.”
Against this backdrop, the Goldmans are free to explore all that Charleston has to offer. “We’ve already participated in more cultural events than in our whole time in Chicago because it’s just so easy,” Jim notes, citing the city’s walkability and good weather as an impetus for getting out. Meanwhile, Amanda and Kitty have slipped right into life on the peninsula, riding their bikes to the South Carolina Aquarium, where they both volunteer, and maybe stopping for a smoothie on King Street on the way home.
As for others looking to make a life change? The Goldmans say the key is to just dive in. “You think it’s late, but it only gets later,” Dianna says. “Our advice is to do it right now.”