A Kiawah design team transforms a fragile home site into a showpiece


FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-1The main residence, stairway, pool area and guesthouse were built to “wrap around” the natural setting, sparing as many live oak trees as possible. Windows were positioned to avoid neighboring homes, maximizing privacy within the snug lot. Landscaping designed by Remark Landscape Architecture.

When this Washington, D.C. couple identified their future vacation home site on Kiawah Island, they felt secure in the knowledge that it met all their expectations. They had been coming to the island resort for over 15 years and were well familiar with its various communities and amenities. Although they were open to buying an existing house, they fell in love with this lot, perched high on a dune shaded by old-growth live oaks. It was close to the oceanfront and offered access to a must-have membership in one of Kiawah’s legendary golf clubs.

“Over the years, we’d rented many beautiful homes in Kiawah, so we knew exactly what we wanted in a beach house,” explains homeowner Steve Farina.

“And, we’d built in D.C. and had a favorable experience,” adds his wife, Ann Rakestraw.

As they proceeded with their due diligence, it quickly became apparent that some of the key features drawing them to the location also presented serious concerns. The couple was referred to Scott Anderson of Anderson Studio of Architecture and Design. He brought the specialized expertise they needed to make informed decisions.

“There were huge challenges with the site,” recalls Anderson, whose multiple relationships within Kiawah Island Resort— including a former post as director of architecture for Kiawah Development Partners—proved invaluable in moving the project forward.

The lot’s high elevation, unusual “flagpole” shape and close proximity to neighboring homes were among the considerations they had to address. Anderson says several other buyers had tried to put a house on the property and given up.

“We wanted a sense of how the house would be situated on the lot to give us the privacy we needed,” says Farina. “We also wanted to preserve as many live oaks as possible, as did the architectural review board.”

“Scott created a design with three live oaks coming out of the deck,” adds Rakestraw, with a smile. “The house was very much tucked into the lot.”

FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-2Comfortable and family friendly, the living area is washed in a palette of neutrals to achieve a bright, beachy feel. Sunbrella fabric adds a protective layer to furnishings, and pale gray tones in the flooring exude a sun-bleached, coastal look.
FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-3Casual sophistication flows through the open living space and into a dining area anchored by a rustic wood table. A chandelier designed by Thomas O’Brien, using a branch motif with brass accents, features graceful curved lines.
FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-4Since the home is surrounded by thick stands of trees and maritime foliage, the build/design plan aimed to both showcase the natural beauty and maximize interior light with a “one-room-wide” design approach. Wall covering adds a warm touch to the space.

The couple interviewed several construction firms and felt an immediate affinity with R.M. Buck Builders. The family-owned and -operated company has a legacy that began with Bob Buck’s artisanal cabinetry and construction enterprise in New England and expanded to include custom homebuilding when it moved to the Lowcountry in 1990. He, wife Renae and son Ryan have a well-earned reputation throughout the Charleston area for strict attention to detail and personalized customer service.

“Basically, we approach every project as a team,” says Ryan Buck. “My father will get the project started with the site work and framing. I handle the mechanicals, rough ends and finishes. My mother comes in at the end and finishes the home from a supervision standpoint and then turns it over to the clients.”

Like Anderson, with whom the Bucks have a strong collaborative relationship, they specialize in Kiawah and Seabrook resort projects and understand the unique challenges they present.

FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-5A French-designed candlestick-style chandelier provides a visual centerpiece and indirect light in the kitchen. Custom cabinetry in the kitchen and throughout the home was handcrafted in-house at R.M. Buck Builders’ Island Cabinet Company. The stone used in the kitchen backsplash is a combination of Carrara and Thassos marbles.

“The high elevation of the site definitely made it a challenge to place the Farina-Rakestraw house,” says Buck. “We had to cut into the dune and work around the large live oaks and at the same time protect them from the equipment. They were fed and irrigated—a lot of effort was made to keep the trees alive.”

To this cohesive team, the owners added interior designer Skip Sroka, Sroka Design principal and their neighbor in Washington, D.C. Sroka’s affiliations include ASID, NCIDQ and ICAA, plus he knows their design aesthetic well, having worked with them on past projects. In addition to making recommendations regarding furnishings and finishes, he collaborated on the design of the exterior stairway.

FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-6In love with its unique shade of white, the homeowners chose high-maintenance Carrara marble for countertops, convinced that normal wear and tear “adds to its patina.” The flooring is a hexagon tile pattern done in Carrara and Calacatta Gold marbles.
FeaturesRMbuckVer2-Image-7Tactile and calming, the master bedroom is a retreat, with less formal trim and walls covered in a natural woven material for warmth. Wood nightstands help to anchor the room.

“Originally the plan was for a classic wooden staircase running straight down to the driveway,” says Sroka. “It didn’t feel right to me—I said, ‘Let’s curve it up.’ We used limestone imported from France. Ann and Steve really wanted to make a statement when you enter the home and did it right.”

“Since we’d built before, we were aware of the hundreds of decisions involved, and the need to assemble a solid team,” says Rakestraw. “The Bucks worked well with us, making 217 CSD recommendations. They’d give us options, and we’d evaluate where to place the priorities. They presented us with enough information so we could decide where to spend for the most impact.”

“The Bucks were terrific,” adds Farina. “We really enjoyed the way they worked together, and we now use the property management arm of the company to maintain our home for us. They turned what was a challenge into something that is special.”

Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.

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