WHEN DRS. LAURA AND KEVIN SHULER bought their Old Village home from his parents, they faced a tough decision. The home was designed by renowned architect W.G. Clark, so it had some sentimental and historical value. The problem was, the Shulers and their two sons and pets were quickly outgrowing it, and they wanted more light, better views and a contemporary vibe.
The couple turned to architect Neal Van Dalen and interior designer Nicole Folse Norris, ASID, NCIDQ, to help them plan a renovation that would give them more room and more modern functionalities. However, when they got estimates back from builders, it became clear that it would cost more to renovate the house than to demolish it and build exactly what they wanted.
For Norris, Van Dalen and builders Sam and Pat Lisi of Village Restoration, the challenge was to design and build a home with a distinct personality that honored Clark’s original vision and the family’s spirit home. The result is an elevated Lowcountry-style home with an elongated footprint that takes advantage of the expansive harbor views. The design is a nod to Clark’s iconic geometric style but much more contemporary and expansive.
For interiors, the Shuler family wanted their home to reflect their love of nature, animals and the water. They also have strong connections to their extended families and wanted the new home to incorporate important heirlooms.
Norris and Van Dalen’s first challenge was to bring in physical elements of the former home, such as using the cypress from the original structure and antique pine harvested from Laura Shuler’s Lexington, South Carolina, childhood homeplace. Second, the Shulers’ love of the outdoors: Norris needed to devise a design that would bring the outside in and give the home an organic sense of place.
Next, the design had to incorporate a trove of family treasures, including fossils and artifacts the family had collected together, crafts the boys made, souvenirs, artwork and heirlooms, such as the furniture Laura Shuler’s father had built. “Nicole had to put up with a lot of my personal tastes,” she says. “She is so unique; I knew she could pull it off. She mixed in things you wouldn’t normally find on the coast, such as my equestrian art.”
Norris reupholstered much of the Shulers’ existing furniture and added several new pieces, such as a custom 9-foot Landrum table. She had the cypress from the original home stripped, planed and stained for use on the ceilings. Shuler’s stash of heirloom pine was put to use on the walls as accent pieces, on the bathroom ceiling and as a wrap for the beams in the den and the kitchen.
The ocean inspires the color palette, but Norris didn’t stick to one shade of blue. As you move through the house, shades of blue run from aqua to turquoise to deep blue and everything in between. Accent colors come from sea glass, shells, marsh grass and other organic Lowcountry hues. “You can move from one room to the next, and it’s always different,” Shuler says.
As you enter, the living area, kitchen and sunroom are open to take advantage of the harbor views. A massive panel door opens to the screened porch for the best of indoor-outdoor living. Because the dining room is open, Shuler needed a place to store her family china and crystal. A large butler’s pantry keeps everything neatly organized and tucked away.
The small powder room is a fun surprise. Norris designed the substantial quartz sink and had it fabricated, and she papered the walls with Designers Guild wallpaper with a swallow motif. She also chose this room for a floor-to-ceiling display of Shuler’s beloved collection of oyster plates.
With its moody blue walls, double-sided fireplace, bookshelves and collection of family photos, the library is a special place. Shuler’s father handcrafted the antique mahogany doors, and Norris accented them with blue lapis hardware. The family loves to read, so this cozy spot is a popular hangout.
Nearby is a guest suite for family and friends. The suite is private but not too separate from the rest of the house. It includes a washer and dryer and a walk-in shower for guests who might require accessibility.
Upstairs are two bedrooms for the boys and a loft where they can watch TV, play games or study. The architectural design featured a small tower, which was initially planned as an unfinished space. However, the boys claimed it as a gaming den, and the Shulers decided to have it finished. Both of the boys had specific requests for and opinions about their rooms. Norris paid close attention to the details, and Shuler says both of her sons are delighted with their private spaces.
Down the hall, the master suite has a peaceful porch that overlooks the harbor and a smaller balcony that looks toward Sullivan’s Island. Featuring a wet room shower with tub, the master bath may be the home’s pièce de résistance. With a view that incorporates the branches of an ancient live oak, this room makes it seem as if you’re in a tree house.
Having written about Norris’ work before, I have found that one of her unique qualities is that she is always open-minded to new ideas. When she presents options, she’s always thinking about what will fit best in her client’s world, even if it strays from the path of by-the-book design rules. As a result, her clients’ homes genuinely reflect their personalities. In her work, it’s the small, personal touches that make all the difference. “Nicole’s ability to hear her clients and take herself out of it is magical,” Shuler says.
Creating this little piece of paradise was a yearslong effort, but everyone agrees it was worth the wait. “I love my house. Period. We wouldn’t change anything,” says Shuler. *
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.