The house’s exterior, designed by Tyler A. Smyth Architects, evokes the style of English architect Charles F.A. Voysey, with steeply pitched rooflines finished with Vermont slate.
A focal point of much of the house is the installation of reclaimed hand-hewn beams. Combined with neutral colorways, they add a sense of heritage to the new construction. For the kitchen, Mark and Rebekah Carter of Red Element Design Studio designed the cabinetry, with special attention to extra storage for the homeowner, who loves to cook. Lighting above the island is by Paul Ferrante, island seating is by David Francis Furniture and appliances are by Sub-Zero/Wolf.
Rebekah Carter wasn’t sure how the client interview would go when the homeowner of the project she was applying for told her: “I’ve seen your website. Nothing there is what I want my house to look like.”
Unfazed, interior designer Carter responded: “I get that. We’ve never had you as a client before. We don’t have a ‘look.’ All our projects look different because they’re client-driven. We help them do ‘them’ effectively.”
“We ended up working together,” she says.
The homeowner admits to memories of the “early reign of terror” as a child, watching her mother work with a my-way-or-the-highway decorator. So, yes, she was direct. “I interviewed several different people, and, in the end, I decided they’d hand me off to underlings,” she says. “But I wanted the personal attention, and our architect, Tyler Smyth, said, ‘Talk to Rebekah. I think you’ll like her.’
“What I said to Rebekah was, ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I have a strong personality. I think I know exactly what I want.’ We have a beautiful marsh view. We’ll never have anything out there to change that view. I wanted that to be the vision. I didn’t want anything to take away from that.”
The result is an elegant, welcoming Cassique community home on Kiawah Island from an A-list team of preeminent, well-established professionals: interiors by Carter, principal designer of Red Element Design Studio; architecture by Tyler A. Smyth Architects; construction by R.M. Buck Builders; and landscape design by Bill Maneri Landscape Architects. And, of course, the homeowner, who knew what she wanted.
A strong personality, yes, and that was fine with Carter, who describes her as an active, insightful collaborator. “Some clients want you to tell them what they want, and they want you to be a lot heavier-handed,” Carter says. “She knew what she wanted. When she found pieces that spoke to her, she’d have us help her decide if they were a good fit. It was collaborative the whole way through. That was one of the big perks of the project.”
The home is nearly 4,300 square feet, with four bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms, and it is on a golf course—to the delight of its links-loving owners. Construction began in 2019, and the owners moved into the home in early February this year. It is the winter home for the couple, who have been coming to Kiawah Island for 35 years.
The couple purchased the property eight years ago and started working with Smyth five years ago, after meeting him in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The house was placed toward the back of the property line to maximize the marsh view. In addition to loving the lot and the house, being in the Charleston area was important to them. “We didn’t want to go to a beach community,” the homeowner says. “It’s a place with a rich history, great restaurants, wonderful museums and a lot to do.”
In keeping with the architecture of Cassique, the project’s exterior evokes Arts and Crafts style, particularly that of English architect Charles F.A. Voysey, with steeply pitched rooflines finished with Vermont slate. Exterior detailing includes smooth lime plaster material with simple punched openings at the windows and doors, and French limestone sills. The fenestration is capped with a plaster eyebrow detail formed over terra-cotta tile sourced from Italy. Slotted vent openings adorn the gable ends. Exterior walls are 12-inch-thick structural masonry, while all exterior timber and soffit material is western red cedar. The windows eschew curtains and are adorned only with electronic shades that lower and lift from pockets fabricated inside the walls.
“Inside it’s not Arts and Crafts at all,” says the homeowner, describing the look as earthy, relaxed and minimalist. “We have European white oak wide-plank floors. The colors are very light and the furniture is more contemporary, with a few pieces thrown in that are not contemporary.”
Adds Carter: “She has a very classic style but not formal. It’s a warm, welcoming house. She loves earth tones and warmth, and she wanted the house to relate to the nature outside.”
But neutral and earth tones decidedly do not equal boring. Carter says: “There are really subtle textures, the grain of wire-brushed wood, the chunky weave of a great fabric—small details that feel really yummy. That’s a much harder thing to pull off. Being classic without being vanilla is really where it’s at.”
A focal point of the house, and one of great importance to the homeowner, is the installation of reclaimed, hand-hewn beams throughout the living room, kitchen and upstairs bedrooms. The homeowner selected them with Smyth on a visit to Wyatt Childs, the supplier in Barnesville, Georgia.
“We decided that it’s better to build something new and make sure you have all the fire prevention measures and new plumbing, then add features that will make it feel old,” the homeowner says. “They give the house character and age.”
