Herlong Architecture + Interiors creates a warm, minimal haven for its client’s next chapter

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by BRENER LLOYD

One of life’s rare gifts is the opportunity to make a fresh start. The home we’re going to see today is a paragon of what it means to embrace that opportunity with great reverence.

While preparing for retirement from busy careers, the homeowners wanted to be intentional about creating their future. In their next chapter, they wanted to emphasize experiences over possessions, enjoy quality over quantity, eliminate distractions and stress, and make conscious decisions about how they would spend their time and energy.

Having lived South of Broad for decades, the couple was ready to lighten up, starting with trading their historical Downtown Charleston home for full-time living in their beach house on Sullivan’s Island. They approached architect Steve Herlong of Herlong Architecture + Interiors to undertake the renovations required to transform the home for year-round use.

Herlong and his team developed plans to renovate the house using the existing structural piers. Then, while the clients waited for a flood zone change permit to build an elevated pool, they realized what they really wanted in a home was being diminished by sticking to the original footprint. “At first, they envisioned a beach version of their downtown home, but something wasn’t clicking,” Herlong says. “The structural piers were an imaginary constraint, and we could design a much better house if we started fresh.”

The clients listened to their instincts and made a bold decision: Instead of a beach version of their traditional home, they wanted a radically different aesthetic that would support their vision of a new life as thoughtful minimalists. Herlong and his team were excited about their ideas and set to work creating a home unlike anything they’d designed before.

The firm is uniquely equipped to handle bold visions because it provides a full-service approach that includes architectural design, interior architecture and interior design services. It’s a highly collaborative approach that results in a more creative, tailored home and a smoother experience for the client.

For this project, the team included Herlong as architect, Layne Nelson as interior architect, Brooke Gerbracht as project manager, Cintra Sedalik as interior designer and Abby Botero as assistant interior designer. The house was built by Phillip Smith. The team envisioned a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath home with a warm, organic, modern aesthetic emphasizing simple beauty and innovative precision functionality.

“They’d always wanted a modern house, and in their travels to Asia, they’d picked up these amazing sensibilities and ways of living,” Sedalik says.

“For the new design, they wanted to let go of work and stress,” Nelson says. “They wanted a home designed for a simple, beautiful life. I said, ‘We can do that!’”

From then on, every decision was about turning that aesthetic into a lifestyle. In a bold move, the clients held an estate sale and let go of nearly all their possessions. “I really admire them because it’s hard to part with things, but if they don’t bring you joy anymore, what’s the point?” Sedalik says. Because the design team was dealing with pandemic supply chain issues, the designer kept a few chairs and reupholstered them. Otherwise, everything in the home is new.

“For minimalism not to be sterile, it has to be eloquent. You can’t just take furniture out. You have to bring harmonious materials into the space while paying tremendous attention to the transitions and details,” Sedalik explains. “This house practices a lot of restraint. Pulling off a minimal aesthetic is about knowing when to stop.”

From the exterior, it’s clear there was a great deal of thought in the execution of the architect’s vision. “We had to do a lot of research because the details are what makes this home what it is,” Gerbracht says. “We spent a lot of time with the builder and the subcontractors to ensure the house was a success. Working through the pandemic was the biggest challenge, and everyone, including Phillip Smith, did a great job of keeping everything on schedule while working with a new aesthetic.”

The interiors required just as much research and innovation. “Sometimes, when you walk into a home, your eye starts pinging through the space. It’s sensory overload,” Nelson says. “They didn’t want that, which meant we all had to make a total commitment to the new aesthetic. In a minimalist design, one incongruous element can be glaring.”

The clients, retired physicians, were used to routine and order. In their new home, they wanted everything in its place. To that end, they shared specifics about their lifestyle, including how they like to cook and entertain, and how they like to relax. “We were so excited to do something new and to help give them the peaceful life they wanted in retirement,” Sedalik says.

As we enter, we see through the living and dining area to the leafy green backyard. The open living and dining areas are divided into three spaces defined by furniture groupings. “They love having people over, but usually it’s just the two of them in the house,” Nelson says. “No space could be so big that it would overwhelm two people. Breaking up the living space into three areas that relate to each other ensures they’re comfortable when they’re alone.”

