On weekends, one tight-knit family heads to their beach house to relax and connect.

By Suzanna Logan
September 04, 2008
Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Depending on the Atlantic’s mood, the waters on this secluded stretch of South Carolina’s coast vary between tranquil and turbulent. Waves make their way to knee-high windblown grasses and a twisted live oak that would look at home on the Serengeti. Even if you’re not an early riser, the scene is worth setting the alarm. “My first morning here,” says homeowner Olivia Franklin of her Pawleys Island retreat, “I looked out of the bedroom window and saw that tree. It was a spectacular moment, and every time I see it, it’s even more special.”

Only in the early hours, when sunshine spreads over the ocean and dapples the boardwalk that stretches from door to shore, is all quiet on the Franklin front. Soon—usually before 7 a.m.—the bustle begins. On a typical day, Olivia and her husband, James, follow their children to the beach, bodyboards in tow. James’ brother Luke readies the boat for a day of fly-fishing, while other family members chat over breakfast or pluck crabs from the tidal pools.

Building this dream beach house was part luck, part diligent planning. Six years ago, Olivia and James were out for a morning run when they came across the property, with its dramatic marsh and ocean views. “We stopped right on the beach and talked about how incredible it would be to build a house there,” Olivia says.

James’ father, John, and Luke partnered with the couple on their Lowcountry purchase. Olivia and James wanted a casual family home. John and his wife, Gracie, requested a quiet space for rest and relaxation, while Luke sought a launching point for his seaside adventures. Nobody needed anything showy, just an inviting escape that would play up the big water views and give friends and family a chance to reconnect. “We wanted a place where people would feel like they were on vacation, and life is easy and comfortable,” Olivia says. “You can go and get anything you want out of it—activity and exercise, or total solitude.”

Architect Mark Maresca created a plan that offered large, open spaces for family gatherings as well as plenty of intimate, out-of-the-way spots for peace and quiet. The main house and guest cottage connect by an exterior porch on the second story and a deck with a fireplace on the main level. The two structures sit close enough to encourage interaction, but are separate enough for a secluded respite. “We love being able to spend time with the grandkids,” Gracie says. “But we also love being able to get away and have a place of our own.”

In the main house, Mark maximized water views by putting the living, dining, and kitchen areas on the second floor. That way, it’s a quick trip from the kitchen to the widow’s walk. With a panoramic view of the Atlantic, the nearby tidal inlet, and the abundant wildlife that inhabits the marshes below, the widow’s walk takes the prize for the most popular gathering spot. Family dinners are often served there. “Views were a major consideration for us,” Olivia says. “If you’re not going to take advantage of them, you might as well stay home!”

An open layout in the main living area suits the informal beach vibe and works well when the whole family comes together. “It’s expansive, but because it’s so open it seems like we’re all closer, even though we’re in different ‘rooms,’” Olivia says. With so many people pitching in, finding the right decor proved a challenge, but a blue-and-white palette and casual-chic blend of sturdy fabrics won everybody over. Combined with oak floors, cypress walls, and vaulted ceilings, the color scheme is clean yet cozy, sophisticated yet kid-friendly.

The house appeals to every member of the tight-knit clan. Although they live close to one another in Charlotte, North Carolina, Olivia says the beach house is often the only place where they have a chance to spend quality time together. “After a weekend at the beach, you get to know everyone on a much deeper level,” she says. “And, for us, that’s what owning a beach house is all about.”