Shelter Custom-Built Living creates a unique sanctuary for a nature-loving family


In the living room, large-format porcelain tiles create a harmonious backdrop for an inset television and a 72-inch ventless gas fireplace.

When a local family decided to build their dream home, they knew exactly what they wanted: an environmentally friendly, tech-savvy, modern house with organic materials, abundant natural light and large-format windows to frame the incredible views. They also wanted a minimalist aesthetic and multiple spaces for their teenagers and friends to hang out.

Built by Shelter Custom-Built Living with interiors by Shelter’s in-house design team, the result is unique, elegant, functional and environmentally considerate. Situated on Ralston Creek with expansive marsh views, this 7,430-square-foot, modern-style home has six bedrooms, seven full baths and a half bath, a secondary kitchen, a game room, an office, a gym and plenty of outdoor living space.

The kitchen features a hardworking bar area with a prep sink, a full-sized beverage cooler, and tall windows overlooking the marsh and river.

Shelter is known for its eco-friendly principles, and in this home, sustainable, long-lasting or recycled materials were used whenever possible. For example, the exterior is clad in white Boral siding, made from more than 70% recycled materials and resistant to rotting, cracking, splitting and termites. The metal roof has a life expectancy of 40 to 70 years—a more sustainable choice than shingles—and composite decking eliminates the need for staining, sealing and replacing wood planking at regular intervals.

Large-format Sierra Pacific windows and custom pivot doors in front and back give the home a distinctly contemporary feel. The design team suggested turf for the backyard so the homeowners don’t have to maintain a grass lawn, and almost every electronic in the home, from blinds to TVs and the pool’s temperature, can be controlled by Control4 Technology accessed by smartphone.

An open dining area is anchored by an artistic contemporary light fixture that gives the space its own definition and personality.

The home has a central structure and two wings forming an L-shape. The extensions make the house feel like it’s been added onto over time, a frequent feature of barrier island homes. The main structure has a two-story modern vernacular exterior with a columned front porch and a gabled roof. The front of the house faces the street, while the back of the home and the extensions embrace marsh and river views. Because neighbors are on either side, windows are strategically placed for privacy.

As we enter, we see through the main structure’s open concept living area to the marsh, river and dock house beyond the pool and lawn in the back. Though we’re inside, it feels like nature is all around—precisely what the homeowners wanted. The second thing we notice are the kind of subtle, unique details that make a home sing. “Our design team are experts in finding and sourcing unique materials,” says Jenny Butler, Shelter’s director of design. As we walk through the house, notice details such as the custom-milled slat walls, 3-D marble and slate feature walls, and the artistic lighting. And wait until you see the main staircase.

On the first floor, we find the living, kitchen and dining areas, a powder room, the primary bedroom wing, one of two laundry rooms and the game room. The kitchen, living and dining areas are open to the striking views through extra-large windows that separate interior living spaces from exterior living spaces and the pool deck.

The game room is a multipurpose gathering and entertaining space with playful black-and-white Phillip Jeffries wallpaper, a custom sofa and a unique wood feature wall.

The focal point in the living room is a wall of large-format porcelain tiles with gray and white tones and patterns that mimic marble. The wall has a centered, inset television and a left-justified 72-inch H Series corner natural gas ventless fireplace that requires no glass or screen. Two floor-to-ceiling windows on either side allow sunlight to flood the room at a gentle angle.

In contrast to the cool porcelain tiles, the right wall of the living and dining area has a unique, warm white oak wood slat detail, custom milled by Shelter’s in-house carpentry team, that frames the nearly ceiling-height windows that overlook the marsh and river. To the left of the fireplace, the dramatic main staircase—more on that later—sweeps up to the second floor. To the right, a light-filled hallway leads to the primary bedroom extension.

