It would be a river house on a beautiful bluff on the Wando. Sunset view. Huge live oaks. Moss rocked by the river breezes. The clients had a list. The husband wanted the home to have Lowcountry ancestry: traditional lap siding, double-hung windows and a silver standing-seam metal roof over a low-pitched gabled roofline with exposed rafter tails. The wife wanted a kitchen with “clean, clean, clean” lines and abundant storage.
Both wanted the water views.
For Bill Huey, architect, there was extra pleasure in the project. He had known and worked with two generations of this family. It would be his third project with them. And it would be a pleasure because both husband and wife were happy and passionate about planning and building this house.
Back in his 525 King Street office, Huey began the sketches that would blend historic with modern.
He knew the neighborhood well; in fact he had served on the first board of architectural review for River Reach at Remley’s Point in Mount Pleasant. He would design a house that would preserve every large tree on the lot.
Always, always in the back of his mind—as it is for every client—was the storm that had branded his youthful start in architecture, the Class 4 hurricane that blew away his in-laws’ home at ground zero in McClellanville, leaving nothing but the pilings. The timing! He was 27, only four years out of Clemson’s architecture program, four years into his round of internships, two years into his marriage, with another three years before he would apply to take the licensure exam.
By the time Huey opened his own firm in 1994, Hurricane Hugo had thoroughly infiltrated his approach to design. Why design a home, no matter how beautiful, that was more vulnerable than it had to be?
The river house would be exposed to wind, rain and salty air, sun, deep shade and pluff mud tracked in by children and dogs. If another huge storm came, the homeowners would need time to get away without worrying about nailing plywood over all that glass.
Admitting that he can explain water management of the drainage plane “until my clients’ eyes glaze over,” Huey committed himself to planning what most of his clients ask for: “a good solid house.”
“Building science—I’m into that. I believe you should make the most durable low-maintenance house you can. To do that, I combine a lot of tried and true, older construction methods with new products.”
For example, the river house exterior was first sheathed in plywood, then covered with old-school building felt, followed by a layer of mesh, and a “weep space” for shedding condensation. In place of wood siding, Huey recommended a new, thicker version of HardiePlank “that casts a thick shadow line that really looks like wood clapboard siding,” he says, but won’t absorb moisture and requires little maintenance.
The exterior trim was pre-primed, sealing every surface. The entire foundation and crawl space area was sealed, insulated and dehumidified. The home’s impact-rated windows might shatter in a direct blow but won’t breach—meaning that no water is supposed to pass through.
Huey’s aversion to water infiltration shows up inside the home, as well. The shower in the master bath, for example, is done in marble tiles—floor, walls and ceiling. A very slight slope on the shower ceiling allows condensation to run down and reach the drain, rather than collect on the ceiling.
Aesthetically, the home is designed to look casual and comfortable. White wood ceilings and walls, “shiplap with a sharp, clean discernable groove between the boards,” define most of the public areas: foyer, stairwell, great room, dining room, kitchen and downstairs hallways.
On the other hand, the private areas, finished in sheetrock, bloom with color—lavender, pink, blues, seafoam in the master. A happy coral brings contrast to the white built-ins in the butler’s pantry and the mudroom.
Underfoot throughout are hand-scraped American cherry floors with a French bleed finish—one of many choices that the homeowners are thrilled with.
The kitchen, “everyone’s favorite room,” notes the wife, has marble countertops around the perimeter and a dark-stained pine countertop, two inches thick, on the island—another nod to this home’s Southern heritage. The pale gray, clean-lined inset cabinets reflect the historical side of the kitchen. Meanwhile, a single wall of floating shelves (“so sturdy you could stand on them,” notes Huey) keeps the kitchen firmly in modern-day.
The kitchen ceiling routinely draws second and third looks. Made of V-groove planks, it converges over the island in a shallow square tray which the architect calls a reverse-hip.
A second exceptional ceiling leads from the foyer to the master suite. In a home of primarily linear elements, Huey designed an arch of narrow wooden boards as a transition between the public areas and the privacy of the master suite. And in the great room, five distressed antique pine beams “age” the wood ceiling. Huey took pains with their spacing to preserve symmetry with the wall of French doors facing the river.
Huey has designed hotels and restaurants, historical restorations and renovations. He oversaw the restoration of Charleston’s Riviera Theater. “But my favorite projects are residential,” he says. “They’re so personal. I’ve designed 800-square-foot cottages and a 32,000-square-foot mansion in North Carolina, and I’m just as satisfied designing either, as long as my clients are passionate about the project. I really enjoy happy, interested and engaged clients.”
Huey points out that these homeowners began the project with a collection of photographs that were extremely helpful to him. They assembled a team of proven professionals to carry out the project. Daly and Sawyer Construction built the home and Ginger Brewton worked with interior design.
But the homeowners give credit to their architect for the vision that guided them. “Bill is the one,” says the wife, “who created this beautiful home for us, and I hope we can fill it up with as much love as he did.”
Margaret Locklair writes and edits books and magazine pieces from her home in Berkeley County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.