When one door closes, another one always opens

by DANA W. TODD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

This Mount Pleasant home’s mix of traditional and modern architecture speaks a Lowcountry dialect in a fresh, contemporary way.

Naramore construction’s clients, Susan and Lee Richardson were living downtown but traveling to Mount Pleasant’s Old Village every day to walk their dog on the Pitt Street Bridge and explore Alhambra Hall Park while dreaming of building a home in the area. A close friend alerted them to a house that came on the market that same day. “We were there in an hour and just fell hard for the views from the 12-foot-by-12-foot loft on top of the home,” says Susan Richardson. “We could see for miles and miles, including the Isle of Palms connector, Sullivans Island, the Pitt Street Bridge, Fort Sumter and the Morris Island lighthouse. It was amazing!”

The Richardsons wanted a contemporary home but decided the views from this traditional home were too good to pass up. They began developing a plan to renovate the home to mitigate excessive saltwater, sand and sun exposure and solve the water issues under the house associated with excessively high tides and seasonal flooding. While they were able to make minor changes to the home, they quickly met hurdles at each turn when attempting to comply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood regulations. The agency’s flood insurance program prohibits homeowners from improving a home by more than 50% of its market value unless the owners bring it into full compliance with current regulations. Since the former owner already had renovated the home up to 48% of its value, that left little room for the Richardsons to improve it. Their idea to build a detached guesthouse was out of the question, too, since the lot wasn’t large enough. “With the added burden of a bad roof and mold issues, this home became the redheaded stepchild,” Richardson says.

The homeowner’s well-loved vintage Noguchi coffee table, which she placed in the media room, was the inspiration for the entire home’s design.

With the door of renovation firmly closed, that left little recourse for the couple except to demolish the home and build a new one in its place. It was a chance to build their dream contemporary home. “The old home’s serviceable life was over,” says architect Bill Huey. “The Richardsons loved the location and now had a chance to take advantage of the views while designing a structure that would weather better.”

The Richardsons connected with architect Nicole Putnam of Bill Huey + Associates and charged her with designing a home that not only took advantage of the sweeping views in every direction but was in keeping with the modern style they like. “We found that Nicole had a real interest in modern architecture. She got us,” says Richardson.

By working closely with the town of Mount Pleasant’s Old Village Historic District Preservation Commission, Putnam met height restrictions and other design guidelines. She designed a mix of traditional and modern elements on the exterior to win the commission’s stamp of approval. A traditional gable roof got a nod from the commission, and Putnam balanced that with more modern forms, such as large expanses of glass and a louvered brise-soleil on the central stair tower. While it fills a functional need to provide privacy from the street and protection from the hot sun, the brise-soleil “completed the look,” according to Richardson. The end result is a home that Putnam says has a Lowcountry vernacular with contemporary detailing.

The kitchen reflects all that the homeowners wanted in a modern European-style kitchen—sleek and streamlined.

In order to maximize the spectacular views, Putnam cantilevered the second level, angling it toward Fort Sumter. “The pivot toward the fort and the harbor was a fun challenge. When you stand in the living room [on the second level], you feel like you’re right on the water,” she says. The second level contains all of the main living areas, including the kitchen, dining room and the primary suite, situated to take full advantage of the sights and sounds of the marsh, the harbor and the Pitt Street Bridge. “With the exception of perhaps the closets, every room has a view,” Putnam adds.

Richardson agrees. “Even the first floor has its own views. The office and guest suite have delightful views, and the twin bedroom is playful as it overlooks the pool and the harbor. But the flow on the second floor is everything for everyday living,” she says.

“Cantilevering the second floor also created a roof overhang for first-floor outdoor living,” says custom homebuilder Zac Naramore, a second-generation owner of Naramore Construction Co. “While the door of the second-floor porch lines up perfectly with Fort Sumter, the first level’s orientation makes sense from the street. It was a creative design on Nicole’s end.”

Wraparound windows in the primary bedroom capture expansive views of the marsh and Charleston Harbor while neutral furnishings keep the room restful and point to nature’s display outside.

Because all sides of the home are exposed to the elements, the design and construction team specified robust exterior materials, such as Versatex PVC trim, moldings and paneling; TruExterior siding; and Galvalume metal roofing, gutters and downspouts. Natural ipe wood for decks, porches and exterior stairs is highly rated for its longevity. A sea wall on the marsh side perimeter of the property helps avoid flooding associated with high seasonal tides and provides space for the dogs to enjoy the yard, while everything below flood level is waterproof. The architects specified an extensive foundational system because of the house’s close proximity to the marsh. With no place to hide mechanical systems and pool equipment at ground level, Putnam elevated them and tucked them behind screening to keep the views of nature pristine. “The house is catered 100% to the views,” she says.

The powder room features a solid marble vessel sink and classic Gio Ponti mirror, accented by gold pendants and custom artwork.