The dining area, situated horizontally between the kitchen and living room, takes advantage of the expansive views with a contemporary table that seats eight and a conversation-piece light fixture by Canadian designer Larose Guyon. Looking through the fixture from the kitchen, its overlapping metal V-shapes create an interesting diagonal pattern with the fireplace’s horizontal tiles as a backdrop.

The main staircase has a warm wooden slat wall that wraps on three sides and mirrors the rounded radius of the exterior wall. The handrail is custom-molded steel.

The kitchen is actually two kitchens: a minimalist, modern front kitchen and a sleek but beautiful, hardworking back kitchen. In the front kitchen, marsh and river views take center stage while four sets of lighted natural white oak cabinets with glass doors elevate everyday table and serving ware to art. The range wall, island base and perimeter countertops are clad in a distinctive Calacatta Apuano honed marble that picks up the lighter range of whites and grays in the living room’s fireplace tiles. Quarried in Italy, the creamy white stone slabs have intense gray veining that provides enough visual energy to be interesting without detracting from the focal point—the view.

To keep the front kitchen connected with the minimalist design throughout the home, the design team chose Sub-Zero, Wolf & Cove Designer Series paneled appliances and channel cabinets in white oak and white gloss with a sleek linear design and no pulls. The counter-height island is wrapped in Apuano marble and provides workspace and gloss white cabinets for storage.

A bar-height extension comes off the marble counter at a right angle, creating an L-shaped island that mirrors the shape of the house. This extension uses the lower marble island for support on one side and a waterfall veneered white oak panel on the other. The higher island can seat up to four for casual meals. Over the marble island, another artful, minimalist light fixture creates the illusion that three globes of soft light are balanced on a slightly curved black steel bar.

The front kitchen has a 45-inch-wide undermount sink and a bar sink. The bar has everything needed for entertaining, including a full-size beverage and wine refrigerator and ample storage for glassware.

In the primary bathroom, the zero-entry shower has a 16-foot book-matched Italian tile wall with a pattern that flows over and around the shower bench.

The back kitchen—far too sleek and functional to be called a scullery—features a 30-inch workstation sink, a steam oven, speed oven, warming drawer, dishwasher, coffee system, a third refrigerator and a Zip HydroTap that dispenses sparkling, boiling or ice-cold water.

Also on the first floor, a minimal mudroom off the garage is orderly enough to be an art gallery thanks to white and wood veneer custom cabinets that corral the family’s outdoor gear and the dog’s supplies.

Nearby, the game room, with its television, pool table and Skee-Ball Home Arcade, serves as a family hangout and multipurpose gathering room. The design team helped the homeowner choose a playful black-and-white Phillip Jeffries wallpaper, a custom Italian sofa and black-and-white leathered Orca marble countertops. The television wall is clad in lacquered Farrow & Ball ‘Pitch Black’ grooved and curved tambour quarter-round wood slats that run from floor to ceiling.

To the right of the living room fireplace, a hallway with a 16-foot ceiling and slim black metal sconces separates the primary bedroom wing from the rest of the home. Just before the entrance to the primary bath, the design team installed a three-dimensional slate wall. The narrow black tiles in varying lengths and widths is laid horizontally to create an intentional transition and a visual and sensory experience that lets you know you’re headed somewhere special.

Marsh and river views outside the primary bedroom suite are all the art the room needs. Custom floating nightstands and a dramatic wooden slat wall add visual interest to the sleek interiors.

As we enter the primary bedroom, the massive windows provide a verdant 180-degree marsh and river view that is nothing short of spectacular. The oversize, uncluttered square windows with black steel frames and a wood slat feature wall make the room feel like an exclusive, modern tree house. On the exterior, a custom slatted sunscreen wraps the sides and tops of windows, giving the light that enters the bedroom a dappled effect. “We wanted a comfortable and minimalist place to relax with lots of light and uninterrupted views,” the homeowner says. “We often wake up to dolphins, deer running through the marsh and bald eagles roosting on the dock house.”

