A Kiawah island home celebrates its surroundings


The story of the house on Salthouse Lane began as all good stories do, with a dream and a challenge that had to be overcome to achieve it. The homeowner’s dream was to build a simple but elegant house on Kiawah Island where he could host his four children, entertain friends, and enjoy the island’s renowned golf courses, isolated beaches and proximity to Charleston.

His challenge was to build this dream home on a plot of land that, although it backed up to three beautiful fairways, was a tight squeeze for all he hoped to fit into his new home. The lot had a buildable area of only 48 feet from front to back and 145 feet from left to right. Luckily, local architect Chad McDonald, whose work the homeowner admired, was more than up for the task.

The porch, guesthouse and outdoor kitchen were designed to create a dramatic courtyard on the home’s shallow lot.

McDonald, the principle of McDonald Architects in Charleston, is that rare type of creative who thrives on constraints. In lieu of limitations he saw possibility. He designed an eclectic Shingle Style home that not only fit but also accentuated all of the positives of the location. “Great architecture celebrates its environment,” McDonald tells me. “If you don’t celebrate the property, you’re not doing something right.”

In the living room, a unique bowstring truss system adorns the ceiling. The television is hidden in a custom-made cabinet and rises via a remote-controlled lift.

To students of architecture, this is the first hint of how deeply McDonald understands and appreciates Shingle Style, a staple of Kiawah Island living. When this building trend came into being in the late 19th century, it was a sea change from the popular, ornate Queen Anne design. In contrast to the beloved frippery of Queen Anne, Shingle Style emphasizes simplicity and elegance. A defining characteristic of Shingle Style architecture is that the home should feel as though it’s enveloping a space rather than just taking up land mass.

An intimate dining room overlooks the golf course and features a custom table and lighting.

The architect kept the handrail and balustrades simple to enhance the light-filled stairwell.

McDonald is a bit of a philosopher, as evidenced by the way he relates elements of design to their emotional effect. With clients he is patient, listens carefully and offers thoughtful ideas and guidance. To top it off, McDonald is LEED accredited and has an innate ability to balance environmental concerns with beautiful and functional design.

Outside the home, facing the pool deck, McDonald designed a detached guesthouse with lovely Arts and Crafts details. The pool with its infinity edge gives way to a compact green curve of lawn, borrowing more views from the land around it. The spacious screened porch overlooks this lush tableau, while magnolias, tall pines and grand live oaks gracefully preside over all.

The open kitchen boasts custom cabinets designed by interior designer Kathryn Duke McGowan, principal of KDM Interiors, and built by Saunders Woodworks in Mount Pleasant. A hardworking wet bar, pantry and butler’s pantry separate the kitchen from the dining room.

McDonald designed the interior of the home so you move through the spaces in sequence, from the largest and most public gathering places to more private areas in the back. The crown jewel of the entrance is a unique bowstring truss system on the vaulted ceiling of the living room. Off the living room— and open to it—are the kitchen and breakfast nook. These areas lend a friendly, informal air to the dignified home. Behind the kitchen is a charming butler’s pantry leading to a formal dining room with stunning views of the golf course.

The homeowner’s den, master bedroom and bathroom are at the very back of the house, all right-sized, cozy, tasteful and polished right down to the smallest detail.

Though McDonald had drawn the plans before he met the homeowner, he was able to customize the interior to suit his client’s personality and lifestyle. Upstairs are four guest suites and a sitting room, designed so guests can be together without sacrificing privacy and personal space.

The architect designed the home to capture soft, natural light.

In the bathroom, raised wainscoting balances quality of light with privacy.

Varying ceiling heights, arched doorways, curved walls and perfectly proportioned rooms pull off a welcoming sense of envelopment.

At the end of our chat, we return to the pool deck to enjoy a last look at this masterpiece. The homeowner’s dog contentedly naps in the sun while an ocean breeze sweeps away the last of summer’s heat and humidity. Indeed, McDonald’s design makes the best of this beautiful site.

“A house is a complex social construct,” he says. “As an architect, I’m dealing with someone’s dream. In the end, it’s all about making people happy.”

Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhoward writes.com.

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