Interior designer Margaret Donaldson’s home in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant is everything an Old Village home should be. The front porch faces the harbor so your can see ships on their way out to sea and watch the gaslights on the peninsula flickering to life in the twilight. In this setting, it’s easy to lose a sense of time.
Donaldson’s light touch with renovations and deep appreciation for local art and historic artifacts effortlessly bridges the years since her husband’s great-grandfather built the home in 1905. Inside, contemporary art and furnishings mingle with antiques and heirlooms. There is a large and delightfully ominous portrait of Edgar Allen Poe hanging in the entry, but a close inspection reveals it’s a modern John Carroll Doyle. The home itself is a collection of objects and evolutions over time.
Donaldson collects art, objects and antiques according to her whim and then finds a way to incorporate those pieces into her home. The result is inviting rooms that urge you to relax, linger and let your mind wander. “Almost everything in our house has a story behind it,” she says. She also believes that personal objects, whether inherited or collected over a lifetime, lend an important sense of history and interest to a home. She and her husband, attorney Rob Donaldson, have been collecting art for nearly 30 years, and their eclectic collection is displayed throughout the house. The combination of modern art, landscapes and portraits is just one more way the home reflects the family’s personality without overpowering its iconic historical setting.
The ability to combine old with new and to make spaces work that were designed for an extinct lifestyle is a formidable skill, and one that is important in a Charleston interior designer. Donaldson studied design at the University of Georgia and has been an interior designer for over 33 years. Her projects include choosing the finishes for the Dock Street Theatre as well as for the upscale retirement community Bishop Gadsden and its latest addition, The Quay. She has also completed residential projects downtown and on nearly every barrier island.
Donaldson’s ability to curate beautiful rooms from a mix of old and new pieces is evidence of her wisdom and ability. She knows the rules and can expertly break them, giving her interiors depth and layers of visual experience.
The family recently completed a total kitchen renovation that includes modern luxuries and conveniences, combined with historic nods to the original house and to their history as a family. The doors to the new pantry were once the doors to their bedroom in a former house, and local art and Lowcountry artifacts decorate the room.
However, the kitchen is unapologetically new and different from the rest of the house. Instead of trying to blend styles or painstakingly match 110-yearold flooring, Donaldson built a graceful modern kitchen that makes a statement about the home’s incarnation in the modern era. It’s a bold move and one that works beautifully.
Though Donaldson has a way with historic renovations, she lights up when the conversation turns to new construction. “I love working with clients who are doing new construction. I like working with the architects and builders, helping choose finishes and putting together details,” she says. She also likes helping clients update their interiors, such as moving from an island beach house style to something more contemporary. Her ability to curate her clients’ existing décor means there’s no need to start with a clean slate when renovating. “It’s really easy to make a room look pretty,” she says, “but it has to live well too. Practicality and functionality are very important.”
Margaret Donaldson’s home is a testament to her talent—a perfect blend of old and new, of beautiful aesthetics and practical functionality, of family, history and comfort. In other words, everything a home should be.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.