Two architects collaborate to create a new vernacular


FeatureDLBVer2-Image-1Architect Damien Busillo placed windows to capture and optimize daylight in the living room and adjacent staircase.

When Whitney Schrum, an architect at Applied Building Sciences, was ready to build her family home, she and her husband, John, turned to longtime friend and fellow architect Damien Busillo of DLB Custom Home Design. “I was honored when they asked me to design their house,” says Busillo. “An architect designing a house for another architect is not something that happens often!”

“I had very specific ideas and wanted to collaborate with someone well versed in residential home design, someone who has perfected those skills and could get the most out of my small lot,” says Schrum. On less than one-tenth of an acre, Busillo designed a 2,400-square-foot home, with three bedrooms and three and a half baths, that “utilizes every inch available,” says Schrum.

FeatureDLBVer2-Image-2A custom mahogany door and a three-foot-tall gas lantern spotlight the home’s main entrance. Busillo’s design aesthetic was reinforced by formal landscape elements, courtesy of Burch Mixon Garden Designs.
FeatureDLBVer2-Image-3Interior designer Emily Bourgeois avoided traditional kitchen cabinetry and instead drew the eye upward with stained pine millwork that flanks the plastered exhaust hood. The casual dining table purposefully sits on axis with both the entry hall and the kitchen’s sink and stovetop.

Busillo and Schrum met as freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design 20 years ago, where both went on to pursue master’s degrees. Busillo, known for his use of cutting- edge, 3-D design software, has been designing structures in South Carolina for more than a decade. He specializes in highend, custom homes. Schrum, a consulting “forensic” architect, identifies and solves problems that relate to a building’s energy efficiency and its ability to withstand the elements—topics that resonate with Lowcountry residents.

“Given my area of expertise,” says Schrum, “I looked at every detail to ensure we built a home that was durable, weather tight and energy efficient.” She also came to the table with ideas for the first floor and front elevation. These included an oversize door surround, a grandiose lantern, a smooth stucco finish and dark windows.

“Working with Damien has been amazing,” says Schrum. “He has tremendous skill. His ability to produce 3-D renderings brought our ideas to life and helped my husband and me visualize the volume of the spaces before we ever broke ground.”

FeatureDLBVer2-Image-4Dark painted window frames add value to the home’s otherwise neutral color palette. The homeowner chose a mix of eclectic furniture pieces to help create a relaxed seating area for her young family and friends.

Despite the relatively small square footage, Schrum, an avid hostess, was adamant about having formal living and dining rooms. “Damien made the most of the first floor. It’s an amazing use of space,” she says. “The home feels timeless and graceful. I joke that it’s a mini-mansion.”

Varied ceiling finishes delineate the different spaces within the first floor’s open floor plan, which has engineered white oak floors throughout. (“Engineered floors are more stable, and often more practical over an elevated slab,” offers Schrum.) Traditional trim, installed in unconventional ways, further distinguishes the aesthetic of each room.

The back of the house is less formal, with shiplap accent walls and a second, child-friendly eating space. Schrum worked with designer Emily Bourgeois, of Bourgeoisie, Inc., on the kitchen design, which includes a generous island and custom cabinets scored to blend with the walls’ shiplap pattern. A large walk-in pantry means prep and mess can be easily concealed. Busillo complemented the design with an elevated, outdoor patio and fireplace adjacent to the kitchen and family room. Along the home’s west elevation, which abuts a neighbor’s house, Busillo cleverly positioned the utilitarian spaces—cabinets, stove and pantry—and kept windows to a minimum. However, he took full advantage of views and daylight on the north and south, and on the east where rooms overlook a community green space. “We love to keep the curtains open and enjoy the landscape and natural daylight year-round,” says Schrum.

FeatureDLBVer2-Image-5Traditional two-piece crown molding was installed horizontally along the ceiling, creating an interesting shadow line and concealing drapery tracks within the trim elements.

The second floor features 10-foot cathedral ceilings and an intricate roofline with several dormer windows that enlarge and add character to the rooms.

Busillo calls this home one of his favorite designs and explains why: “Not everyone is looking for a 5,000-plus-square-foot home. Some folks want all the beautiful details and character of my larger designs but in a house scaled to fit their current lifestyle.”

The opportunity to work with Schrum also made this an appealing project. “When architects collaborate, good things happen,” says Busillo. “This home is a hybrid of skill sets— my ability to design a classic, livable house on a tiny lot and Whitney’s technical expertise in incorporating the details we needed to build a successful home in the hot, humid South.”

M.S. Lawrence is a Charleston-based writer. Email:

FeatureDLBVer2-Image-6The master bathroom features custom millwork and cabinetry scored to emulate the shiplap used elsewhere in the home. The detailed roofline adds character.
More Information

Visit Website