Consider This Historic Charleston Home A Personal Travel Diary

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White living room with large...

Taking her cues from the surrounding foliage, designer Alexandra Howard used fresh greens to accent the neutral upholstery of her parents’ Charleston family room. Here, an RH sectional and 1940s club chairs converse with antique ottomans in moss green Rodolph mohair, pillows of Christopher Hyland silk velvet and an Alicia Adams Alpaca throw. The Moroccan hanging lantern on the adjoining porch is a 1stdibs find.

Tan-colored house with red doors

Howard added a coat of Fine Paints of Europe’s Rembrandt Red to the front door of the historic home, flanking the feature with tropical jatropha topiaries in antique French cast-iron urns from Tucker Payne Antiques. “I thought trees would be unique,” she says, selecting the evergreen species for its fiery coral flowers. Pine cone-adorned Vicksburg lanterns by Copper Sculptures Inc. lend a gaslit glow.

Living room with cream-colored sofas,...

A Chinese folding screen teams with Indian wood and Chinese gilt carvings, giving gravitas to the formal living room. A Kurdish rug grounds the custom sofas Howard upholstered in Robert Allen cotton, paired with pillows of Christopher Hyland silks and bolsters of Christian Fischbacher red velvet. At right, a Cambodian wood carving of apsaras suspends above a Chinese altar table-cum-console from 17 South Antiques.

Entryway with wood floors, Persian...

An antique Turkish Bergama rug, sourced from Double Knot in New York, delivers history and richness to the entryway, which Howard freshened with Benjamin Moore’s Crown Point Sand paint. Stanton’s Sahara sisal from Designer Carpets graces the restored stair treads. The framed elephant print was culled from a favorite 19th-century book in the homeowners’ collection.

Dining room with mahogany table,...

Howard had the dining room’s scenic paper, de Gournay’s Early Views of India, dipped in tea for a custom patina. Biedermeier-style vintage walnut dining chairs—reupholstered in Claremont linen—enhance the graceful curves of a Georgian mahogany triple pedestal table as draperies of Pierre Frey’s Sari silk in ivory, complete with custom-colored Christopher Hyland tassel trim, soften the backdrop.

Fireplace with framed oil painting,...

Antique French caned settees, updated in Christopher Hyland’s Kirin silk brocade, lend lightness to the living room’s secondary seating. Lapis lazuli-trimmed giltwood foo dog andirons, procured from Plaza del Ángel in Mexico City, guard an antique fire back unearthed during renovations. Above, tole sconces from Fritz Porter and 1920s Italian coral vases flank circa-1875 French dolphin candlesticks from Houston’s Carl Moore Antiques.

Screened-in porch with yellow sofas,...

Vintage Ficks Reed bamboo sofas and club chairs compose the screen porch seating. Pillows of Peter Dunham’s Fig Leaf print impart playfulness alongside Konstantin Kakanias’s Paradise Lost design for Templeton. A vintage iron armillary from Charleston Gardenworks holds center court atop a brass tray table inherited from Howard’s grandmother while an antique terrarium houses the family’s orchid collection beyond.

Library with velvet chairs, gold...

Howard established a conversation group in the study using a gilded Gustavian ottoman, redressed in Rodolph mohair, and pair of antique club chairs from Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta, recovered in Christopher Hyland’s lush Dani velvet in Wood Thrush. Mulberry Home’s Constantine embroidery embellishes the pillows while a Visual Comfort & Co. sconce with custom shade strikes a simpler note.

Bed with orange headboard and...

C&C Milano’s vibrant Maremma linen on the headboard and Prelle silk velvet on the bolster bring brightness to this guest bedroom’s crisp Yves Delorme linens. Above the bed, a 19th- century Japanese screen forms a fine coterie with an antique lacquered chinoiserie nightstand and Japanese Faïence lamp attributed to J. Vieillard & Cie. The Galerie des Lampes’ Grasshopper sconce proves useful for reading.

At age six, Alexandra Howard loved to curl up on the floor of her family’s historic Charleston home and persuade her father to join her for art projects. “We would work on them for hours upon hours,” recalls her father, Dr. Gene Howard. “Designing, drawing, creating: That was the language she spoke. If we said to Alex, ‘Draw the water lilies at Giverny,’ she could grab some oil pastels and do it in reasonable facsimile.” So, it seemed destined that her parents—including her mother, Elizabeth—would ask their now-designer daughter to reimagine the same home that had first stoked her creativity.

Completed in 1789, the Harleston Village residence had been lovingly restored and remodeled by the Howards once before, when their daughter was still a child. Years later, architect Beau Clowney fashioned a period-appropriate addition for the home, establishing a large kitchen and family room downstairs and spacious main suite one floor above. Next came Gene’s passion project: a tropical garden to encircle the home, reminding him daily of his childhood abroad.

“My father was the third generation in his line of family to be born and raised in India,” reveals Howard. “His father was an infectious disease specialist dedicated to the eradication of malaria, and he traveled extensively, collecting beautiful art and furniture along the way.” He grew to appreciate the beauty of hand-crafted, artisanal pieces, a love he passed down to his son. “My father inherited many Indian treasures, from a teak campaign chest to a brass tray table, and each one has a story to tell,” the designer notes.

Heart set on employing those narrative-rich “stories” as a springboard for the redesign, Howard scoured the world for additional antiques to balance the gravitas of her family’s heirlooms. But acting as de facto builder for a slate of renovations, she first overhauled the bathrooms and kitchen. Capitalizing on Clowney’s sound enhancements, she embraced the “airy, treehouse feel” of the home’s combination eat-in kitchen and family room, keeping those spaces gracious and garden-inspired—with mostly undressed windows to show off the home’s original moldings as well as the enveloping subtropical gardens. All-brass hardware keeps things classic, while an unexpected brecciated marble—Arabescato Corchia—injects an element of surprise.

Not one to shy from color either, Howard assembled a palette that pulls fresh greens from the surrounding flora, providing a natural foil for the ruddy hues of her parents’ Southeast Asian keepsakes. “To me, reds, oranges and golds are the historical colors of Southeast Asia; they’re colors of the old temples, of monks’ robes,” the designer notes. “I have never been into trends, and I always gravitated toward those tones, even when they may have been considered dated.” To wit, she adds this bit of advice: “I think it’s important to design with what you like, not what you think you should like.”

The formal living room is a point in case: Its jaw-dropping Kurdish rug delivers the rich gem tones Howard believed the project needed, in concert with carved reliefs between the windows, framed in alternating red and gold silks. A Chinese lacquered screen (one of several similar iterations throughout the residence) brings drama to one end of the space, while beside the fireplace, a charcoal etching on rice paper—procured from Angkor Wat in Cambodia—commands center stage above an antique Japanese kimono box taking a turn as a coffee table between two cane-back settees.

“I wanted every single item I brought into the home to be long-lasting, to be something I’d be proud to inherit, and to be appropriate for the age and history of the house itself,” says Howard, underscoring the mantra of a city known for fiercely upholding historic preservation and classicism. “When you live in a house with bone structure like this, I believe it demands a certain reverence and begs for traditional pieces.”

Ensuring each objet d’art would become a conversation piece was key. “I sourced the kinds of accessories that would have guests percolating with questions about the history of the home,” explains Howard, who even had de Gournay’s Early Views of India wallcovering hand-dipped in tea for a custom patina. “I didn’t want anyone to ever be able to pinpoint when this home was designed, but for it to feel truly international and collected over a lifetime. Anyone can recreate a ‘look.’ But it takes knowledge and heart to create a home.”

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