Embracing the Sea

September 5, 2018

When the homeowners first set foot on their Kiawah Island oceanside property, they joyfully stood with their arms outstretched. “We want the house to be open to the ocean,” they said. “We love to host our family and friends that are spread out all over the country. We also want a home where they’ll feel welcome,” they said.

So the architect drew a U-shaped home that looks and feels like a hug, and never disconnects from the view of the ocean.


Known for being an intent listener who is almost preternaturally tuned into the energy of people and structures, the architect also took into account the homeowner’s favorite things about the island – the sound of crashing waves, the salty smell, the view of pelagic birds, and the feel of ocean breezes in the evening.

The result is a deeply personal home that visually and energetically embraces people, the view, and, in the words of writer Axel Munthe, is “open to the sun and the wind and the voice of the sea.”

On the first floor, a spectacular wall of glass doors opens the living space entirely to the outdoors. “I captured the ocean in the house,” the architect says. “I captured it everywhere.” To keep it cozy, he carved out private outdoor places by placing the deck and screened porch inside the “arms” of the U shape.

This design creates sheltered, welcoming spaces for the family and guests to hang out, either for quiet time on their own or together. In fact, the homeowner’s original vision was to have “Mom in the kitchen, cousins in the pool, and friends around the living room bar.” In other words, the design should allow everyone to do their own thing but be part of the same party.

With so much open space, the architect defined individual rooms through the use of ceiling and trim details. He also used transoms and transom line details to move the eye through the space and create flow. By using the same tile on the first floor and deck, and the same bead board on the outdoor porch ceiling as he used in the adjacent corridor, the architect unified the wide-open spaces.


The island has building height restrictions, and the architect knew that a peaked roof would make the living space on the top floor feel tight. To solve the problem, he placed the master bedroom and bath under a barrel vaulted roof, which takes advantage of the space under the eaves.

Keeping close to the homeowner’s wish to have a view from every place possible, the architect designed the master bedroom so it has a bird’s eye view of the island. The innovative freestanding bath and bathroom has breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean – even from the shower.

Inside, the homeowners wanted a color palette of Kiawah Island beach tones: Browns, blues, grays, sea greens, neutrals, oyster, and champagne. The interior design features natural elements and textures along with locally sourced art and baskets.

Furnishings echo the natural surroundings with sea and nature motifs, organic fabrics and textures, and low profiles that don’t detract from or block the views. For example, in the home office a dual desk, similar to what you might see on a yacht, features vistas that go through the front of the home to the media room and balcony.

Guest living spaces are designed for self-sufficiency and comfort with an upstairs common room featuring a coffee bar, media center, and room for games. Guestrooms have expansive views, and comfortable places to read or relax in private.

The design for this gracious home was conceived when the homeowners stood on the beach with their arms outstretched, as if wholeheartedly welcoming their loved ones and the beauty of the Carolina Lowcountry into their daily lives.

With the vision and talent of the architect, the builder, the landscape architect, local craftspeople, and the interior designer, their dream became an inspiring, nurturing, and beautiful reality.