Building their own home from scratch was fresh territory for designers Tom Bossard and Len Cherry. Over the past two decades, the couple had renovated approximately 15 historic properties around the Southeast, a majority of them concentrated in the small town of Aiken, South Carolina, they currently call home. Situated about 20 miles from the Savannah River, it’s a place defined by its collective passion for history, antiquing and equestrian games.
The duo’s rehabbing endeavors in the area have included transforming a rustic carriage barn and stable into a modern-day stunner, restoring an in-town Victorian and bringing an aging farmhouse in the country back to life. So, selecting a spot to build in the town’s historic district—a corner lot framed by towering pines—was cause for excitement. “Being able to choose everything ourselves from the very beginning was thrilling,” says Tom who, with Len, previously owned a weekend home in Charleston and has a long-held affinity for the Lowcountry.
“I went to boarding school on the coast of Georgia, where there were a lot of old structures,” Len chimes, adding that he and Tom hoped to channel the area’s classic vernacular. “While we don’t love the formality of a traditional Southern home, we both knew we wanted the telltale architectural details of one: open-tail rafters on the exterior, a front porch deep enough for sitting, a side porch for privacy and high, peaked ceilings.”
Consulting with residential designer Karl Splan, the designers were able to institute all of these features—and then some. Tweaking plans authored by Moser Design Group, they opened up the home’s public spaces for a more casual flow. Rustic white-oak floors lined with imperfect knots, shiplap walls and whitewashed pecky cypress on ceilings provided the foundation for the decorative layer. To contrast the living room’s coffered effect, the couple selected a vaulted style for the kitchen and den—only to be derailed by engineering issues. Thankfully, “it was general contractor Eric Martin who figured out how to make it work, along with the very specific style of staircase we wanted,” Tom explains. “With so many aspects of the house, Eric was amazing at taking a photo or concept we liked and bringing it to fruition.”
Blue-gray shutters and a white-picket fence help the residence mesh effortlessly with its historic neighbors—an achievement that came naturally to the couple, considering Len served on Aiken’s Design Review Board for several years prior. Says Len: “I instinctively knew what we’d need to do for the home to be approved.”
Inside, the pair warmed up a predominantly white backdrop with items of substance: brown wood furniture, Chinese Chippendale mirrors, gilt frames and supple leathers. “Most pieces we’ve had for years,” notes Tom, adding that their only new purchases were upholstery. “We’ve moved things from house to house, but just style them differently.”
Combining a lifetime of belongings also led to these layered results. While Len has rarely strayed from the South, Tom spent many years on the move, living and working in Georgia, Colorado and New York, infusing his taste with cosmopolitan flair. Coming to Aiken nearly 25 years ago kindled his love for the sporting life.
Memorabilia throughout the home—silver and bronze statuary, framed portraits of hunting dogs, and oil paintings of pastoral meadows and country roads—speaks to this pastime, along with a habit oft-considered quintessentially Southern: amassing collections. The couple’s assortment includes Chinese Tang pottery, Staffordshire figurines and blue-and-white of every stripe: Delft, Ming, French faience and Chinese blue Canton.
Thanks to Len, most of these pieces are on view—to the occasional chagrin of Tom, who prefers a more streamlined look. “If one day I take something off a bookshelf, the next day, Len will put it back,” jokes the designer, who made up the difference by choosing bolder hues, such as moss green for the study and strokes of azalea red in a guest bedroom.
Azaleas, for that matter, were another contribution of Len, who laid out the plans for the landscape. But since a labor of love is never complete, he and Tom haven’t resisted the urge to tweak. Already, Len is preparing to swap out those flowering hedges—an old standby for the Southern heat—for something more akin to a European boxwood parterre. “We love the process of renovating or transforming a home,” Len says. “But once the process is done, the last picture is hung and the last shrub is planted, we’re usually ready to move on.” This time, it seems, they might just stay longer.