Cradled by a lush subtropical landscape and the May River hugging its perimeter, Palmetto Bluff epitomizes the South Carolina Lowcountry—a place where a slower pace of life is not only romanticized but embraced. For a pair of clients who call New York home for most of the year, the serene destination has become an ideal escape from the chaotic concrete jungle. Since the couple both grew up in the Carolinas with many happy memories of life on the coast, they hoped to introduce their two young children to their Southern roots, conceiving of a compound where they could spend long weekends and host big groups of family and friends.
Designer Cortney Bishop felt a kinship with the clients from their very first meeting. “The wife is very elegant and sophisticated. She and her husband both work in high-powered careers and have such a presence, but they have a warm, hospitable, Southern flair, too,” notes the South Carolina native. “I immediately got a grasp of their innate style.” During an early design presentation, in fact, when Bishop presented a light fixture the clients already had on a private wish list, “That’s when I knew that we were cosmically, completely aligned,” the wife enthuses.
Bishop’s appreciation for Palmetto Bluff’s scenery stems from a childhood spent on a similar barrier island up the coast. “It’s a beautiful location, very natural and uninhibited, with vast swaths of sea grass, marsh and live oak trees,” Bishop expresses. “I wanted to give the clients a kind of laissez-faire, relaxed Southern vibe for a casual entertaining home here, versus their fast-paced life in New York.”
A careful balance of classic and contemporary was core to the project even before Bishop came on board. A year earlier, the homeowners had tapped architect H. Pearce Scott to design a carriage house on the same piece of land—with plans to eventually build a larger, four-bedroom main residence to complement it.
The carriage house and, by extension, main residence, “took inspiration from a traditional Southern tobacco barn form,” explains Scott, who worked with project architect Allison Bonner and project manager Amanda Denmark to craft both structures, striking a balance between old and new. The “new” is evident in and an open-concept floor plan that caters to the family’s plans to entertain; the “old” comes in the form of materials. Walls of shiplap—scaled to eight inches for a contemporary effect—put a spin on local vernacular, while the home’s chimney is molded from old-fashioned Tabby, a sturdy concoction of sand, lime and crushed oyster shells known colloquially as “Lowcountry concrete.”
Also instrumental in the project were general contractors and brothers Scott, Craig and Matt Thomas, who the architect commends for translating the traditional material into a modern use. “They had five or six different mockups done in the field to ensure we had the right mix and size of oyster shells,” Scott says of the brothers, who also sourced the steel window systems that lend the bright and airy effect the clients requested throughout.
As a full-service design-build firm, Bishop’s team actively specified interior finishes to enhance Scott’s architecture: cerused white oak for millwork and ceiling beams, reclaimed marble checkerboard floors that strike both classic and graphically modern notes, and kitchen cabinetry in a “grounding” deep gray-green that prompted the palette for the entire home. Taking cues from the surrounding landscape, these enigmatic shades include moss green and mahogany, moody gray and taupe, and dollops of muted petrol.
“My whole philosophy on design is not to distract from the outdoors,” says Bishop, who kept the design harmonious with its natural surroundings. In the breakfast room, for example, a custom walnut-finish table and bespoke banquette serve as supporting characters to the verdant foliage visible through a panorama of knee-height steel windows. Giving similar nods to nature, a palm-print wallcovering graces a guest bedroom, while a gleaming brass sconce of a single frond presides over the living room.
Artworks sourced both stateside and abroad—such as an expressive abstract by Atlanta artist Sally King Benedict in a front hallway and a mixed-media work by Belgian artist Sabine Maes in the entry—reveal a restrained elegance that meshes perfectly with the homeowners’ personalities. “This piece shows their sophistication and offers a sense of landing,” Bishop explains. And what could be more appropriate for an arrival from the big city to Palmetto Bluff, which always signals it’s time to unwind?