An inviting new home in South Carolina
No jockeying for taxis or rushing to meetings. No market bell ringing above stock-ticker news, and no elevator rides up 40-odd floors of gossip about LBOs, IPOs, and the latest class of MBAs. Palmetto Bluff is about as far from a Wall Street mind-set as you can get. And that’s the point for John Howard, a retired Connecticut investment banker who built a vacation home in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
“When you cross the bridge into Palmetto Bluff, you feel like you’ve gone someplace very far away,” John says. “There are marshes, live oaks with Spanish moss, tall pines. It’s very relaxing, very comforting.”
John bought property there in 2005, and promptly recruited architect Geoffrey Bray and interior designer Wendy Kirkland, fellow New Britain, Connecticut, natives and lifelong friends, to design his vacation home. The real estate collapse in 2008 put the project on hold, but building began in earnest in late 2009, when the economy picked up. Two years later, with construction under way, John retired at 57, eager to enjoy a slower pace. Retiring early and building a home at Palmetto Bluff were decisions he made in large part because of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
He was in his Connecticut office that day, watching the tragic events unfold in New York City. His company’s largest office was in the Twin Towers, and 67 of his colleagues were killed. “Seeing that reminds you, who knows what is going to happen tomorrow?” John says. “If you can retire relatively young and enjoy yourself, do so, because strange things can happen.”
A starting point for the interior design was John’s request for a large circular dining table where guests could gather at the end of a day of golfing, boating, fishing, tennis, or other activities. Bray and Kirkland took that central-gathering-place concept and laid out a 41x24-foot great room, which houses three living areas: a sitting space, a dining section, and a pool/game spot. In the sitting space shown here, bifold doors, discreetly camouflaged in the wall paneling, fold back to reveal a flat-panel television. The home’s sophisticated sound system is also cleverly concealed. Specialists in audio, visual, and security systems wired the house when the walls were still open, inconspicuously installing speakers and subwoofers. One big subwoofer is tucked under the ottoman.
A pool table holds court at the far end of the room. “John was adamant about having a pool table, which Geoff and I kept trying to talk him out of,” Kirkland says with a laugh. “I told him if we’re going to do this, it’s going to look good.” The refurbished antique table was topped with a camel-color felt that blends with the room’s color scheme. Pool cues and other game equipment are stored out of sight in a nearby closet.
Kirkland’s shopping expeditions in Connecticut yielded two large-scale French antiques that add character and warmth to the great room. “I needed a few good-sized pieces to weight that space,” she explains. A burled wood linen press stands next to one of the fireplaces, and a chest stands near the pool table. “I liked that these antiques were a little bit weathered, and the color of the wood was so nice,” she says.
See a detail of the great room on the next slide.
Photography: Emily Jenkins Followill
Produced by Andrea Caughey
Architect: G. Geoffrey Bray, Bray Architects, 49 Lexington St., New Britain, CT 06052; 860/224-8509, bray-architects.com .
On-site supervising architect: Michael Gentemann, G2 Design, LLC, P.O. Box 23496, Hilton Head Island, SC 29925; 843/682-2077, g-2design.com .
Interior designer: Wendy Kirkland, WDK Design, 132 Balbrae Drive, Bloomfield, CT 06002; 860/559-4984.
Builder: Bill Mischler, Genesis Construction Inc., 33 Boundary St., P.O. Box 902, Bluffton, SC 29910; 843/757-8220, genesis-construction.com .
Great Room Detail
Symmetry and a sense of proportion are carried through in all the details of the great room.
Great Room Vignette
An antique French chest near the pool table adds weight and character to the great room. Above it hangs a tree painting by Peter Hoffer. Designer Wendy Kirkland left the art unframed for a more casual look. The lamp from Hamptons Antique Galleries is made with architectural salvage. An antique-looking chair upholstered in a Pearson fabric tucks into a corner near mahogany French doors that lead to a back screened porch.
Deep Porches and Overhangs
John had worked with Bray and Kirkland on an addition to his Connecticut home, and the designers understood his vision for the South Carolina property. “John wanted comfortable, not formal. A place where people could put their feet up,” Kirkland says.
Bray tapped into the traditions of Southern and Lowcountry architecture, designing the home with deep porches and overhangs and a raised foundation that maximizes natural ventilation from cooling breezes. The design had to be approved by Palmetto Bluff’s design review committee, which oversees the exterior architecture of homes built in the development. “They don’t want McMansions,” the architect explains. “The houses have to be in colors and of a scale so that they recede into the woods. Architecture is secondary to the environment there.”
The main house, a guesthouse, and a garage are arranged on a circular driveway and are surrounded by towering plantation pines and live oaks. “The circular pattern organizes the site in a dramatic way, creating a sense of space and arrival,” Bray says.
Handsome Dining Area
Vaulted ceilings soar 35 feet into a lighted cupola set over the central dining area. Further drama comes from two mirror-image limestone fireplaces on the dining room side walls. Exposed trusses, expertly crafted butt-board, and paneled walls—all painted white—give the space a casual, almost barnlike feel. Stairs lead to a second-level catwalk that runs along three walls and overlooks the great room.
Bray and Kirkland worked hand-in-hand on the plan to ensure that furnishings and architecture were always in sync. They scoured showrooms in the Northeast to find a circular table that would meet John’s needs—large enough to seat 12 or more but able to be downsized to accommodate more intimate dinner parties. Kirkland found what they were looking for on a showroom floor at the Boston Design Center. “The outer edge comes off in three sections, like a pie crust, so the size can be adjusted. And it’s not too polished or formal looking,” the designer explains.
The showpiece chandelier was custom-made after the architect and designer found a too-small version on a showroom floor. The two pros experimented with paper models and elevation drawings to determine the proper dimensions for the space—a staggering 6 feet tall and wide. “While it really is quite large, it is so light and almost frail looking that it never overwhelms or dominates the table below,” Bray says.
Kitchen Designed for Entertaining
The kitchen was designed for entertaining, with spaces for guests to gather when John is preparing a meal. “I’m kind of famous for having a dinner party and cooking something I’ve never made before,” he says.
A pair of rattan chairs by the windows and a breakfast nook with a cozy banquette offer guests comfortable places to enjoy a cocktail and talk to John as he cooks.
“That kitchen gets a lot of use,” says Kirkland, who is often a guest at John’s South Carolina home. “We can play pool and blast music on those great speakers. It’s a pretty special place to be.”
A built-in corner bench and shelves create a cozy place to hang out while checking views from the front windows. Banquette and chair cushions are covered with fabric by Kravet.
Cozy Sitting Area
Wicker chairs and a bamboo-style table offer seating by a kitchen window.
Art lines the walls of the catwalk-like gallery overlooking the great room. The painting on the end wall is by Ann Grimm.
Sisal and linen fabrics with pops of coral provide texture and a soft palette. The sisal rug is from Stark Carpet, and Roman shades were made with a Pindler & Pindler linen.
Charming Guest Bedroom Details
A classic bust and a glass vase of white roses beautify the guest bedroom.
The whimsical headboard of the Hickory Chair bed is upholstered in a natural linen in the master bedroom. Elizabeth Eakins woven pillow shams lean against pillow shams in a Schumacher fabric.
Master Bedroom Sitting Area
A Lee Industries chair with contrasting piping sits next to a chest and mirror from Circa Antiques. Floors are reclaimed heart pine stained a rich coffee color.
Homeowner John Howard poses on the porch.