When a young New York City family began searching for a vacation retreat, they knew just where to look. In college, the wife had discovered Sullivan's Island—an historic beach town just outside of Charleston, South Carolina—and was bewitched by its leisurely pace and unencumbered views. She and her husband found a narrow oceanfront lot, and hired Charleston architect Beau Clowney to turn the property's slim proportions into an opportunity for a distinctive twist on classic coastal design.
When viewed from the street, the house's modest facade evokes historic cottages on the island. The beach-facing side is more modern, with a top-floor kitchen, living, and dining space overlooking lawns, dunes, and the Atlantic. Inside, interior designer Jenny Keenan layered old and new to make the house "livable and timeless." Here's how they created a beach escape that's as stylish as it is comfortable.
Because the couple wanted a home that could accommodate frequent visitors, Clowney designed the open-plan kitchen for ease of entertaining. Keenan reinforced the aesthetic by opting for open shelving. Vintage gymnasium lights were rewired and strung on rope for industrial eclecticism above the island.
The living room is filled with a mix of collected items: a vintage dhurrie atop a sea grass rug, a pair of Hans Wegner chairs, and a vibrant surf painting. The marble fire-place surround "has an elegant feel to it," says Keenan, "but it's not polished, so it pairs well with the beachy shiplap walls."
In the master bedroom, Clowney and Keenan emphasized comfort over square footage and kept the palette serene. The pine ceiling was painted a driftwood finish, and gray paneling adds warmth and architectural interest. The headboard's geometric pattern lends a modern design element to the room.
Wall-to-wall built-ins make the bunk room a favorite destination for guests. To ensure the space holds up to frequent use, the designer chose a durable outdoor fabric for the bunk curtains, while a bold, hand-painted floor keeps things playful.
Inspired by a vintage David Hicks pattern, the floor design in the entrance hall sets a modern tone and echoes the diamond-patterned woodwork above. “The beauty of high-quality painted floors is that they just get better with age,” Keenan explains. “They develop a lovely patina, much like those in historic homes.” Plus, the pattern helps hide dirt between sweepings. “This is a house where I don’t mind sand on the floor or wet bathing suits on the furniture,” says the owner.
Just off the kitchen, the top floor screened porch is a favorite perch for watching boats pass in and out of nearby Charleston Harbor. A sectional sofa suited for the outdoors offers plenty of room for lounging or entertaining friends.
Keenan unified the kids’ bedroom with tie-dye and hand-blocked elephant print fabrics and a patchwork rug in complementary shades of blue. Distinctive accents like a hand-made twig chandelier and a red bedside lamp crafted from a buoy add artisanal elements. Says the designer, “The room is beachy and fun, with just the right amount of youthfulness.”