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Taking the Plunge

Taking the Plunge
July 2016
Melissa Lenox, an interior designer and longtime California girl, brings a dose of West Coast style to her new home on the banks of the Ashley River

Walking through the entry hall of Melissa Lenox and Brad Davis’s Lowndes Pointe home is like fast-forwarding through a highlight reel of the couple’s history. Along the corridor, under a pitched beadboard ceiling, an artful grouping of framed photos hints at the whirlwind romance that swept them across the globe and landed them here, in a modern, coastal abode on the banks of the Ashley River. Their travels are well-documented: one scenic shot, taken by Brad during their first trip together, shows children playing in the street in Cartagena, Colombia. In another snap, the duo stands atop a glacier in snowy Patagonia, gloved hands intertwined and raised triumphantly in the air. Yet another features a graffiti-splashed wall that caught their eyes in Bologna, Italy. All lead to the end of the hall, where glass doors look out over a soothing tableau: palm trees sway in the breeze, the water ebbs and flows, and docked boats rise and fall with the tide.

When Melissa first glimpsed this stunning vista, she was at a crossroads. She was living in San Francisco, where she helmed a growing interior design firm; Brad, a real-estate developer and divorced father of two, had put down roots here in Charleston to be near his twins, Amelia and Cole, now 10. The couple had met by chance one sunny morning in 2010 while Brad was vacationing in the Bay Area, and sparks flew. They’d decided to date, distance be damned. “I’d fly from San Francisco, and Brad would hop on a plane in Charleston; instead of just visiting each other, we’d meet all over the world,” Melissa says. The pace was exhilarating, but exhausting: “After a year, something had to give,” she adds.

During her first trip to visit Brad in the Holy City, she relished the cool beach-town feel. She committed to a move but admits to feeling gun-shy: “I’d lived in San Francisco my entire adult life, so the idea was daunting,” she says. On her second trip, the couple drove through different neighborhoods, trying to picture a life together. They cruised around Sullivan’s Island, then meandered the peninsula, winding up at an empty waterfront lot, just north of bungalow-studded Wagener Terrace. “I immediately felt at home,” she says, citing the beauty of the river and the “chill” vibe of the neighborhood as huge draws. The land was up for foreclosure auction; when Brad and Melissa bid and won, she happily made the leap.

With the land secured, the two set about designing and building a house that’s a little bit Carolina, a little bit California. Earlier in their courtship, they’d bonded over a shared love of vintage buildings. “Brad used to live in New Orleans, where he did historic preservation, and in San Francisco, I worked on old Victorians, so we had this major passion for old homes,” Melissa says. And so, though the empty lot necessitated new construction, they vowed to create a warm environment with old-soul touches and modern functionality. To help guide the way, they enlisted architect Phil Clarke of Clarke Design Group, a Mount Pleasant-based firm known for turning out new buildings that feel fresh, but still fit within the classic Lowcountry vernacular.

Melissa kicked things off by flexing her design muscles, sketching out her vision for the façade. The results have an undeniably coastal aesthetic. Composed of beachy materials, such as board-and-batten and corrugated tin, the house is elevated to keep high waters at bay. But thanks to a stark black-and-white color palette and shed roofing, it makes a modern statement, too. The mix of old and new creates an aesthetic Clarke refers to as “Lowcountry modern.” “The key is getting the balance, scale, and proportion historically correct, yet stripping away any of the unnecessary adornments,” he says.

To underscore the abode’s contemporary edge, Cindy Cline of Wertimer + Cline dreamed up a landscape with angular hardscaping, complemented by texturally interesting plantings, such as windmill palm and sweetgrass. But to balance those modern accents, Brad snuck in a nod to the couple’s shared love of history: a gas lantern identical to the one that graced his former home in New Orleans now flickers above the front door. “After years of renovating historic properties, I fell in love with some of the elements that have stood the test of time, like this lantern,” he says. “I love that we were able to incorporate it into our home.”

 Inside, Melissa and Phil teamed up to create a floor plan custom-suited to the family of four. Since the move, Melissa has expanded her interior-design firm, which now operates on both coasts. Her home office is positioned right off the front door, so client meetings don’t clash with home life.

At the end of the entry hall, the layout opens up into one big living, dining, and cooking space. This high-traffic area is purposefully oriented near the rear of the abode, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide water views. The floor plan is modern, but there are references to traditional local architecture throughout—such as the shiplap walls in the master bath and the entry hall’s pitched ceilings, which mimic slant-roofed porches. And the floors were milled from old-growth pine, a material favored here for hundreds of years.

 With the bones thus laid, Melissa turned her attention to décor, where she made a break from tradition and let her own personal style reign. “As a designer, I look at so many patterns and textures on a daily basis,” she says. “So when I’m choosing for myself, I go minimal, with lots of black, white, and grey.” This graphic palette lends itself well to an urban aesthetic inspired by San Francisco’s Mission District, her old stomping ground. “It was especially gritty when I moved there in the early 2000s, yet it had this soulful energy with street murals, dive bars, and music venues. I just fell in love with the urban grunginess of it all,” she says.

 To draw out this motif, she fused mid-century furnishings (“If you want to go retro, mid-century pieces have the cleanest lines,” she says) with picks that have an edgy feel, such as the Banksy-esque painting above the living-room mantel (“It looks like the dark side of corporate America,” she notes), the angular chandelier over the dining table, and the rock-and-roll wallpaper in the first-floor powder room. The wallpaper was a DIY job the couple tackled in one weekend, raiding coffee-table books for images of favorite musicians and gluing them to the wall. “Brad is obsessed with New Orleans jazz musicians, so they’re in there, and I grew up in the ’80s, so Madonna has a presence,” she says. Upstairs, a more intimate personal touch: in a hang space between the twins’ rooms, Melissa placed a grouping of skateboard decks that once belonged to her late brother. “He lived life to the fullest; I like these little reminders of him,” she says.

Five years since she first saw this piece of land, Melissa’s gut instinct has turned out to be spot-on: this place feels like home. She and Brad have since wed; and though they still like to travel, they don’t need to wander too far to be transported somewhere fabulous. Their tiered back deck offers unobstructed views, a lower-level dipping pool beckons, and when they fling open the window on the indoor-outdoor bar, a craft cocktail is never far away.

On a summer day, you’re likely to find them here, grilling seafood and sipping Moscow mules from stainless steel cups rather than the traditional copper mugs (even the barware adheres to the house color scheme). All in all, she couldn’t be happier that she took the plunge. “I think of my life in San Francisco, and it was just so busy,” she says. “Here, it’s more relaxing. You kinda feel like you’re always on vacation.”