“The home is vulnerable to its environment and storms because of the location,” says Naramore, whose company does not shy away from challenging projects like this one. “As a true custom homebuilder, we take on a limited volume of projects so we can focus heavily on project details, client communication and coordination. There are so many decisions involved in the custom homebuilding process that we assign a small team to each homeowner to present the options and help them stay informed. With advances in homebuilding and an increased desire for energy-efficient homes, we heavily focus on the building sciences. The quality of a home is not just in the materials but also in craftmanship and detailing of the products behind the scenes. This is truly where the home environment begins. Executing the right exterior details such as flashing, water management and passive air control directly impacts the quality environment within a home. It is extremely important to balance indoor air quality by controlling fresh air coming into the home. Lee and I were on the same page and understood the importance of proper engineering of the mechanical system. We wanted to avoid the issues they had experienced with the previous home.”

The construction team installed European-style Henselstone windows and doors, many of which are floor-to-ceiling and precision engineered for high performance in any environment. They are impact-rated for flying debris in high winds and have superior thermal performance, which means they are extremely energy efficient. With their sleek styling, they not only allow the views to flow inside the home but also add the modern touch the Richardsons craved.

The living room’s custom artwork is by contemporary painter Brian Coleman. “It ties into the overall modern, geometric theme without stealing the show,” says the homeowner.

The interiors gave Susan Richardson a chance to use her experience in the design industry, refined while working for modern furniture maker Herman Miller in South Florida. “I wanted a similar timeless modern look with a graphic black-and-white color palette,” Richardson says. She used her vintage Noguchi coffee table produced by Herman Miller about 25 years ago as a jumping-off point for the design. Graphic black-and-white artwork near the table makes a bold statement in the media room, a favorite space to entertain friends and watch their beloved University of South Carolina Gamecocks play football.

“Lee also loves modern design,” says Richardson. “As an engineer, cleaner design lines resonate with him. He built out a very contemporary space in an old department store on King Street that mixes urban and classic features. It is unique and spectacular and sets the tone for where we wanted to go with this house.”

Richardson also put her vintage Herman Miller Aeron desk chair to use in the office, which itself features a full wall of floor-to-ceiling windows to capture water views. She sourced other new furniture and used a bold geometric Safavieh rug to anchor the furniture in the room. “The furniture is a neutral backdrop for everything, but the black-and-white geometrics are what thrill me,” she says.

The black-and-white geometric theme runs throughout the home in the artwork, fabrics and furniture. Graphic bed linens in the twin bedroom and curved benches in the primary and guest bathrooms continue the look. Five round lighting pendants hanging at varying heights in the stairwell create one of the boldest statements; they also grab attention from the exterior of the house.

While Richardson was clear on what type of furniture and artwork she wanted, she leaned on interior designer Jen Langston to guide her in specifying additional furnishings and finishes, such as tile, lighting, fabrics and rugs. Richardson loved a neighbor’s home that Langston designed. “I wasn’t taking new clients at the time, but Susan shared a name with my aunt so I felt I needed to take on her project,” Langston says. “It turns out she is a dear and one of the nicest human beings I know. She had a real point of view about the design, but an opinionated client makes the project great.”

Whether inside or out, no one can escape the beautiful views stretching in all directions around the house.

“Jen helped me by creating a high-contrast look with lots of black and white and a nod to mid-century modern design here and there,” Richardson says.

“Jen was a great asset to the team. She knows what she likes and what works, which makes for quick decisions and a great final product,” Naramore adds.

Both Langston and Richardson declare the upstairs powder room as their favorite space, where an 800-pound solid stone elliptical sink is the focal point. “The vessel sink sums up the house,” Langston says. “Its simple black marble shape is uber modern.” Gold accents such as Kelly Wearstler pendants and framed custom artwork from local artist Carrie Davis add a dash of panache in this room.

The kitchen is styled in a sleek European mood, with modern flush-paneled cabinetry designed and built by Hostetler Custom Cabinetry, light wood floors and a waterfall-edge island. It is yet another room that showcases a gold contemporary Kelly Wearstler chandelier sourced from Visual Comfort. “I’m a huge fan of Kelly Wearstler,” says Richardson about the LA-based brand, which produces sculptural contemporary lighting that serves as design focal points and provides a pleasing ambience.

Naramore says that much of the home is Alexa-enabled, and every switch has a purpose. As an electrical engineer, Lee Richardson put a lot of thought and planning into wiring, smart home-enabled features and a lighting control system.

The cantilevered second level provides a natural roof overhang to protect first-floor breezeways and porches from the elements.

“Contemporary construction often is a challenge with large amounts of glass and minimal trimwork. The structure’s true form creates much of the architectural detail, leaving little room for error,” Naramore says. “These types of projects require teamwork and coordination between the builder, architect, engineer and skilled vendors. We worked through many iterations of shop drawings to confirm alignments of items such as millwork and floor-to-ceiling windows.”

Unlike traditional design, this home’s trim is flush with the wall to eliminate shadow lines. Naramore achieved the exacting, seamless look of walls and trim by using metal reglet detailing. Reglets help transition dissimilar wall, ceiling and trim finishes for a sleek custom profile and mitigate any issues over time as different materials naturally move at different rates. “Using reglets allows for seamless window and door trim detail that doesn’t protrude out into the space and directs the view out to the harbor,” he says.

“This was an opportunity to build on a rare and special site with expansive views,” says Huey. “Nicole designed the perfect home that capitalizes on the setting.”

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


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