A pair of Manhattanites find refuge on the mellow Carolina coast. And their elegant design leanings? They came, too – with an island spin.
By Mimi Read
1 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Light, Bright Exterior
Charleston-based interior designer Jenny Keenan accepts a natural rule of thumb: A house with spellbinding ocean views from nearly every window just doesn't require the same kind of rigorous, high-calorie interior design that a darker, more metropolitan space might. A light hand can be as brilliant as the sea outside. Keenan's clients had just built this 4,900-square-foot oceanfront house when she met them—they were fresh out of Manhattan, where they'd lived for 25 years, and were on the cusp of moving to the little town of Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.
Pictured: "Many of the Carolinas' earliest settlers arrived via Barbados and other English colonies in the Caribbean," says architect Beau Clowney. "Their building traditions came with them." One such tradition inspired the glamorously tall flourish he used to embellish this facade—a stylized, stuccoed-concrete version of the flaring staircases common in both Barbados manor homes and some of the grander downtown Charleston homes.
2 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Beachy, Blue Breakfast Nook
While they wanted the new house to feel more relaxed, they also wanted to transfer some of the coziness of the layered decorating style, brimming with pattern, that they were used to. "Their previous home had rich color in every room and very detailed window treatments," Keenan says. "Everything was very "dressed." It was a refuge inside the city, so it had to be a world unto itself. But this house is so open: There's greenery and water in every window, breezy porches and dazzling light. You don't want to distract from any of it."
Get the Look: Keenan paired an upholstered banquette by Verellen with powder-coated aluminum outdoor chairs at the breakfast table.
3 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Island-Inspired Dining Room
Fortunately, this informal elegance is Keenan's stock in trade. She gave the interiors a Lowcountry-meets-British Colonial air, cross-pollinating a raft of family portraits and repurposed furnishings from the former home with a fresh collection of vintage and new pieces. And a tropical lightness prevails.
Get the Look: Tropical de Gournay wall panels depicting an old island church elevate the sunny dining nook off the entrance hall. Suzanne Allen Studio created the custom painted floor pattern.
4 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Curated Living Room
Blue-and-white porcelains mingle with ikat and Indian-print textiles. Campaign-style tray tables, soaring four-poster beds, and palm and bamboo lattice-print wallpapers are both classic and effervescent.
Get the Look: Collections reign in the living room, where a foursome of French garden prints and a sweetgrass basket from a local weaver hang above an assemblage of antique ginger jars. A selection of marine curiosities is displayed in a simple acrylic trunk.
5 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Even the owners' cherished 19th-century, marble-topped console with gilt carvings found a place in the beach house: Keenan flanked it with a pair of wicker hall chairs by Soane Britain, and hung a whimsical new shell mirror above it.
6 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
It's a lighthearted brand of chic that fits in perfectly with Sullivan's Island, a quiet old beach community 20 minutes and two bridges away from Charleston. The roughly three-square-mile island has long been a low-key refuge for an innately stylish set: In the early 19th century, it was where wealthy shipping merchants living in Charleston's formal homes retreated for the summer to modest cottages amid live oaks, palmettos, sand dunes, and beach grasses. Many of those cottages still stand, mixed into a growing cache of taller, newer houses. But the glitz factor remains low. It's historic but not precious, sophisticated but genuine, family-friendly but not a madhouse.
7 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Among those who understand the community in a deep way is Beau Clowney, the architect who designed the home. A Charleston resident who has long kept a vacation house on a tiny cay in the Bahamas, Clowney has lost count of the number of beach houses he's designed on Sullivan's Island over the years, but it's somewhere between 15 and 25. In many, he's blended elements gleaned from Caribbean architecture, including a rich vocabulary of shutter types, with the traditional details of Lowcountry houses: hipped roofs, exposed rafters, and breezy center hallways. It's a natural marriage of classic styles, he points out.
8 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Breezy Outdoor Retreat
The homeowners, he explained, "wanted a house that was understated, so it would speak to the spirit of Sullivan's Island, but at the same time they have very sophisticated leanings. The challenge for me was figuring out how to reinvent these elegant moments and details in a simpler, quieter way." The resulting design is a series of linked pavilions, each with its own roof, much the way houses have always been built locally and in the Caribbean.
Get the Look: Architect Beau Clowney designed a cozy pavilion—with a vaulted cedar-shingle roof and a bank of bifold shutters—steps from the Atlantic.
9 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Because Clowney and Keenan collaborate often on houses, they understand each other's work well. She reinforced his aesthetic, and in mixing together formal and nonchalant elements, she mirrored his style. Hemp tassel trim on the living room curtains, ceilings wallpapered in high-spirited prints, and a thick navy blue stripe painted like a runner ( in Old Navy by Benjamin Moore) down a milky white staircase are all details that walk the tightrope between elegance and ease.
10 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Tropical Twin Bedroom
When it comes to pattern and color in beach house bedrooms, more is more! In this guest bedroom, cockatoo pillows (in fabric by Bob Collins & Sons) and tangerine wallpaper on the ceiling give the room seriously sunny vibes, while bamboo headboards in a deep navy give the room some much-needed weight and gravitas.
11 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Dazzling Guest Room
Splendid patterns, plenty of texture, and straight-off-the-beach neutrals make a pretty trio in this warm, welcoming guest room (decked out in wallpaper by Quadrille). Plus, the collected, curated look of the bedding makes the room feel like a far-flung island retreat within the house.
12 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Dreamy Master Bedroom
"It's not a vacation house. They live here year-round and needed a feeling of permanence," Keenan explains. "But this is definitely not a chateau at the beach." The home is personal and feels very much at ease, which makes it fit in well on the island. "The architecture has become grander on Sullivan's over the years," she adds, "but you can still drive down the street and see your grandmother's beach house."
Get the Look: Aqua trellis wallpaper and a carved four-poster bed by Oscar de la Renta keep the palette light in the second-floor master bedroom.
13 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Old-School Caribbean Bedroom
The first-floor bedroom is a throwback to the style of older guesthouses in the Caribbean, with a leafy, tropical fabric by Jasper, paisley wallpaper in natural tones by China Seas, and a faux bamboo bed by Rooms & Gardens in Santa Barbara.
14 of 14Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Warm, White Bathroom
A maple vanity and brass sconces warm up the crisp, white subway tile and marble countertops in this master bath. Blue penny tile flooring references the Atlantic just steps away.
Get the Look: The custom vanity in one master bath is maple with bamboo detailing.