Traditional Building Portfolio



Southern Retreat

A single-story home in South Carolina's Low Country blends with the landscape and the history of the location.

Project: Residence, Spring Island, SC

Architects: Historical Concepts, Peachtree City, GA; Jim Strickland, Terry Pylant, Joshua Roland, Bhoke Manga, Daniel Lemberg, Abhishek Sarker

By Martha McDonald

When an empty-nester couple from Connecticut decided they wanted a warm-weather retreat, they purchased a two-acre plot of land on South Carolina's Spring Island. Then they turned to Historical Concepts of Peachtree City, GA, a firm that specializes in traditional architecture and "place-making," to design a home to blend with the Low Country landscape so that it would look like it had been there for generations. They also wanted a home with a generous amount of public space that would be suitable for entertaining and that was balanced with spaces offering a sense of privacy.

A private sea island on the Atlantic Coast, Spring Island had remained undeveloped for many years. The 3,000-acre island now offers only 400 home sites and the community has pledged to protect the environment. It also prides itself on having homes that blend in with the region's vernacular architecture and the island's 150-year-old oak trees, and this was the goal when Historical Concepts began to design a home for its new clients seeking an escape from the harsh winters of the Northeast.

The Historical Concepts design team, led by Terry Pylant, created a compound rather than a single structure. The 3,333-sq.ft., single-story main house is the primary building. Breezeways connect a separate two-bedroom guest house and a 2½-car garage with a guest suite above it to the main house. The compound is characterized by an abundance of porches.

"The compound concept with the separate guest house and garage works out nicely in two ways," says Pylant. "It provides separate private quarters for guests, a place where they can stay even if the owners aren't home, and it also helps tremendously in reducing the mass of the house. Rather than having a five-bedroom main house, which would be huge, we have separated it into three smaller structures and it works well."

The main house is built around a central main living/dining room. Guests enter through a large front porch and into an entry gallery. This flows into the living/dining room, which flows out to a large screened porch stretching across the back of the home. "When you enter the house, louvered shutters on either side of the door to the living room provide separation and the ability to have furniture on either side. This also frames the view through the room," says Pylant.

Porches are an important part of the home. The main house includes 1,700 sq.ft. of porches, bringing the overall size to just over 5,000 sq.ft. The expansive front porch leads into the home and a large screened porch stretching across the back of the house is accessed through the living room, the kitchen and the master bedroom. It provides a sleeping area with a hanging bed, a sitting area in the center and an eating area off the kitchen.

Another screened porch is positioned off of the office on the east side of the home. It is accessed both through the office and the kitchen's mud room. In addition, a screened porch on the 841-sq.ft. guest house adds another 171 sq.ft. of space to this structure.

"In this part of the country, the porch is an extension of the living space," says Pylant. "This is a vernacular adaptation of a Low Country house with deep porches on the front and rear that are extensions of the house. These porches keep the house cool and give shade. To keep the interior space from being dark, we took advantage of the clerestory space to create dormers to let light spill into the center room."

In this large, central living/dining room, a window seat in the back of the room balances the front door. The kitchen, a den and an office are on one side of the living/dining room, and the master bedroom suite and a guest suite are located on the opposite side.

"One focal point in the living/dining room is the heart-pine hutch," says Pylant. "We designed a hutch between the kitchen and living/dining room with pocket doors and a false back that can be opened for serving through it, or closed so you don't see into the kitchen. The clients entertain and often these events are catered, so they don't want their guests to see into the kitchen at these times. But on a day-to-day basis, the hutch is kept open. It is really a key feature, an interesting detail."

The walls in this central room are lightly washed pine and the ceiling features sizable recycled wood beams that provide an aesthetic contrast to the muted palette. The floors are made of antique heart pine, reinforcing the local architectural tradition. Interior design was done by Anne Ballance of The Ballance Group of Beaufort, SC. "The furnishings and color palette really create a warm and relaxed space and she did a tremendous job complementing the architectural details and textures," says Pylant.

On the east side of the living room/dining room is the large kitchen (15x26-ft., including the breakfast area), which is accented with washed pine to coordinate with the great room. To continue the light-filled theme in the kitchen, the design team used French doors leading to the screened porch on the rear of the home. They also designed cabinets with glass doors and shelves that hang in front of windows, allowing light to stream into the room.

"The client was adamant about having lots of light in the house," says Pylant. "Originally we decided not to have overhead cabinets in the kitchen. We decided to fill the space with windows. In the end, we created the glass cabinets with glass shelves that are actually aligned over the windows. They let in a lot of light and when you look into the cabinets, you are looking straight through to the courtyard." The courtyard, with a fountain in the center, is between the guesthouse and the kitchen and is accessed through the screened porch off the husband's office.

Pylant points out that there are two offices in the main house, one designed for the lady of the house and the other as a gentleman's retreat. The wife's office is a little nook off the master area with a small space for a laptop computer. "It's a very efficient household office yet it has a wonderful feel because you are surrounded by glass and views," he says.

"His office, by contrast, is a multi-function living space," continues Pylant. "Tucked away at the opposite end of the house, this is a place where he and his friends can gather, but it can also function as a sleeping area for extra guests. And the cigar porch provides a separate, yet sheltered, outdoor space for the homeowner and his guests to enjoy the natural setting."

The wood-paneled den provides a relaxing place to watch television or enjoy the company of two or three guests. "The wife wanted a warm and comfortable place for the family to unwind and for casual entertaining, so we tucked a small room at the front of the house that is convenient to the kitchen and bar area," says Pylant. "As wonderful and light as the main living room is in the daytime, this provides a more intimate gathering space in the evening."

To the other side of the main room are the master bedroom suite and a guest bedroom suite. Historical Concepts designed these two suites with a separation between the two bedrooms, so they wouldn't hear the grandchildren when they were in the guest room. In addition, a gallery separating these bedroom suites and the living/dining room offers a bathroom and closets for coats and storage. Unobtrusive doors disguised as paneled jambs between the public and private spaces can be closed for additional privacy.

Completed in 2004, the retreat home fulfills all of the clients' requirements for social and private spaces while drawing on the architectural traditions of South Carolina's Low Country to give the appearance of timelessness. "This house is in tune with the Low Country vernacular," says Pylant. "It's a casual, comfortable home where the clients can get away and enjoy the mild climate and pristine surroundings."  

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