A South Carolina island home provides a sophisticated harbor for a couple who heed the ocean's call.

By Sally Finder Weepie and Eleanor Roper
January 29, 2021
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Chicago in January plunges a sailor between the devil and the deep blue sea. One resolute yachtswoman, however, set out to break the grip of its icy tentacles and raise the jib for home—warm and welcoming Charleston, South Carolina.

A lot on James Island appeared the ideal place to drop anchor. "The property has a killer view across a marsh to Charleston Harbor and the downtown skyline beyond," designer Alaina Michelle Ralph says. "We started the layout with that in mind."

She and architect Myles Trudell set about crafting for their clients a new home that nestles into its unassuming neighbor­hood as it throws open its doors to maritime enchantment.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

The shiplapped entry offers a glimpse into the powder room, where blue-painted wainscoting pairs with a Gracie wallpaper that salutes the sea.

"Every room feels open to the outdoors," Ralph says. Large glass doors in the main living space slide open to a pool deck. Above it, a sitting area dubbed the Harbor Room offers the same view from a second-floor vantage point. Even the kitchen spills out to an alfresco cooking and gathering space.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

The view flows from the living room to a deck with an infinity pool that spills into the marshland surrounding Charleston Harbor.

"This yachtswoman and her husband are social butterflies," Ralph says. "They love having people over for casual get-togethers. They had to have an open, inviting home where they and their friends could feel like they're on vacation any day of the week."

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

Ralph conjured the mood of an island retreat, fitting for a Charleston-born homeowner who also spent time as a child in St. Lucia. "She has fond memories of the family's island house there," Ralph says. "I pictured great old refined art and furniture mixed with British Campaign pieces and a little chinoiserie. I wanted to recapture that vibe from the past in a new home that feels evolved over time."

The designer found her jumping-off point in an elegant chinoiserie wallpaper drenched in blue, which she used to cocoon the master bedroom. "It led to everything else," she says.

Blue appears in well-considered splashes throughout the house amid a palette that's dominated by warm neutrals. "I wanted just pops of color pulled from the marsh and harbor," Ralph says. "The creamy honey color of reeded grasses, organic greens, and blues from the water."

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

Tawny tones on draperies warm the living room, where casual shiplap siding relaxes the formality of a stately coffered ceiling. "The mix of interior architectural elements feel evolved over time," Ralph says. "It was important for us to give this new house the character of a much older home."

Apricot-hue curtains and an antique rug soften the Chicago brick fireplace. A spool-base ottoman echoes the dark stain of a classic Windsor chair. Vintage artwork gives spaces the feeling of being collected over time.

Furnishings follow the same lead as antiques blend with vintage and new finds. Fresh outdoor fabrics update all of the upholstered pieces for the modern world.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

Art fills out each space with compelling personality. A moody landscape crowns the living room fireplace; a portrait starts a conversation between two nearby chairs. "I found the Spanish lady in Boston, and the homeowners fell in love with her," Ralph says. "I love a good portrait. It gives you an instant ancestor. We even named her: Sophia."

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

A horse painting by North Carolina artist Brian Hibbard speaks to Southern charm.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

The living room opens to a casual dining area and the kitchen, where a focal-point wall features the same aged-brick veneer used on the fireplace. "It adds a feeling of age and visually ties to the brick on the home's exterior," Ralph says.

Ralph gave the homeowners the open kitchen they wanted, hiding a number of hardworking elements in an adjacent butler's pantry.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

Above the main-level gathering areas, the second-floor Harbor Room gains character from texture-rich grasscloth-wrapped walls that Ralph layered with a four-panel antique wall screen, which transports those relaxing to exotic locales. Draperies in an English floral pair with soft upholstered furnishings to set a relaxing tone. "This is where the homeowners like to kick back and watch TV," Ralph says. "I wanted them to feel like they could prop their feet up on the table and leave their cares behind."

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

The master bedroom also offers welcome sanctuary. A carved four-poster cuddles up near a fireplace, while a light-filled nook offers a seat on an Empire-style sofa or fresh coral-hue wing chairs.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

A patinaed top layer gives the hand-painted wallpaper a feeling of age that marries well with the room's antique furnishings.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

Layered curtains provide privacy for the big soaking tub. A vintage Italian Saturn light fixture by Gio Ponti adds a touch of whimsy—and a touch of Art Deco influence.

Friends and family can find their own haven in well-appointed guest rooms—a corona-topped beauty, a masculine retreat, and the star of them all: the bunk room.

A black spool bed and chartreuse accents give a masculine vibe to the room preferred by the homeowners' adult son. Soft cream hues and a sheer gauze corona bring romance to another guest room.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

"When I first heard 'bunk room,' I envisioned grandkids," Ralph says. "But I loved that they actually want it for ladies' weekends—gatherings of the homeowners' sailor friends."

A pitched ceiling and lots of windows lend an airy feel. Guests can stow essentials in underbed drawers.

The seafaring pals are close enough to be one happy crew but still have some semblance of privacy. Each bunk is tucked into a separate shiplapped nook with its own window and curtain. "It feels like a train car—or a boat. You can cocoon yourself," Ralph says.

Credit: Katie Charlotte Fiedler

Old live oak trees shade seating next to the outdoor fireplace.

"Comfort is what this house is all about," the designer says. "When everything feels this good, it's easy to be happy at home.

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