Most home tours begin in the foyer, but we’re starting outside on the front step today. We’re in Naples, Florida, and on the other side of this house is an open waterway.
As we look through the glass door and the glass pocket doors at the back of the house, we can see the water reflecting the sky. If it were night, we would be able to see the moon and Venus. This is an MHK Architecture & Planning home, and details such as these are intentional.
Designed by Matthew Kragh, architect and president of MHK, this coastal contemporary house is all about the views; in fact, whether you’re visiting or just delivering a pizza, gawking is encouraged. The four-bedroom 5,700-square-foot house is designed to suit Kragh’s young family today and morph into a comfortable place to entertain when the kids are older. Except for the kids’ rooms and their playroom, every room in the house has a view of the water. The entire kitchen, great room, dining room and primary bedroom have massive steel sliders that open to create authentic indoor/outdoor living, a hallmark of MHK architecture.
From the foyer, we enter the open great room, dining room and kitchen. The great room has 24-foot ceilings, two-story windows and a granite fireplace feature wall that runs from floor to ceiling. A lower 12-foot ceiling and chandelier give the open space its own identity in the dining room. An expansive wet bar is an opportunity for added functionality in the space, and a dramatic accent color picks up the color of the bay in the evenings.
In the kitchen, appliances and necessities are tucked away behind sleek custom cabinetry. Behind the kitchen is a tidy drop zone to catch the detritus of everyday life and a scullery that keeps the central kitchen clean while entertaining and is a handy place to store small appliances and extra supplies. The kids’ playroom, which is just off the kitchen, is designed to keep them close and part of the daily conversation while they’re young. When they’ve grown out of the space, the room can be turned into a guest bedroom or a study.
While the inside is supremely serene and comfortable, it’s outdoors where we find the heart of the home. The pool has an infinity edge with a 4-foot drop. Visually there is no delineation between the pool and the waterway. A bubbler in the pool mimics wind on the bay, and the way the light refracts in the evening, the pool turns the color of the sunset.
MHK Architecture & Planning began in Naples, Florida, but today has offices in Palm Beach, Sarasota and Islamorada; as well as Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina; Highlands, North Carolina; and Aspen, Colorado. Kragh is at the helm in Florida and ensures that each of his locations has a regional expert that provides highly curated, localized design and planning with the same creativity and values on which the company was founded.
In Charleston, those experts are directors Kirsten Schoettelkotte and Mitch Lehde. They opened Charleston’s MHK office in 2020 and quickly established a unique presence in the Lowcountry.
While indoor/outdoor living has always been foundational to modern architectural design, MHK’s coastal contemporary designs are an evolution. As in Kragh’s Naples home, these designs bring pools closer to the house; integrate stacking; use pocket doors to open up exterior walls; leverage zero-threshold, flush floors; and utilize deep overhangs for shade where it’s needed.
Another area where MHK leads the way in the Carolinas is by conducting an on-site analysis for clients who are shopping for the perfect lot or have found a lot. “We always start with site analysis,” Schoettelkotte says. “It matters in most environments, but it really matters here. You have to consider the home’s relationship to the water and sun and all of the regulations we have to navigate in the Lowcountry.” In the early stages, MHK helps clients decide if a lot can accommodate their ideas and understand what the home will look like from every angle, including the street and the water.
In Highlands, the firm is also putting its spin on traditional mountain design. “The roots of this firm came out of coastal design and becoming experts in true indoor/outdoor living,” Kragh says. “Mountain architecture came from bringing on Mitch Lehde. These are both places where you’re there for nature.”
As for mountain modern design elements, new possibilities are exciting. “In the mountains, you can have as big of a window as they can make,” Schoettelkotte says. “In the Upstate and North Carolina, we’re using many natural materials and lots of glass, incorporating steel for larger spans and wide-open spaces. These homes become incredibly contemporary tree houses.”
While their unique coastal contemporary and mountain modern design elements put them on the map, Schoettelkotte, Lehde and Kragh all reinforce that they are a no-ego firm. “We understand this is your house,” Schoettelkotte says. “You’re going to live there. Just because you want or need something unique to your lifestyle or tastes doesn’t mean the architecture has to suffer. We might sketch a few more ideas than other firms would, but we always get there.”
MHK has a highly specialized design and build experience. All clients talk to Lehde or Schoettelkotte directly and fill out an extensive 12-page questionnaire about their vision, wants and needs. The questionnaire helps create a picture of their lifestyle and can help clients discover home features they didn’t know they wanted. Then the firm performs a site analysis to identify constraints and opportunities.
“We spend a great deal of time learning how clients actually live in their homes or want to live. Based on the site positioning and views, we want to know things like if they linger in the bedroom in the morning with a cup of coffee, which would translate to big glass with a seating area tucked away off the bedroom areas and a morning bar close by,” Lehde says. “We also go room by room to create an inventory of heirloom furniture and art so we can find the perfect place for each. We love hearing that our firm left no item untouched, and their home feels perfectly balanced for their lifestyle. Our homes are safe havens where life happens, where we experience life’s joys, sorrows and successes. Having the opportunity to create a sense of place and where memories are created is truly a privilege.” *
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.