Carter describes the beams as the “lead singer in the band,” and respected their authority as she approached the rest of the interior design. “The floors needed to be calmer and not so dominant,” she adds. Living room sofas are by A. Rudin, upholstered with a white cotton/linen blend by Kravet. The cocktail table by Formations has a forged iron base the homeowner purchased through Chairish.
The dining table was custom designed by Smyth and fabricated by local furniture maker Tyler Jaworski, with seating by Fairfield Chair. In that room, the lighting presented a challenge: how to illuminate a long table without overpowering the view or distracting from the handsome curved opening between the living area and kitchen. (“One of my must-haves,” the owner says of the arch.) Carter chose a chandelier in hand-forged iron, also by Formations. “She loves wrought iron,” Carter says. “Design-wise, this scaled well and went the length of the table, and you are still able to look through the dining and living rooms. The darkness adds some visual weight.”
The fireplace was designed by the architect, with a French limestone mantel, topped with a curved, plaster-coated wall. The unusual shape became the perfect backdrop for a grouping of vintage African handwoven baskets, sourced by the homeowner with consult help and installation by Red Element Design.
In the kitchen, Carter’s team designed the cabinetry and included bins at the ends of the island for extra storage. Carter also created a sitting area in front of a bay window, with lounge chairs by Lee Industries, client-owned antique Chippendale chairs refinished and reupholstered with Schumacher fabrics, and a custom wishbone stretcher table that can turn 90 degrees depending on the seating configuration. “They can move it close to the window when they want to enjoy breakfast or backgammon, and it’s easy to move when they have family in and need extra seating,” Carter says.
Another bay window is in the primary bedroom, where the client’s own vintage Italian chairs provide a serene perch to enjoy the view. “It’s symmetrical with the kitchen,” Carter says of the room, “with beautiful, tall, 11-foot ceilings and beautiful detailing on the ceiling.”
Again, the furnishings complement the natural splendor outside and the craftsmanship inside. A canopy bed by Old Biscayne in burnished gunmetal achieves the same goal as the dining room chandelier, incorporating the homeowner’s love of earthy materials into furnishings that give proper deference to the view.
The second level includes a den and office space for the homeowner that can pivot to a second living area for an active family to have some additional space.
Carter worked with the homeowner and architect on a custom-designed console that doubles as a work space and runs the length of three large windows. Jaworski fabricated the table from a walnut slab sourced from a small supplier in Iowa. A sofa by Ferrell Mittman faces a custom cocktail table with a recycled resin shell and glass top by Fisher Recycling. Swivel chairs by Vanguard, the client’s bamboo nesting tables and an area rug by Dash & Albert create an intimate and functional retreat. A modern, wrought-iron chandelier by Currey & Company adds a whimsical element. “What I love about the homeowner is that she likes classic things, and she can embrace a new classic,” Carter says.
The room is, Carter admits, one of her favorites in the house.
“I constantly say I can’t make anything more beautiful than nature, so I don’t try,” Carter says. “All I can do is make something that complements and does not take away from nature. When people walk into that room, nature is the first thing their eye should go to. And if we did our job right, the next thought should be, ‘This is a beautiful room.’ The view is the ticket.”
The homeowners have a grown son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, aged 2 to 7. Upstairs, three bedrooms—with shiplap treatment on the walls, bedcoverings designed by Carter’s team and en suite bathrooms—provide comfortable quarters for guests.
“My favorite thing about the bedrooms upstairs is that you feel that roofline in those rooms,” Carter says. “They aren’t big, and the roofline accents their coziness. They feel like a big hug.”
Not to be forgotten is a studio for the husband, a hobbyist painter, which contains a desk, storage, easel, sofa and a full bath. “He has a very gregarious personality. The studio is his spot, so we wanted to make sure he could work there,” Carter says.
Throughout the project and beyond, both designer and client say they developed a mutual respect and enjoyed working together. Carter says she found a kindred spirit, someone who knew her way around what goes into a fine house. “She has experience with renovating older homes and refined craftsmanship,” Carter says. “She has a very tailored aesthetic.”
And the homeowner appreciated Carter’s expertise and enjoyed working with the entire team, who, not surprisingly, enjoy working with one another. She concludes: “One of Red Element’s strengths was Rebekah assembling a personable, professional team who work well together and get every aspect done to perfection. During the two-year process, we were well cared for by all the team.” *
Freelance writer and editor Connie Dufner is a proud Texan transplant living in Washington, D.C. She is a former editor for Modern Luxury Dallas and The Dallas Morning News who has been covering interiors journalism since 2001.