In a breeze-blown spa treatment of salt and sun, the beach house stood totally open, stripped down to the pilings, the roof and the studs.
Every interior wall was gone. So were the stairs, the plumbing and wiring, appliances and fixtures. She was ready to be remade.
For 25 years, she had stood near the southern end of Isle of Palms, within view of Breach Inlet and the great ships entering and leaving Charleston Harbor.
But the house had an unusual layout and not all of her rooms took advantage of the view. Her new owners envisioned a different house on the wonderful site.
They briefly considered demolition and replacement, but building codes required moving new construction 20 feet back from the high water line. So they kept the original footprint and decided to renovate. Partially.
The wife, an attorney, had put hours of research into choosing the professionals to head up the renovation: Charleston architect Bill Huey, builders Tre and Rus Sheppard of Sheppard Construction, and interior designer Amy Trowman.
“I definitely had pictures in my head,” says the homeowner, “but my vision of the space was aesthetic. The team helped me see how we would use the house.
“From the start, Bill fell in love with the site. You could see he had a lot of vision as to what the house could be.”
Huey’s vision called for a total, not partial, renovation. In fact, “We reconfigured the entire floorplan,” he says. “Nothing is in its original place now.
“We also added a lot of elements to strengthen the house. And we’ve modernized it, aesthetically bringing it up to a higher level of finish both inside and out. This was a butterfly coming out of its cocoon!”
Aesthetically, the architect’s plan capitalizes on light, symmetry, shapes and a sense of approaching the ocean from the moment the front door is opened.
Top: Huey’s love of curves and arches shows up in the entrance foyer, where a commissioned painting of Breach Inlet by family friend Sue Sneddon contributes soft color. Bottom: Complete with porthole, bunks and a trundle, the nautical bunkroom offers seaside sleeping for three. Bed and window seat custom built by William C. Pritchard.
Structurally, Huey specified diagonal bracing between the pilings, extra wall studs and an abundance of hurricane straps. “We resheathed the entire house with plywood,” Huey says, “and sprayed in foam insulation, which provides extra strength.” They also reframed much of the roof structure, giving extra headroom to the top floor. The house, he says, is stronger than it’s ever been.
Builder Rus Sheppard agrees. “We used lots of structural beams in here,” Sheppard says, looking around the finished interior. “We probably surpassed all the modern building codes.”
To create a look that interior designer Trowman calls “coastal, casual and comfortable with a certain level of sophistication,” the house makes use of intriguing mixtures of products.
Wood makes up most of the home’s interior, including many of its ceilings. Walls are of painted poplar shiplap. In the stairwell, however, runs of poplar were meticulously and almost invisibly joined with lengths of custom-milled PVC to form a curved shiplap wall.
The rustic wood floors have both visual character and history; they’re made from reclaimed paddock fencing from a Kentucky horse farm. More aged wood appears in several dimensional ceilings built of “sinker cypress,” milled from cypress logs that sank in coastal rivers in the 1800s. The wood is prized for its fine grain and coloration.
Three cabinetry finishes, two countertop materials, plus a backsplash were masterfully mixed to create the kitchen’s old-and-new look. Refined white cabinets were juxtaposed with a built-in hutch of driftwoodcolored pine, and again with reclaimed barn wood on the kitchen island.
The elegant clapboard and shingle siding on the home’s exterior is made of cellular PVC by NuCedar, “a super-low maintenance product,” Huey says, from which salt and sand wash off readily. The Versatex trimwork is likewise low-maintenance. Meanwhile, impact-rated windows and doors let in an abundance of light while sealing out water and wind-driven debris during coastal storms.
The end product proved so appealing that the homeowners abandoned their plan to use the beach house as a second home and sold their ultra-modern 49th-floor apartment in Chicago in favor of moving to sea level. Architect, builders and decorator were left agreeing that they had not only enjoyed their collaboration, but had worked with “dream clients—some of the nicest people in the world.”
Margaret Locklair, a Lowcountry freelancer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.