From Ordinary to Extraordinary

A builder transforms an aging villa into a modern seaside getaway.


FeatureBuckVer2 Image 1Designed by architect Malcolm Brennan, a mono-stringer stairway built of steel and wood complements the modern, sophisticated aesthetic of this newly renovated townhouse at Duneside Villas located on Kiawah Island’s West Beach.
FeatureBuckVer2 Image 2A table from the 1790s atop an antique reproduction rug in the dining room is juxtaposed with the kitchen’s contemporary custom cabinetry built by Island Cabinet Company, adding interest to the space.

When plans for the development of Kiawah Island began making the shift from concept to reality during the mid-1970s, among the first residential projects to be built was Duneside Villas, a townhome community on the island’s West Beach. With raised structures designed to capture the best views of the narrow band of old-growth foliage, a healthy expanse of sand dunes and arguably the most unspoiled stretch of beachfront on the southern Atlantic coastline, Duneside Villas was an immediate hit with investors craving their own little piece of Kiawah’s future.

More than three decades later, the magnificent natural environment on Kiawah Island’s West Beach continues. But when a Cincinnati-area couple decided to purchase a townhome in Duneside Villas, they knew it needed work—a lot of work—to transform it into the seaside getaway they envisioned. That’s when they turned to R.M. Buck Builders.

For more than 20 years, the Buck family has been renovating houses and building luxury custom homes on Kiawah, Seabrook and Johns islands. “Sometimes building a large luxury home from the ground up is easier than a complete renovation,” states Ryan Buck, president of R.M. Buck Builders, Inc. “That was certainly the case with this project. Fortunately, I was working with a great interior designer and architect. After the homeowners let us know exactly what they wanted, they collaborated with us to get the job done.”

According to Buck, the existing two-story townhouse had to be totally gutted. He said that whenever the interior walls of an existing structure come down hidden issues are often revealed. “One major problem we discovered was a long-term leak in the wall attached to another unit which caused major damage to this structure,” explains Buck, who served as project manager for the villa renovation. “I think it was one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced on Kiawah.”

FeatureBuckVer2 Image 3A custom entry table is a nod to the historical use of wrought iron in the Lowcountry vernacular, while the addition of the transom window above allows natural light to filter into the front guest bedroom.
FeatureBuckVer2 Image 4Loewen energy-efficient windows allow the ocean view to flow into the villa’s living space. The shiplap-covered walls provide the perfect backdrop for a painting by Linda Fantuzzo that hangs over the cast stone fireplace and cleverly conceals a flat-screen television.
FeatureBuckVer2 Image 5In the upstairs master bath, a soaking tub offers an idyllic view of the ocean.
FeatureBuckVer2 Image 6Light from the screened porch flows through a wrought iron light fixture over the dining table.

Working within a tight timeframe imposed by the homeowners’ association, and in close quarters defined by the existing space, the builder scrambled to bring the decades-old unit into the 21st century. With the clock ticking, the team huddled regularly to resolve problems, manage the project’s myriad details and brainstorm ways to maximize literally every square inch of available space. Now that the project is complete, members of the team are finding it difficult to pick their favorite features of this amazing makeover.

Among the villa’s many notable features is the shiplap siding that covers most of the walls and ceilings throughout the townhouse. “It was inspired by some of the architectural elements that were original to these units,” explains Rebekah D. Carter, Allied ASID, of Red Element Design Studio, who was the interior designer for the project. “We painted it a soft white in order to create a calm and relaxing environment that is more about the play of light and the use of subtle texture.”

The walls are complemented by wide-plank reclaimed oak flooring from Reclaimed DesignWorks of Charleston. The floors run throughout the primary living space located on the second floor. “This is a beach house,” notes Carter. “For the owners, it wasn’t just about how the floors looked but also about how they felt underfoot.”

“After purchasing the property, the homeowners quickly realized that the rails on the outside decking obstructed the ocean view,” continues Buck. “Rebekah worked with Malcolm Brennan, the project’s architect, to come up with what I think is an innovative solution to the problem. They had the idea of using a sleeper floor system to raise the living room space up so the line of sight to the beach wouldn’t be obstructed.”

FeatureBuckVer2 Image 7The downstairs master bath features a wall-hung toilet and a vanity inspired by a furniture piece.

To reach the third floor master suite with deck, which was added during the renovation, the architect designed a stairway to provide access to the new addition. “The idea was to minimize the visual impact of the stairs,” explains Brennan of M. Brennan Architects. “So I came up with a mono-stringer stairway to give the stairs the lowest possible profile. It allows light and air to flow around it, which is exactly what the space needed.”

Of course, Buck takes special pride in the cabinetry throughout the house. That’s understandable, since it was all custom-built by Island Cabinet Company, R.M. Buck Builders’ in-house cabinetry division. Building high-end custom cabinetry for luxury homes offered the Buck family their initial entry into the local construction industry. To this day, their cabinetry showcases the pride in craftsmanship, attention to detail and ability to translate the vision of their clients that are hallmarks of the Buck philosophy.

“We set out to transform the ordinary into extraordinary,” concludes Buck. “This Duneside Villa is now a seaside getaway befitting the magnificent views that lie just beyond its walls. To the last detail, it is exactly what our clients envisioned.”

Patra Taylor is a Charleston-based writer.

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