Traveling south on coastal Highway 17 from Charleston, the bustle of the city falls away abruptly and the road widens as it rolls through pine forests and the occasional rural town. After a turn onto Route 174—a narrow two-lane strip shaded by a canopy of ancient oaks—the pace slows even more as Edisto Island draws near. Less than an hour from the city, the barrier island remains remote, a sanctuary that has resisted development, a place where thousands of pristine acres are protected. And that is exactly what these homeowners were seeking.
“As soon as my husband stepped foot on the property, he fell in love,” recalls Laura of their first visit to Bailey Island, a 695-acre island adjacent to Edisto Island. Most of Bailey Island is owned and protected by the Bailey Island Preserve Foundation over which The Nature Conservancy holds a conservation easement. There are only 32 home sites here.
“The records showed over 400 acres in perpetual conservation,” says Laura. “When you think of the limited land available for a growing population, it’s a big deal that this environment will never change.”
The couple—she originally from Columbia, S.C., he a Canadian expat—were living in New York City but always knew they would return to the Carolina Lowcountry where they’d vacationed over the years. The tract of land they selected is tucked deep within maritime forest accessible only by dirt road and by water. Perched on a bluff overlooking the St. Pierre Creek, old growth magnolias, live and water oaks give way to panoramic views of the estuaries of the ACE Basin.
“Laura and Chuck’s goal was to build a house that fit within that beautiful site,” recalls Jimmy Walker of Walker Concepts Architecture. “We walked it together, identifying assets such as the privacy the winding driveway affords; we let the natural environment set the tone for the design plan.”
The couple discovered the Charleston-based architect while browsing the pages of Waterside Homes in a Manhattan bookstore. Images of Walker’s work resonated with them and after one interview they knew “he was clearly the one.”
“Jimmy listened to us,” notes Chuck, who sits on the board of the Edisto Island Open Land Trust. “He wasn’t going to force anything on us. He took our ideas, put them on paper and expanded on them.”
With the building layout completed, the homeowners were ready to screen for a contractor. One firm, Meadors, quickly rose to the top. The couple was impressed with James Meadors’ track record in construction and no-nonsense approach to the bidding process. His company is a consortium of artisans and craftsmen well-respected for projects involving properties in Charleston’s historic district. The company’s tradesmen also offered skills well-suited to the demands of the Bailey Island project.
“I insisted on full masonry fireplaces,” explains Chuck, adding with a laugh that it was the Canadian farm boy in him that had to have it that way. He says Meadors had to bring in a special team for the project. “One man did all the interior brick work—he was a master. It was incredible watching him work.”
Meadors also introduced the homeowners to Michael Shewan of Michael David and Associates, a Charleston-based designer (by way of Los Angeles) whose projects include McCrady’s and Husk restaurants. His design expertise was evident throughout the home—nearly 5,500 square feet—from the placement of ceiling coffers, custom-designed mantels, and hand-drawn rug motifs to furnishings and draperies.
The homeowners each have favorite rooms. For Laura, it’s the master bath with its windows on the world outside, fireplace, shower with vaulted ipe wood ceiling and heated floor. Shewan redesigned the layout of the feature squares in the flooring to achieve a more expansive look. Being the household’s chief cook, Chuck’s special space is the kitchen. “I love the heart pine ceiling and the sitting area around the fireplace,” he says, adding that his other favorite is the butler’s pantry—a separate room adjoining the kitchen with adjustable shelving and custom cabinetry all built by hand, onsite. “The carpenters used the same methodology employed in fine furniture making.”
The home embodies a wealth of design and decades of combined knowledge, yet makes a quiet footprint, barely visible from its deepwater dock. “We’d like to pick it up and take it with us when we leave,” says Laura.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.