Though the bedroom is all about visual calm, the design team wanted a wow-factor element that blended with the rest of the room, so they designed a fireplace wall clad in creamy Italian porcelain tiles. Overhead, a black metal hoop light fixture has a simple illuminated edge. The effect is peaceful and grounding in this streamlined room with its endless views. Flanking the bed, two simple sconces provide ambient light.

The attached bath features front and back walls and a zero-entry shower clad in 16-inch book-matched Italian tile. The white tile has undulating black and gray curves that resemble a strand of DNA or the inside texture and pattern of a geode. This luxurious room also features Scandinavian VOLA plumbing fixtures and an expansive shower with two showerheads, handhelds, body sprayers and a floating bench. The room also has two water closets with Toto toilets and double floating vanities with automated toe kick lighting.

The outdoor kitchen and dining area are backed by a dramatic 63-by-107-inch large-format porcelain tile wall. The organic light fixtures are weather-resistant.

Clotheshorses and closet lovers, you might want to sit down, because the closet is a functional revelation. As in the rest of the suite, the closet has a 16-foot ceiling with unadorned square windows set high on the wall. To maximize the functionality of the large space, the design team installed a row of 14-foot-high clothes racks above the normal-height clothes racks. Instead of having a ladder, the high racks have automated clothing lifts that lower with the push of a button. A custom island functions as a wardrobe and packing table, keeping the primary bedroom free of unnecessary furniture.

And now, let’s talk about that staircase. While most staircases are designed just to be a way to get from here to there, this home’s staircase could be described as art. “We wanted something different and unique that we hadn’t seen in Charleston,” Butler says. The curved staircase has a custom steel handrail molded to fit, natural white oak mitered stairs and a wooden slat wall that wraps on all three sides and mirrors the rounded radius of the exterior wall. The lovely light fixture is a series of glowing hoops suspended from the ceiling at different heights.

At the top, bold brown and black Phillip Jeffries vinyl wallpaper adds warmth and ties the second floor into the house’s theme. Upstairs are two bedrooms for the kids, two guest rooms and a third-floor bedroom that also serves as an office. Design details on the second floor play off highlights from the first, including more Phillip Jeffries wallpaper with inky black swirls. Each bedroom has an en suite bathroom with a zero-entry shower and design features such as wall-mounted faucets, leathered Orca marble counters and brass accents. The second bedroom has a unique three-dimensional slate headboard wall that plays off of the shapes of the geometric hallway wallpaper and a similar three-dimensional marble focal wall in the adjoining shower.

The home has a central structure with two wings that create an L-shape. The exterior is clad in eco-friendly Boral siding, which is made of 70% recycled materials.

Back downstairs and through the custom pivot door that leads to the outdoor kitchen and living room, it’s clear this family loves being in nature. With an elegant 63-by-107-inch large-format porcelain tile wall and organic pendant lighting, the outdoor kitchen feels like an elegant poolside restaurant. Above the outdoor kitchen, there’s an outdoor living area on the second floor, and adjacent are two roll-up garage doors that conceal an outdoor game room with a full shower. The shape of the home was intentionally designed to minimize afternoon sunlight in the back, so the L-shaped infinity pool deck is shady during the second half of the day. The pool surround was built with durable and sustainable Hartstone custom concrete pavers and NewTechWood composite decking.

This home is a prime example of the magic that can happen when you involve the builder and designer before, or early in, the architecture process. There are thousands of details to decide on and oversee outside the architect’s plans, and that’s where Shelter shines.

“We don’t do soft furnishings, but we work with the architect, so nothing is lost in design. That’s what sets us apart,” Butler says. “We like to push the envelope with what we’re doing so we don’t repeat a design. We are all about making the experience enjoyable for the client. Most are nervous in the beginning, but as they see their home come together and know it’s ahead of the curve, they’re really happy.”

Shelter is a multi-Prism award winner and one of the only builders in the Charleston area named to five of Home Builder Digest’s “best of” lists, including Best Modern Builder in 50 States.

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

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