Amid the storied landscape of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Kiawah Island is something special to behold. A haven of unspoiled natural beauty whose resident wildlife includes bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, bobcats and alligators, the prized destination can feel worlds away from the peninsula of Charleston, located just 25 miles north. “When you arrive on the island, you immediately exhale—it’s very peaceful,” shares designer Angie Persson, who had plentiful opportunities to savor the locale’s charms while completing a vacation home that puts a premium on relaxation.
Although Kiawah boasts 10 miles of Atlantic shoreline, a couple from Charlotte had fallen for a secluded site overlooking its tidal marsh. Having visited and owned land in the area for several years, the owners’ first call was to Maurice Mangan, a general contractor they’d worked with on the renovation of their former vacation abode close by. To fashion a structure that would fulfill the clients’ vision for an easygoing and free-flowing family retreat, Mangan, in turn, suggested a frequent collaborator of his own: architect Michael E. Karamus. The duo’s task? To create an escape that would help the couple transition from quiet weekends with their children to spirited gatherings with friends.
Key to Mangan and Karamus’ concept are steep gables and a windowed stair tower with deep overhangs—classic features along the home’s approach that are keeping with local vernacular. Once across the threshold, however, visitors are rewarded to a much more modern floor plan: wide-open spaces, 10-foot-high ceilings and the unobstructed sight of the marsh straight ahead. Capturing this commanding vista, in fact, became the linchpin of the entire project. “It was all about maximizing the views,” Mangan notes. To wit, generously proportioned windows ensure every space feels immersed in the surrounding kaleidoscope of greens, golds and browns that shifts along with the seasons.
Counting three new construction projects under their belts already, the clients greeted this one with considerate ideas about how the spaces in their new home would be used. “We knew we didn’t need an office or formal dining room; that’s just not how we live out here on the island,” the wife points out. “We’re super early risers,” she adds. “We like to sit with our coffee and watch the sun come up.” Windows all along the marsh side of the house (“for a sun room feel,” Mangan says) allow them this reality. Because Persson had previously appointed the couple’s primary residence in Charlotte, she also knew precisely how to articulate their wish for a place where nature could take center stage. “They aren’t fancy, showy people,” reveals the designer, who collaborated on the project with her former firm partner, now-retired designer Merrin Lowe, to layer unexpected patterns atop an ethereal backdrop. “She loves to cook, he loves to fish, and both love to entertain. While we went a little more colorful for their house in Charlotte, they wanted this one to be neutral and calm.”
Letting the marsh’s organic palette take center stage, Persson and Lowe specified shades of sandy beige, caramel brown and driftwood gray. Strategic strokes of black complement Mangan and Karamus’ material envelope of pale oak floors, shiplap paneling and reclaimed timber beams. A finishing layer of natural-fiber seating and performance fabrics keep rooms feeling as warm as they are practical. “Our clients are at the beach or in the pool every day, so we needed to think about durability,” Persson says. “They wanted a home where they could come in, immediately drop their beach bags and kick off their shoes.”
In Persson and Lowe’s capable hands, functional, distraction-free rooms did not equal interiors that faded into the proverbial woodwork. Their selections range from the glam fluted glass-and-brass pendant and rattan-encircled mirror in the foyer, to whimsical floor lamps and a dimensional abstract by Charlotte artist Mickey Brown above the living room fireplace—all of which hold their own against the eye-catching panorama beyond.
Landscape architect Heyward Townsend likewise looked to this fabled scenery as his muse. His team installed boxwood, native grasses and palmettos to contrast the sculptural loblolly pines poised near the rear deck and pool.
Life along the tidal marsh means the family and their guests are treated to an ever-changing spectacle of dolphins swimming up the creek, alligators sauntering past and throngs of water birds gathering to feed. “What sets Kiawah Island apart is its landscape, and the clients wanted to embrace that,” Persson concludes. By creating a home that celebrates Kiawah’s allure, the design team accomplished this much and more.