When architect Marc Camens met with his clients to discuss the design of their soon-to-behome in Kiawah Island’s prestigious Royal Beach community, the wife stretched out her arms and said, “I want the house to open to the ocean.”
Camens, principal and owner of Camens Architectural Group, says simply, “I drew that.” The result is a three-story, open-plan home that “never disconnects from the view of the ocean,” says Camens, who has been designing houses on the island for nearly 20 years.
The design process was organic from the beginning. “Marc began with inquiries about not only how we live, but how we experience Kiawah,” says the wife. “All the senses came into play. Is it the smell of the salty ocean, the sound of the waves crashing and the numerous shore birds, the views of both the ocean and surrounding woodlands, the cool breezes on a spring evening? These are the questions Marc asked in order to create a home that speaks personally to us.”
Designed in a central U-shape, the house embraces the sea from nearly every room, with a spectacular glass wall of doors on both sides of the first floor that slide to open the indoor living space completely to the outdoor living space. “I captured the ocean in the house, captured it everywhere,” Camens says. “I’m an intent listener. I try to understand how people live, then design from the inside out. I wrap their house around their lifestyle and the way they live.”
Though the narrow site was a bit challenging, Camens created privacy in the outdoor spaces by tucking the outdoor deck and screened porch within the encircling “arms” of the first floor design. “With our family and friends spread out across the country, we wanted a home to bring them together,” says the wife. “Marc designed a home that not only mimics a welcoming, open-arm hug, but feels just as comfortable and inviting. The idea of all the first floor walls folding back and creating one large living space was exactly what we were looking for: Mom in the kitchen, cousins in the pool and friends gathering around the living room bar, all part of the same party!”
Because the home has an open floor plan and overlapping rooms, the architect used ceiling and trim details to define spaces. Camens included transoms and carried out the transom line detail to keep the eye moving and create energy and flow. He extended these spaces further by using the same tile on the first floor and the deck, and the same beadboard on the outdoor porch ceiling as that on the adjacent indoor corridor. “I CSD don’t want the eye to stop as it moves across the lines of these spaces,” explains Camens. “The trim carpenters and craftsmanship were amazing,” he says of Tree Marsh Woodworks.
In the kitchen, the curved island follows the shape of the glass wall and creates motion. To delineate the kitchen work space, the shape of the island is mimicked in the ceiling above.
Camens has an uncanny ability to analyze spaces and solve spatial challenges. For example, he knew that a peaked roof, built to conform to local height restrictions, would squeeze the living space on the upper floor. To solve the problem, he put the master bedroom and bath under a gently pitched, barrelvaulted roof, which allowed more height near the eaves. The roof also gives shape to the oceanside facade. “We knew we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful ocean vista from as many vantage points as possible,” says the wife. “Marc made that happen right down to the master bath shower, which has breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.”
At 5,200 square feet, the house reads much bigger than it is. “It’s the way we handled the space, the way it opens to the ocean,” says Camens. “It’s a powerful space and its energy is about the people who designed and built it—when 183 CSD you walk in this house, you feel it. Every person who worked on it brought this vision to life, and because we focused on adapting the house to how the owners live, the owners really love it.”
M.S. Lawrence, a writer and journalist, lives in Charleston.