WHEN A FAMILY FROM PENNSYLVANIA FIRST VISITED KIAWAH ISLAND on a chance vacation 15 years ago, they were captivated by its natural beauty and vast wildlife. The island’s protected environment and charm enticed them to return almost every year, until they finally decided to make the area their second home in 2015, purchasing a prime parcel of land nestled on a lagoon in the Ocean Park development. Their desire was to build an authentic Lowcountry-style home that organically embraced the nature and serenity of its surroundings and reflected the connections they’d made. To translate their vision, they hired Marc Camens, principal architect and owner of Camens Architectural Group, who brought the family’s dream home to life with local builder Kingswood Custom Homes, creating a four-bedroom, shingle-style house with classic lines that echoes Lowcountry life. Calling Kiawah Island home for the past 21 years, the architect has designed around 100 houses there during his 40-year career, each of them distinctly different and representative of the homeowners.
“I’m an architect who listens and always tries to understand my clients completely. I work the plan around the nuances of their lives and around the site. I’m their educated pencil,” says Camens, whose unique approach is to design from the inside out. “The inside tells me what the outside looks like.” When it came to touching interiors, the homeowners relied on Rebekah Carter of Red Element Design Studio to work in harmony with Camens.
Camens believes in letting clients decide where a home’s uniqueness will land, and this homeowner craved a strong connection to the natural surroundings and wildlife, a perfect balance between manicured and untamed. The 4,472-square-foot house was deliberately positioned parallel to the lake in the back and the park in the front for an instinctive union with the outdoors. “It makes the house feel at ease on the patch of land that it occupies. It was incredibly important to me that it felt nestled,” says the homeowner, adding that in the winter, he has both views of the sunrise and sunset from the home’s deck. Camens also captured the homeowner’s desire for expansive windows that flood the home with light, picturesquely frame sculptural old trees and offer uninterrupted views of the active daily lives of the lagoon’s inhabitants and the neighboring park. “It was about all these visual experiences,” says Camens.
One of the most spellbinding encounters transpires on the stop-you-in-your-tracks stair tower fitted with 16-foot ceilings. The formal staircase from the living floor to the second floor offers a gentle rise for an elegant ascent—slowly revealing slivers of the shimmering water—until reaching a landing area where a massive window dramatically presents an all-encompassing view of the lake. “Architecture is about how you move through a space. It changes and gives you different experiences,” says Camens. “Spatial planning is probably our strongest suit.”
Designer Rebekah Carter also paid special attention to the stair tower, swathing the walls in grasscloth for texture and creating a focal point with a dramatic painting of the marsh that the homeowner commissioned from local artist Shannon Wood. The artist sews physical marsh reeds into her canvases for added dimension and lifelike authenticity.
Slip Into a Sanctuary
Intimate nooks where family members can tuck away on their own to daydream, curl up with a book or have special interactions with nature are purposefully sprinkled throughout the home, along with spacious great rooms both upstairs and downstairs where everyone can reconnect for family time. “The homeowner desired a classic yet whimsical aesthetic, with restrained doses of color so as not to compete with the views of nature outside,” says Carter of the interiors, which are awash in coastal hues of blues, greens and neutrals. “We focused on layering textures, subtle patterns and just the right scale and lines of pieces to achieve a cheerful yet timeless style.”
This balanced approach prevails in the kitchen thanks to an airy color palette accented with rattan pendants suspended above a long island crowned in quartz. Dressed in Sherwin-Williams “Dockside Blue,” the island claims its place as a centerpiece against a backdrop of soft taupe cabinetry. Carter purposefully echoed that same blue on the fireplace mantel in the nearby living room. “A repetitive use of color becomes a grounding element when used that way,” explains Carter. Another eye-catching feature is the wave-patterned marble backsplash above the range. “We splurged on some items, like the kitchen backsplash, but found amazing value in other details,” she continues. “If the two are mixed together well, the whole project is elevated.” Once again, capturing inspiring views were everything for the homeowner, so Camens created a trifold window above the sink that offers symmetrical balance to the space and vistas of the towering oak trees outside. So even if you’re washing dishes, as the homeowner notes, your mind is enraptured with life outdoors.
The coastal aesthetic continues in the adjoining dining room, where a custom Lowcountry Originals Crescent chandelier in darkened copper mimics the shape of the surfboard dining table below. Carter strategically positioned the table so that no matter where you’re sitting, you can people watch at the nearby park or gaze at the lagoon. “It makes the traffic pattern between the living room and kitchen have a softer flow around its curves,” says Carter. “It also allowed us to integrate sitting areas on either side of the table.”
In the living room, Carter favored a calm and symmetrical layout of sofas and chairs, creating a welcoming space for easy conversation and relaxation. The palette of navy, aqua and neutral colors in this room is deftly balanced with both tailored and organic elements. Coffered ceilings add interest throughout the home’s open floor plan but especially in the living room. Detailed ceilings are something Camens is known for, but the architect promises they’re more than just show. “My ceilings are not appliqué; it has to have a reason,” he says. “The ceilings reinforce the functions of the spaces and the activities that are in them while subliminally dividing the spaces.”
The homeowners retreat to the master bedroom to sink into a custom canopy bed upholstered in faux ostrich leather, which visually enhances the height of the room. The room also affords a separate sitting area for the couple—with furniture and accessories flecked with light blue and green—offering a private, cozy space for them to enjoy those amazing views once again. The bath, with its shower walls clad in textured porcelain tile, along with an inviting soaking tub, resembles a serene spa. The designer chose special details like faucets with a soft twist silhouette and a large mirror over the vanity to reflect light and offer the feel of spaciousness.
Reserved for Nature
More respectful nods to the area’s Southern roots can be found on the screened-in porch where Carter splashed the ceiling in Farrow & Ball’s “Borrowed Light,” an ethereal blue that is a modified version of “haint blue,” a color thought to ward off evil spirits. It’s an ideal spot to relax in the hanging daybed, enjoying the breezes that whip around the lake. The homeowners spend warm days dipping in the infinity pool, a piece of art that seemingly blends with the lagoon below, while the kids playfully splash around the sun shelf. In the winter, everyone congregates in the warm waters of the spa. “For me, it’s a beautiful way to bring the outside even closer in,” says the homeowner, who enjoys the lagoon’s flurry of activity, observing the waterfowl gathering food and the rising tension between the cohabitating alligators. “These beautiful birds fly from the lagoon right above you. It’s so relaxing,” he says. Blending in with nature is exactly where this family wants to be.
“For me, it was a lot of fun. I would love to build another home with this dream team,” says the homeowner. “They made it such an enjoyable and creative process of bringing my vision to life, and there’s not a day that goes by that I regret any single decision.” *
Angela Caraway-Carlton is a Miami-based freelance writer, travel and lifestyle expert, and television producer. Her works have appeared in Indulge Magazine, Time Out, Elysian, Aventura, South Florida Luxury Guide and Modern Luxury Weddings South Florida & the Caribbean. Caraway-Carlton has covered lifestyle trends in South Florida and beyond for more than a decade.