Life is best lived in an Isle of Palms state of mind

by DANA W. TODD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

The Isle of Palms is a vacation hot spot during the high season, but a lucky few call the town home all year-round. The lure of island living and miles of white sandy beaches issue their siren call. For a longtime resident family, the allure of the beach continues to call to them. They were living in an older home on the front beach and connected with both architect Bill Huey + Associates and builder Sheppard Construction to discuss a renovation plan. But a stroll down the beach changed their minds when they stumbled upon a double lot just a few blocks away that was on the market. “It is a special lot on a naturally high part of the island,” says builder Rus Sheppard.

They sold their home and engaged with architects Bill Huey and Nicole Putnam and Sheppard Construction to build a new home. They had watched the work of both professional firms build a house next door to their previous home and felt the team was a good fit for them.

What they wanted was a chance to provide input into the home’s construction. “They were well-informed about construction trends and technology and spent time visiting construction sites around them,” says Huey. “The homeowners were very involved during the construction process, checking in on the jobsite multiple times a day. I think they really felt a part of the process, which I loved.”

They leaned on the design and construction team to fulfill their main wish: take full advantage of the views. With sight lines to the Morris Island Lighthouse and Folly Beach, it was important for the team to decide how the family lived in a home and how to best capture views in the most-used rooms of the house. Huey and Putnam, who are celebrating 30 years helping Lowcountry homeowners design the homes of their dreams, began as they always do—talking with the client to create a hierarchy of primary, secondary and tertiary rooms in which the family wanted water views.

They determined that the kitchen and primary bedroom were the most important rooms for the family and where the desire for water views was the highest. As a chef, one of the homeowners spends a lot of time in the kitchen, so the design team surrounded the room on three sides with windows and included space for a small dining table nestled near the windows. With a pass-through sliding window to a main-level deck, the chef can quickly deliver food to the outdoor dining space in just a few steps without ever needing to walk outside.

A chef needs much more than a primary kitchen, so Huey and Putnam added all of the elements to create a chef’s dream setup. Since windows take the place of upper cabinetry in the kitchen, the architects designed a scullery adjacent to it where the homeowner has lots of storage and an additional food prep area. The scullery connects to the garage via steps and an elevator, so bringing in groceries is a breeze. Also down the steps is an outdoor kitchen, where the family often eats meals on breezy, sunny Isle of Palms days. A nearby herb garden provides fresh supplies for cooking. “We consolidated everything that supports cooking right off of the kitchen while making beach views a primary focus,” Huey says.

The home opens up to unobstructed views of the ocean on three levels with glass windows and sliders that connect to decks. “We pushed the threshold with such large expanses of glass windows and doors,” Huey notes.

The primary bedroom stacks on top of the kitchen and also has glass on three sides. With an exit onto the upper deck, it has a deep connection to outdoor living. “The room features a soaring, beamed ceiling painted white to coordinate with white shiplap walls, which altogether imparts the feeling of an old, established beach house,” Huey says.

Sometimes views are not as important, as in the homeowner’s studio. The architects pushed that room to the northern side of the home. “That was one of the rooms the homeowners ranked as a tertiary-view room,” Huey adds. “Northern light provides a more constant, even light for painting, so it was the ideal location for a studio.”

That beachy, island vibe reverberates throughout the home, which contains signature features of a British West Indies design style. Soft white shiplap walls combine with rattan lighting and cane furniture and cabinetry to set the stage for Caribbean coastal flair. Deeply stained wooden doors, white oak flooring and cabinetry, and accents of pecky cypress walls and ceilings mix with exotic, printed textiles on fabrics and wallcoverings scattered throughout the home. “The theme is reinforced throughout, but designer Jenny Keenan was not afraid to go bold with color in selected areas,” Huey says. “There’s a surprise of color around several corners.” Plentiful, comfortable seating inside and out is the epitome of coastal comfort. Everything works together to produce the classic, warm undertones of West Indies style.

The repeated motif of an X designed as a part of the window transoms and as an exterior architectural detail echoes the idea of a British West Indies plantation house. “The homeowner immediately coined it ‘Union Jack.’ She loved the design idea, which really drives home the style we were going after,” Huey says.

The design inherently takes advantage of an in-out lifestyle, so the team made sure to add plenty of outdoor living on all levels. A cantilevered top-level deck provides full coverage for another deck below, giving the homeowners a choice of whether to lounge in sun or shade. By connecting the porches with an exterior spiral staircase, the architects met many of the homeowners’ needs. “The kitchen is on the main level with the lower deck, so the staircase enables food to be transported from the kitchen to the upper deck without walking through the house,” Huey says. “Flow is always important in a home’s layout, so having the exterior staircase improves the communication between the rooms and decks. An added bonus is that everyone can move from deck to deck when they come in off of the beach without having to walk inside.”

Exterior architectural details such as exposed rafter tails and brackets along with a classic coastal color palette exude Lowcountry style.

While the lot is large, the town’s regulations and requirements on setbacks and height restrictions challenged the design team by confining the footprint of the home to a tight buildable envelope. Favoring the landward side to meet requirements left the homeowners with a luxuriously expansive green lawn in the backyard near the ocean. “It was an opportunity for the homeowners to get the space they wanted for the kids to play outside,” Huey says. To help handle the challenges of vehicular traffic, parking and creating an entranceway to the home on the back side, opposite the ocean, they called in landscape architect Cindy Cline of wertimer + cline to design these elements.

The main entrance is up a set of stairs to a porch near the oceanfront. To create an experience with such a unique entrance point, Cline designed a pedestrian-friendly brick courtyard and walkway that leads visitors to the staircase. A bubbling fountain provides a pleasing ambience to the entranceway and an intimate atmosphere reminiscent of Downtown Charleston courtyards. It is complete with landscaping to soften the brickwork and a stucco wall that helps define the space.

The homeowners originally hired Bill Huey + Associates and Sheppard Construction because of their extensive experience designing and building oceanfront properties and because they shared a history of working together on other homes. The team didn’t disappoint, introducing low-maintenance exterior materials that will look good forever with occasional power washing. “This is their forever home so it was important we specified materials that would last,” says Huey. “Nothing is entirely maintenance-free, and the conditions are harsh on the front beach. Over time, we have vetted materials that work well for lower lifetime maintenance.”

These materials include NuCedar shingles, which are manufactured from PVC but look like real cedar shakes. Versatex PVC trim on the exterior looks like wood but performs exponentially better under the baking sun, salt spray and high humidity. Boral lap siding and ipe wood decking will never rot. Stainless steel railings, powder-coated materials and a Galvalume standing-seam metal roof maintain their pristine condition. Andersen A-Series triple-pane windows are the most energy-efficient products the manufacturer makes and have composite and fiberglass exterior cladding for durability. Designed for architectural authenticity, their interior wood frames complement the home’s aesthetic.

By thoughtfully maximizing the views, optimizing the flow and livability, and amplifying Lowcountry comfort, this forever home can offer the family their best island life.

Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.

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