Designer Robyn Branch takes an Isle of Palms beach home from stark to stunning in just four weeks

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by ZEKE RUELAS

In the homeowner’s bedroom, the designer used varying shades of gray, then added definition with texture in the furnishings and textiles.

When interior designer Robyn Branch says she goes above and beyond for her clients, she’s not kidding. There was the time in St. Kitts when she served as a human strap on a forklift load of materials going three stories high. Then there was the time she and her crew finished a project with no electricity, using an iPhone flashlight to put the finishing touches in place. Recently, when her client bought a house and asked if Branch could redo all of the interiors in a month, the fearless designer said, “Of course!”

The client’s new home, a five-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath elevated beach house on Isle of Palms, had a sound exterior, but inside, it was cold, stark and in need of a lot of cosmetic work. However, it was the perfect family vacation home, with a large den upstairs, a lovely sunroom and open-plan living downstairs.

The sunroom opens onto a narrow terrace facing the water. Because it’s a small room, interior designer Robyn Branch used small-scale furniture.

Branch had done work for the client and the client’s family before, so she knew what she was getting into when she agreed to a fast turnaround. “The home was well built but needed work,” she says. “I didn’t have a lot of direction, but I didn’t need it. My client knows what she likes, and I know she expects everything to be tricked out. She just told me to make it beautiful, and we did.” The client bought the home in March and wanted to host a family gathering for Mother’s Day, giving Branch just four weeks to work her magic.

The designer hightailed it to High Point Market, then loaded up her crew, comprised of handyman Jimmy Chestnut, fine artist Tania Garris and seamstress Christy Woods, and headed for Isle of Palms. “The home has a beautiful backyard, and it’s one of the rare homes with a private beach boardwalk. My inspiration was the ocean and the outdoors,” Branch says. “I knew where everything was going, so I went through High Point like a gunslinger. I knew certain things, like the red chandelier, I would love to have in my own home.”

The living room sectional is upholstered in performance suede that will hold up to salty air and damp bathing suits. Swivel chairs can pivot to face the view.

With selections made, Branch and her posse moved into the empty house, slept on the floor and pulled everything together in one sleepless week. “We changed almost everything. There is a lot of dark wood, so we painted the whole house white, pulled out carpet, made custom window treatments and reupholstered furniture,” she says. “That week, there were six of us working on the house at any given moment.”

A coral and brass chandelier designed by Marjorie Skouras for Currey & Company is the focal point in the dining room. Handmade valances feature a large-scale seashell motif.

The house the client bought may have been simple and stark, but the home she walked into was beautiful, elegant and blinged out—right down to the dishes in the kitchen. For starters, the elevator may be the fanciest, most delightful room in the house. Everything is gold or crystal. Everything sparkles, and everything is sumptuous, right down to the gold shag carpet.

In the foyer, we’re greeted by a vignette made up of a woven console table and a beaded mirror with coral accents. Overhead is a massive 4-foot-high chandelier made of pieces of round, recycled sea glass. On the stairwell wall, artist Tania Garris created a faux stone finish as a backdrop for a mirror framed in black metal. Flanking the mirror, two sconces by Ro Sham Beaux provide a subtle glow.

Guest rooms are streamlined and peaceful, with neutral color palettes, plenty of texture and small pops of color.

In the living room, a round woven coffee table with a natural wood top is the center of the seating group. The large sectional is upholstered in white performance suede, designed to withstand damp bathing suits and salty air. Two swivel chairs with square profiles can pivot to take in the view. The quirky black-and-white throw pillows with an Italian-style sea motif are made of soft white velvet. The grouping is anchored by layers of cozy rugs.

Bridging the living room and dining room, a demilune console table is topped by a playful painting by Michael Brennan entitled Tuna Tale. In the dining room, there’s that jaw-dropping red chandelier. Designed by Marjorie Skouras for Currey & Company, the fixture is made of bright red coral with brass accents. Between the windows, a rectangular mirror with a wooden lattice overlay reflects the light into the room.

On the windows are handmade valances with large-scale seashell motif top sheers with a mirrored pattern that mimics dripping water. The substantial Palecek dining table is surrounded by comfy Kenian chairs made with woven leather on a rattan base.

The powder room walls were hand textured to mimic the hull of a shrimp boat. The focal point is a handmade octopus sink by Shayne Greco.

The downstairs powder room is full of surprises. The designer treated the walls in a unique blue finish that serves as a backdrop for a handmade ceramic octopus sink by artist Shayne Greco. “For the walls, I told Tania to make it stand out in metallic, so you felt like you were underwater or were looking at the side of an old shrimp boat,” Branch says.