Sedalik chose a gray Venetian plaster treatment with a glossy, watery shine to delineate the entry from the living space. Following this one detail throughout the home, we begin to understand how complex simplicity can be. “Just because it’s clean and modern doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Nelson says. “You can hide all kinds of things behind the trim, but in this home, if the materials didn’t transition softly, you had the potential to lose the sense of serenity the home exudes.”

In the living room, Sedalik took the client’s lifestyle cues when choosing furnishings. “They gave us a lot of lifestyle specifics,” she says. They like to sit on the couch and put their feet up, so the space designated for a coffee table had to have dual functions. It’s also on hidden casters so it can be moved around as they please. The other furniture in the space is ideal for entertaining with multiple opportunities for seating and conversation. The fireplace perfectly exemplifies how the team created calm visual energy using asymmetric balance and organic materials.

Between the living and dining areas, Sedalik designed a vignette with four club chairs and a low round table, perfect for coffee or cocktails. “The client wanted somewhere to have a cup of coffee close to the kitchen and that would serve as additional seating,” Nelson says. “This space keeps people engaged with each other, or they can be on their own.”

The dining room holds one of the home’s biggest surprises: a secret passage. In the original plans, a hallway led from the dining area to the guest suite. “The guest bedroom wasn’t going to get a lot of use, so it didn’t make sense to have a hallway breaking up that wall,” Nelson says. “We resolved that by making the entire left side of the dining room a wall of cabinetry.” The cabinetry is a focal point for the room, but if you tap one of the panels, it opens to reveal a short hallway to the guest room and another reveals a hidden coffee station.

Butch Pritchard of the William C. Pritchard Company made all of the cabinets. “We pushed the envelope with the cabinetry in this home, and they worked with us hand in hand,” Nelson says. “For example, we had to research the right brackets that would hold the weight of the door to the coffee bar. The kitchen has no hardware, and some doors have a touch latch. They were just as excited as we were to be doing something new.”

In the dining room, the bleached white oak has a warmer stain that complements a wood and metal table handmade in Mexico City. Using another minimalist principle, the clients took Sedalik’s suggestion that they buy quality furniture that will last more than a lifetime. For example, the authentic Hans Wegner chairs were an investment, but they are sustainably made and of such quality that they’ll be handed down.

In the kitchen, the clients had specific notes related to how they cook and entertain. “She didn’t want people sitting at the island,” Nelson says. “There are no handles or knobs, and it’s all super clean.” All of the appliances are arranged for ease of use, and all but the ovens are hidden behind panels. “Usually, we create a working side that isn’t visible, and the other side is where we put chairs and create a transition. We didn’t have that in this home, so the palette and materials tied it together instead,” Nelson adds.

To the left of the island is an appliance garage lined with stainless steel that corrals small appliances the homeowner uses frequently but doesn’t want to look at. The cabinetry is customized right down to the paper towel holder. “The client knew from her past homes what worked and what didn’t. What didn’t work, we fixed,” Nelson says.

Putting the range in front of the window was another innovative element. “I knew we were going to need more light, so we set up the kitchen to have a window wall,” Herlong says. “It’s the backsplash, but it’s also so in tune with the aesthetic.”

In the client’s bedroom, Sedalik created a serene haven using a neutral color palette of light pink, taupe and black. In the primary bath, everything is backlit. Because you’re not sure where the ambient light is coming from, there’s a glowing serenity punctuated by two silver and glass pebble pendant lights. Outside the bedroom is a sitting area with a custom cabinet built to fit the client’s collection of miniature chess sets. There is another beautiful wall of cabinets with built-in desks and comfortable chairs opposite.

“Minimalist spaces can feel cold, but in this home, it’s organic and warm. It has a massive calming effect,” Herlong says. “It takes a team to pull that off, which is why we love a job where we can do both the architectural and interior design.”

“Even when there are guests in the house, they can literally close the doors on everything and keep it immaculate,” Sedalik says. “It was fun to do something different; they’re delighted and so are we.” *

Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at

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