When the clients of interior designer Tammy Connor set out to build a beach house on the East Coast, it did not take long for the Pennsylvania-based couple to commit to Kiawah Island. “They visited the area and fell in love with it,” Connor recounts. “It only took them a few trips before deciding to purchase a property here.” Located just south of Charleston, the barrier island is endowed with such a rich ecosystem that the owners’ beachfront lot afforded them not one, but two distinct vistas. The waves of the Atlantic Ocean lap the shore to one side, while a subtropical forest cloaks the other. As outdoor enthusiasts, the couple was determined to build a home that would embrace these two landscapes equally. “They asked for a mix of old and new, attention to detail, and function was very important, too,” the designer notes. “But more than anything else, they wanted their home to be in touch with nature.”
Designed in the classic Shingle style, the residence extends only one room deep, its deliberate thinness intended to harness the views of seascape and trees, both of which can be seen through expanses of windows soaring as tall as 12 feet. “The home is incredibly transparent,” architect Jerry L. Hupy explains. “When you’re inside, you feel connected to the outside; the glass portion of this house is enormous.” Achieving this caliber of construction was a lofty task that required a general contractor equally willing to rise to the occasion. Nick Grossman fulfilled that role with a seasoned confidence. To that end, Hupy’s plans also specified the building’s towering stature, a fact that affords its inhabitants unrivaled bird’s-eye views. From their second-story bedroom, the owners enjoy gazing out over the verdant tree canopy while, from their rooftop observation deck, they are treated to what many would consider the money shot: a view straight down Kiawah’s coastline. Despite its impressive height, however, the house avoids the appearance of looming over its neighbors, particularly when seen from the beach. By carefully sculpting a wave-like massing of native flora along the home’s ocean frontage, landscape architect Glen Gardner helped to make the house look as if nestled within the sand and vegetation.
Connor treated the home’s interiors like an extension of the landscape. “It’s not as though the outside stops when the inside starts,” she says. Rather, “They open up to each other.” The designer emphasized this effect by incorporating materials endemic to the Carolina coast: woven sea-grass rugs, shell-adorned boxes and lamps, and even a tortoiseshell chair in the dining room. An interior palette of muted sands, blues and greens echoes the exterior setting, as do the textured fabrics and finishes. “As opposed to a lot of pattern, that juxtaposition of textures creates interest,” Connor explains, noting the heavily woven linens and cashmere throws—plus the Venetian plaster walls and oak-clad ceilings found on the ground floor—all of which reference the native landscape. “If it evoked the exterior, we brought it in,” she adds.
Although Connor’s design decisions were made with the outside setting in mind, they never lacked the subtlety and sophistication for which her work is known. By introducing a mix of English antiques, contemporary furniture and sculptural lighting to the living and dining rooms, she managed to elevate both spaces just enough to accommodate the couple’s love of hosting family and friends—though not at the expense of comfort and relaxation. Remarks the wife: “Each room has its own special and unique feel, even as they all flow together.”
Gardner approached the landscape with equal consideration—particularly in the circumference of plantings he designed to encompass the house. “My goal was to create an intense feeling of privacy, solitude and greenery,” he notes. Around the front of the property, one finds Japanese magnolias, citrus trees and azaleas, while on the ocean side, a yew hedge accompanies salt-resistant sea grass and yaupon holly. Perhaps most significantly, five live oak trees were introduced at the request of the homeowners, who sought to restore some of the tree canopy that had been removed prior to building.
In fact, much like the couple themselves, the house represents good stewardship of the land—which is something Connor believes is key for anyone living in a place of such intrinsic beauty. “In Kiawah, you can go from beach to marsh to trees full of wildlife,” she says. “It’s a landscape rooted in texture, subtlety and earthiness. This house reflects the essence of the island because it’s all about connecting with nature.”