The first guest bedroom is also downstairs, and here Branch went for an ethereal vibe with light aqua paint, a woven headboard and side table, and a black-and-white photo of a horse. “It’s a nod to the history of horses on barrier islands, plus horses are just soothing and peaceful. We wanted everything to be happy,” she says.

Artist Tania Garris created a faux stone finish in the stairwell as a backdrop for a black iron mirror and a pair of Ro Sham Beaux sconces.

The second downstairs guest accommodation has oyster shell white walls, a cozy, padded linen sleigh bed, white ceramic side tables, and a teal and white bench at the foot of the bed. Over the bed, a round mirror framed with teal glass petals that resemble fish scales picks up the colors of the accent pillows on the bed.

Upstairs are three more guest rooms, the primary bedroom suite, the media room and the sunroom. The media room is expansive, so Branch chose a large, plush sectional, upholstered swivel chairs and an oversize ottoman in navy blue. The grouping sits atop a cream and black shag area rug. In the corner, a massive rope lamp illustrates the size of the room. “I knew this room had to be fun, so it’s a little whimsical,” Branch says.

The media room has a large, comfortable sectional, a soft shag rug and whimsical touches such as a massive rope lamp and a triptych painting of a century plant.

Just off the media room is the sunroom, which opens onto a narrow terrace facing the beach and ocean. Above the door, a long rectangular artwork depicts the moon’s phases. A small settee upholstered in a black-and-white geometric pattern faces the view. Two cylindrical ottomans in black-and-white striped fabric provide extra seating or a soft place to put up your feet. A round game table in the corner is ready for puzzles or cards. “This room is an extension of the den, but it has a built-in bar and a TV, so when the house is full and guests are everywhere, there’s another place to go,” Branch says.

The homeowner’s bedroom is a peaceful haven in gray and white. “I don’t usually use gray, but it’s so nice in this room. I used different levels and tints, then added definition with texture,” she says. The bed is upholstered in a light gray fabric with a dark gray fabric frame. At the foot of the bed, a gray and white pinstriped bench with black accents makes a convenient place to put on shoes or park a tea tray.

Although from afar the feature wall looks like wallpaper, it’s actually a textured surface hand-sculpted and colored by Garris. White side tables by Currey & Company look as if they’re encrusted with shells. In the corner, a traditional wicker fan chair with a sea glass accent table makes a cozy vignette.

The home sits on a large beachfront lot and is one of the few homes on the island with a private boardwalk. Branch refreshed the outdoor living room to create a cozy spot to watch the waves.

The first guest room upstairs has a wooden sleigh bed with upholstered details, two brass side lamps with glass globes, and a pair of rope poufs at the foot of the bed. Above the bed, a whimsical artwork depicts beachgoers enjoying the waves. Branch remembers a little drama pulling this room together. “I loved the bed, but it was a California king, which would have been too large for the space,” she says. “Our handyman, Jimmy, cut it down. You have to be so good to alter furniture. He’s just magical.”

The next guest room is moodier than the others. With a navy feature wall, a platform bed with an ornate upholstered headboard, two chunky wood side tables, and a large lumbar pillow with a sailfish motif, this room has a hint of nautical. “I wanted this room to be a little more masculine,” Branch says. “Tania did a deep navy paint on the feature wall with a clean, flat finish, which is really hard to pull off.”

The final guest room is a little girl’s special room, decorated in soft pinks and greens. “This is a special room. It’s very sweet, but it will grow with her,” Branch says.

After the walls were painted, carpets replaced, lighting hung, furniture and accessories installed, and all of the other small touches, such as new dishes, linens and even coasters in place, one week after she started, Branch vacuumed her way out of the house at 7:15 a.m. Just an hour later, her client and her family arrived to begin their holiday.

“Most designers won’t do this, but we’ve done it more than once,” Branch says. “We travel, we move in, and we rock and roll.” Branch, the daughter of furniture store owners, attended her first High Point International Market when she was just 5. Being immersed in the trade her entire life, she has a vast network of longtime contacts in the industry. She’s also done collaborations with furniture designers such as Kindel. Besides her can-do attitude, Branch is known for her creative versatility. She is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), which allows her to work with clients at all stages of their lives. “Most of our clients have vacation homes and are repeat clients,” she says. “When their life changes, whether they’re downsizing or upgrading, we do whatever they need to do.”

In 2007, Branch opened her first design studio on Amelia Island, in Florida, and has since opened offices in Charleston and Charlotte, North Carolina, to accommodate clients in the Caribbean, along the East Coast and across the country. As for pulling all-nighters, riding forklifts and working by flashlight, she doesn’t intend to slow down. “I tell myself I must stop doing projects like that, but I won’t. It’s the best fun, and I love it,” she says.

Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.

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145 KING ST., SUITE 102