The White House

Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn
There's no pomp and circumstance at this South Carolina beach cottage-just neutral hues and no-frills furnishings.

Judy and Fred Reinhard love to sit in the rocking chairs on the porch of their Sullivan's Island beach cottage and tell guests the story of how they discovered it on a bike trip six years ago.

"When we first rode by," Judy recalls, "the front yard was so overgrown with vines we could hardly see the house." But what they could see―an old-fashioned raised cottage with a tin roof and a deep wraparound porch―they liked. When they managed to get a look inside, they fell in love with the scrubbed pine floors that had never been finished, the beaded board covering the walls and ceilings, and the open floor plan. "It looked just the way a beach cottage should," Judy says.

Used as a boardinghouse in the early 20th century, the house now provides a pared-down getaway. Designed for easy access and guests' privacy, every room has a door that opens onto the porch surrounding three sides of the house. Windows in nearly every wall―even the interior walls―make the most of the island's climate, inviting sunlight and sea breezes to flow freely throughout the house.

With its spare, functional space, the cottage reflects the minimalist aesthetic the Reinhards employ at Fred, a home and kitchen boutique the couple operates on Charleston's King Street, just 20 minutes away from the island. Rows of white dinnerware, clear glassware, and stainless-steel kitchen accessories fill the store and stand as testament to clean lines and simple living. "We have always been interested in houses and the things that go in them," says Judy, explaining why she and Fred decided to open the store 11 years ago.

It was only after opening the boutique and settling into a 19th-century Charleston house that the Reinhards began to search for their beach cottage. While they wanted a seaside retreat for themselves, Fred also hoped to create a place where their two grown children and the grandchildren would visit. "I spent every summer growing up at my grandparents' beach bungalow in Seaside Heights in New Jersey," he recalls. "I want my grandchildren to have the same memorable experience of summers at the shore."

The Reinhards chose Sullivan's Island because of its traditional charm and family-friendly community. Most of the houses on the small barrier island are permanent homes for families who live there year-round. Playing children and romping dogs are common sights, and beach traffic stays light.

At the end of every spring, Fred and Judy move out of the city to the cottage, where they spend the entire summer. Using an almost all-white palette, they have kept the decor as informal as possible. A pair of comfortable old sofas slipcovered in white sheets faces a generously sized table in the living room. Some items came with the house, including the twin beds in the guest room and a tall mirror that leans against the living room wall. Flea market and antiques store finds make up the rest.

"I've begun collecting mismatched old wooden chairs," says Judy. "They must have unusual characteristics and cost less than $10." One has a back carved in the shape of undulating waves; another has a seat with a star pattern perforated into the wood. To unify the different designs, Judy painted these pieces and much of the furniture in the house high-gloss white. "White never goes out of fashion," she says.

The varied textures and shapes of white forms―turned table legs, cotton bedspreads, paneled doors, and painted window mullions―reflect the shifting coastal light and cast shadows on the salt-bleached floors and walls. Ceiling fans whir gently, spinning a pale blur of blades. Glimpses of color offer subtle contrast in each room: the soft honey of an antique pine wardrobe crowned with earthenware crocks, an American flag Fred found washed up on the beach, an unstained wood table from Pottery Barn.

With its uncluttered attitude, the cottage is a cool and peaceful retreat. Yet it becomes a busy hub of family activity throughout the summer when Fred and Judy's children and grandchildren visit from Charlotte and Atlanta for weeks at a time―just as Fred had hoped they would.

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