Wanted: a comfortable yet stylish environment for a family of five children under age 13, including four boys. Must be durable and hard-wearing, yet able to host grown-up gatherings. Needs to accommodate many toys for an active family of seven. Must have brains and beauty.
Designer Denise Balassi and her team at Interior Consultants heeded the call of this busy family for the third time, helping them find a balance between fun and fashionable on beautiful and family-friendly Kiawah Island.
“This is the third home we’ve designed for these clients,” says Balassi. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, she was lead designer for a prestigious New England firm before founding Interior Consultants nearly 30 years ago. “These homeowners were very hands-on during the three-year project, which we worked on together, starting with initial space planning, with architect Chris Rose and the build team at Russ Cooper Associates. The owners embraced our design concepts with enthusiasm and gave us creative license to think outside the box so we could make the project a success,” she says.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the home’s form-meets-function oceanfront showstopper: a tiled patio that sinks hydraulically to double as the pool’s floor. While it was the homeowner’s idea (“She viewed the space as valuable real estate and didn’t want to devote it exclusively to a pool,” notes Balassi), Interior Consultants executed much of the aesthetics, designing the tile pattern for the pool while carefully adhering to weight and composition requirements. “Even the grout had to be specially formulated,” says Balassi.
This kind of attention to detail is evident throughout the home, starting with the Ramon Gray limestone tiles that quietly blur the line between outdoors and in, segueing from the front porch, where they’re sandblasted, to the foyer and other interiors, where they’re honed. Patterns vary in size as they flow from room to room. Balassi used glass tiles to create a baseboard in the entry and then repeated the look on the outdoor stair risers, which, she says, was another unique approach that the owner embraced.
In fact, the design of the foyer was revisited as the homeowners’ tastes edged toward contemporary. “We work closely with builders to make changes and adjustments as designs develop,” says Balassi. “As the owners’ tastes evolved, we were able to scale back some of the traditional Southern details and give some of the rooms, including the entry, a more streamlined look and feel.” Four paint colors and a circular tile focal piece shed any remaining hint of the Old South.
Likewise, in the great room, the design team replaced a typical fireplace with a modern firebox dressed in Macassar ebony with mitered square joists and steel “ribbons.” They designed the ceiling and other trim work in the room, which flows from living area to dining to kitchen, to read as one space. “We were responsible for much of the millwork designs throughout the house,” says Balassi.
A “smart house,” it incorporates many environmentally friendly features including low-VOC paints and formaldehyde-free, Pure-Bond wood cabinetry and furniture to reduce airborne contaminants, which were of particular concern to the family. For the wood finishes throughout the home, Balassi brought in craftsmen expert in the old-world technique of French polishing, which yields a high gloss by combining several coats of shellac with hand-rubbing in stead of lacquer. Automated, remotely controlled window shades concealed in the woodwork provide privacy and protection from the sun, yet keep views and windows uncluttered.
Hard-working materials including tile, leather, raffia, flat-weave rugs and indoor-outdoor upholstery fabrics handsomely stand up to sun, sand and rough-and-tumble kids. Everywhere are signs of Balassi and her team’s outside-the-box approach: a touch of pizazz with an asymmetrical sink in one bathroom; a ship’s bunk theme in the boys’ room; Venetian plastered walls and shaped glass lighting; porcelain tiles punctuated with hammered metal tiles in the laundry and powder room; an oversized square table with banquettes in the dining room. In the third-floor master suite, with private laundry room and breakfast area, the ceiling was faux-painted with glass crystals to mimic the sparkle of the water outside, Balassi says.
She outfitted one of the family’s favorite gathering spots, the home theater, with deep, plush lounge seating perfect for an audience of seven, including wall niches for holding sodas and snacks. The basement features a small-scale hockey rink with a play and training area.
“The fun house doesn’t end inside,” says Balassi. Beyond the pool is a cocktail deck, misting tunnel and fire pit. There’s an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven, too.
Whether you’re five or 95, this house is about hanging out at home and having fun together. “This is a home that truly gets used, that will literally have to ‘wear the test of time,’” says Balassi.
M.S. Lawrence is a Charleston-based writer.