As life evolves, so—inevitably—do our homes. This was precisely why a pair of empty nesters in South Carolina decided to embark on a new chapter after 35 happy years in a 1920s residence just minutes from their city’s thriving downtown. “When our children grew up and left home, we realized the space wasn’t functional for two people,” the wife shares. “It didn’t have a main suite downstairs, and it was missing many of the features that you start to think about as you get older.”
Because they already loved their neighborhood, the homeowners’ first inclination was to overhaul their existing abode. For this, they looked no further than Kathy Smith, a designer who had already worked with the wife’s family on various design projects for decades. “I love Kathy’s originality, the sophistication of the fabrics and furnishings she chooses, and her way of mixing old with new,” the wife explains, adding: “I also admire her patience and restraint to hold out for the perfect piece; she doesn’t settle for anything less than her creative vision.”
Assessing the couple’s extensive renovation plans—set to include a kitchen makeover and main bedroom addition to the home’s first floor—Smith was confident in recommending residential designer Jeremy Corkern for the project. “He does such stunning, classic, timeless work,” Smith says of Corkern. “And I knew his personality and aesthetic would meld beautifully with these homeowners.”
But fate quickly redirected their course. During the beginning stages of the remodel, the clients learned of a new condominium being developed just down the street from their existing residence. Not only would this new building boast a desirable central penthouse—yet to be spoken for—but because its construction was still in the planning stages, Corkern and Smith were permitted to customize the floor plan and interior architecture for the unit. With that, a major pivot was set.
From there, the couple’s priority became “hiring the right experts and getting the project out of the way,” the husband recalls with a laugh. Irrespective of timelines, “We trusted Kathy and Jeremy to guide us through the process,” the wife says. “We wanted simplicity and functionality for the long term. Because we were able to stay in the neighborhood we love, we just sat back and let them lead us.”
Joining the project from the beginning allowed Corkern to rework the penthouse layout and structural elements to suit his clients. “They wanted it to feel like a home in the sky,” says Corkern, who tweaked structural columns for symmetry so that “no matter where you look, you have a view outside or to some architectural vantage point.”
Enhancing this aspect are steel doors leading to the terrace, a year-round entertaining space. Corkern also collaborated with local craftsman Greg Mock to install custom millwork: rough-hewn ceiling beams, paneled oak walls and antique oak doors. Despite its newness, “it really feels like an old home,” Corkern notes, adding: “The rooms were set up with hosting in mind—but they’re just as comfortable for the two of them.”
Following suit, Smith composed a scheme of earth tones, natural fibers and curated antiques, allowing the owners’ extensive art collection to take center stage. “These clients wanted simplicity, comfort and ease of living,” Smith says. “They’ve been collecting since they were first married, and they wanted those favorite pieces—versus a ton of color—to provide the most impact. Each work in their collection has a story.” In the entryway, for instance, a commissioned painting by artist Sally King Benedict creates a showstopping first impression. Elsewhere, framed works the wife procured during a trip to Bordeaux, France, bring a sense of poetry to the breakfast nook.
Books were another major component of the design, especially in the dining room, which Smith and Corkern designed to function also as a gathering area and library. “They’re big readers, so the combination was important,” Corkern notes. Due to its dark walls, timbered ceilings and banquette-style seating, the space acts as a cozy, intimate counterpart to the bright openness of the adjoining kitchen.
“It’s a very collected and well-thought-out residence,” Smith shares, pointing to the wealth of texture and patina throughout. “This home is reflective of who they are.” As with their newfound—albeit unplanned—condominium lifestyle, “We didn’t know what we were looking for, but when it was done, we knew it was right for us,” the wife says. “A little glamour and a little grit turned out to be it.”