THIS IS US

by ROBIN HOWARD photography by HOLGER OBENAUS


The house, named Asolare, means “breath of fresh air” or “passing time in a happy but meaningless way,” was a dream come true for the owners, who knocked down their small brick ranch house to build their dream home.

Grady Jeffery has his hands full. His clients are planning to demolish their small brick ranch house on the Isle of Palms and replace it with their dream home. But the dreaming part of the dream home isn’t happening on a Pinterest page. No, this dream is chronicled, cataloged, tagged, cross-referenced, color-coded, and is being called forth from the ether via a sacred binder the homeowner has been carefully cultivating for years. It makes a satisfying plonk as she whomps it on the coffee table.

In this innocent-looking canon, nearly every functional and comfort feature is thoughtfully actualized. Not in an OCD way, but in the way a monk might lovingly carve and polish the underside of a church bench. The house exists, fully formed, in the owner’s mind. All Jeffery has to do is make it real. But no pressure or anything.


The home looks and feels like a vintage Lowcountry island house that’s been modernized. The layout is contemporary, with the living room, dining room and kitchen open to each other. Architectural elements, like a built-in bookcase, add layers of character and lend a sense of history.

The kitchen features lighted glass cabinets, custom floating shelves and a built-in beadboard rack.

Lesser mortals may have quailed in the face of such a challenge, but Jeffery and architect Carl McCants were excited. “This house and this owner knew what it wanted to be. I knew I’d have fun building a house with her,” Jeffery says.

The dream house, named Asolare, which means “a breath of fresh air” or “passing time in a happy but meaningless way,” is perfect. We enter through a large, screened front porch, which holds double hanging bed swings so tempting it’s difficult to force oneself through the front door to finish one’s interview.

Inside, the first impression is that this home looks and feels like a vintage Lowcountry island house that’s been modernized. The layout is contemporary—the living room, dining room and kitchen are open to each other. However, there are architectural elements that add layers of character and lend a sense of history. My favorite is the built-in bookcase, which is more of a treasure chest of books, art, ceramics, sculpture, photos and other ephemera from the homeowners’ well-lived lives.


A cozy, screened back porch with a fireplace provides a nice place to relax and unwind.

Measuring 3,000 square feet, the house feel cozy yet is large enough to sleep 15 for the owners’ annual Bridge Run Weekend Extravaganza, and other family gatherings.

Double doors lead to a cozy, screened back porch with a fireplace. The kitchen is serene, highly functional and has plenty of personality. Lighted glass cabinets house a spectacular collection of sweetgrass baskets. Custom floating shelves hold a special ceramics collection, while another built-in beadboard rack shows off silver and white serving trays. It’s a warm kitchen, fit for coffee and a croissant, but it also feels like a dinner party might break out at any minute.

Behind the kitchen is a workhorse of a laundry room, complete with an extensive wine fridge, surplus coffee makers for a full house and—just in case you don’t believe me that every single thing in this house has been carefully designed to light up the Joy-OMeter— a nugget ice maker.


The Tower (office) features a beautiful vaulted ceiling of sinker cypress and a custom built-in bookshelf. Initially, the plans for this room called for a flat roof, but Grady Jeffery convinced the owners to vault it. Throughout the home are multiple custom-designed bookcases to house the owners’ large book collection.

To the right of the kitchen is a suite of comfortable guest rooms, each with their own luxurious jewel box bath. Upstairs is a spacious master bedroom dominated by a stunning, antique George III linen press and punctuated by a small sitting area with a verdant view. The elegant en suite bath features separate his-and-her vanities and a brass light fixture that was handed down from Aunt Cary.

There is also another guest room for twin nieces, and a hallway lined with books. If this story has several inanimate supporting characters, the bookcases are a couple of them. “We always had most of our books in storage in our previous house,” the homeowner says, in the way one might say the dog is home alone in the basement in a bare metal crate. “We wanted enough bookcases that we could get them all out.” Get them out they did. The shelves are custom-designed, and there are hundreds of colorful volumes happily enjoying their new freedom.

Down an almost hidden hall and up another small flight of stairs is The Tower. This noble crow’s nest is his office, and it is spectacular. The beautiful vaulted ceiling of sinker cypress caps a light-filled space filled with more books, a wall of vinyl records, sound gear, art and artifacts. Initially, the plans for this room called for a flat roof, but Jeffery (easily) convinced the owners to vault it, though with the island’s height restrictions it was no small feat.

Jeffery and McCants did their parts to give this new build a sense of history, but the owner’s vision for how to display their family heirlooms and antiques brings it home. “I didn’t want to erase my life for the sake of a trend,” the owner says. Indeed, their lives—and the way Jeffery built a backdrop for all that interesting goodness—is the best part.

Although the house feels cozy, at 3,000 square feet it’s still big enough to sleep 15 for the owners’ annual Bridge Run Weekend Extravaganza, and other family gatherings. In short, it is a triumph of design and craftsmanship. What’s impressive is Jeffery and his crew pulled it off while the homeowners were living more than 300 miles away.


On the main level is a suite of guest rooms, each with their own luxurious jewel box bath. The home can sleep 15 comfortably.

The master bath features separate his-and-her vanities and a brass light fixture that was handed down from the owner’s aunt.

“It was a lot of collaboration,” he says. “Because the homeowner was so hands-on, she could make decisions quickly.” Jeffery also says because it was such a great collaboration, he never felt like he couldn’t make a suggestion. “This was never a builder/client relationship,” he says. “This was a brother and sister relationship.”

Jeffery has a reputation for being so much more than a builder. He loves his clients, and he truly cares about their homes—even years after they’re complete. Though he says he doesn’t sleep much during the foundation and framing phase, he is a calm and collected presence throughout the process. “Building a home doesn’t have to be stressful. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the homeowners. They’re excited, and I’m excited. This is about us, all of us as a team,” he says.

The homeowners also credit project manager Andrew Nissen for the successful outcome. “Grady has such talented people working for him,” the homeowner says. “I appreciate the people that built this house. This is the house I’m going to live in forever.”

Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.