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Branch out from the traditional Christmas Tree

Gregory Vaughan - Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Those of you who follow my column regularly know that when it comes to the holidays, I am all about decking my halls to the max. There is nary a corner in my home that escapes some special sparkle and twinkling tinsel. Subtlety and restraint are not words anyone would use to describe my holiday decorating.

Of course, my holiday decor revolves around my towering Christmas tree. Each year my partner and I erect a giant Frazier fir in the living room on the day after Thanksgiving and then begin the weekend-long process of festooning it with all its shiny accoutrements. It is an arduous process that is at times fun and at others, not so much. However, come Sunday evening when the empty boxes have been put back into the attic and the dining table is no longer the "ornament staging area" we can relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the view. For us, the tree signals that the holiday season has officially begun.

As much as I (mostly) love putting up my tree, I do sometimes wonder when I will simplify the process. Last year we decided to "downsize" it a bit from what we used to do and we chose a 9-foot tall one instead of our usual 11-foot monster. We meant to do the same this year but I think we failed as we needed a ladder and not just a step-stool to string the lights and hang the star on top. Could I still have fabulous and festive holiday decor without my gargantuan, traditional, live tree?

Let's face it, not everyone has the time, motivation, or the space to put up a tree. Unlike me, you may not want to spend a weekend lugging boxes down from the attic, rearranging furniture, and borrowing a friend's truck simply to create a month-long fire-hazard installation in your living room. Does this make you a Scrooge? Of course not. Many people who celebrate and decorate for Christmas choose to forgo the tree.

My dear friends and neighbors Barbara and Ralph turn their beautiful Victorian home into a virtual winter wonderland every season, yet there is not a single Christmas tree to be found at their house. Outside, they have the front doors elegantly festooned with the most amazing fresh greens and garlands you have ever seen. This year metallic plaid ribbons and bows are woven into the wreaths. Both the front porch and a large crepe myrtle tree out front are meticulously outlined in twinkling white lights. It is postcard perfect.

The embellishments continue inside as well. On their living room fireplace mantle a collection of European Santa statues are displayed, each one a cherished treasure from a lifetime of travel. These Santas gaze out across the room to a most unusual Nativity scene perched on the console table behind the sofa. From the dining room chandelier hang glass ornaments, suspended from colorful ribbons. And they always have the most amazing fresh floral arrangements on the table and sideboard. When we gather at their house for Christmas dinner there is no mistaking which holiday we are celebrating despite the complete absence of a tree. In fact, I do not think anyone really notices that there isn't one.

So, will I ever be able to fully give up my tree? Perhaps, but I can guarantee you it will certainly be a gradual tapering off and scaling down rather than quitting the tradition cold turkey. However, when I think of how quickly I assemble and decorate the 5 foot tall frankly faux silver tinsel tree I place in my foyer, I am tempted to give a tree-free holiday season some serious consideration.

More to Holiday Decor than just the Tree

Gregory Vaughan - Monday, December 01, 2014

Those of you who follow my column regularly know that when it comes to the Christmas, I am all about decking my halls to the max. There is nary a corner in my home that escapes some special sparkle and twinkling tinsel. Subtlety and restraint are not words anyone would use to describe my holiday decorating.

Of course, my Yuletide decor revolves around my towering Christmas tree. Each year my partner and I erect a giant Frazier fir in the living room on the day after Thanksgiving and then begin the weekend-long process of festooning it with all its shiny accoutrements. It is a labor intensive process that is at times fun and at others, not so much. However, come Sunday evening when the empty boxes have been put back into the attic and the dining table is no longer the "ornament staging area" we can relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the view. For us, our glittering tree signals that the holiday season has officially begun.

As much as I (mostly) love putting up my tree, I do sometimes wonder when I will simplify the process. Last year we decided to "downsize" it a bit from what we usually do and we chose a 9-foot one instead of our usual 11-foot monster. We meant to do the same this year but we failed the eye test at the tree lot. We ended up needing a ladder and not just a step-stool to string the lights and hang the star on top.

Could I still have fabulous and festive holiday decor without my gargantuan, traditional, live tree?

Let's face it, not everyone has the time, motivation, or the space to put up a tree. Unlike me, you may not want to spend a weekend lugging boxes down from the attic, rearranging furniture, and borrowing a friend's truck simply to create a month-long fire-hazard installation in your living room. Does this make you a Scrooge? Of course not. Many people who celebrate and decorate for Christmas choose to forgo the tree.

My dear friends and neighbors Barbara and Ralph turn their beautiful Victorian home into a virtual winter wonderland every season, yet there is not a single Christmas tree to be found at their house. Outside, they have the front doors elegantly festooned with the most amazing fresh greens and garlands you have ever seen. This year metallic plaid ribbons and bows are woven into the wreaths. Both the front porch and a large crepe myrtle tree out front are meticulously outlined in twinkling white lights. It is postcard perfect.

The embellishments continue inside as well. On their living room mantle you will find a collection of European Santas, each one a cherished treasure from a lifetime of travel. They gaze across the room to a most unusual lighted Christmas village perched on the console table behind the sofa. From the dining room chandelier hang glass ornaments. Suspended from colorful ribbons they float above the most amazing fresh floral arrangements. And on their dining room mantle an army of glittery snowmen keep an eye on dinner guests. When we gather at their house for Christmas dinner there is no mistaking which holiday we are celebrating. In fact, I do not think anyone really notices that there isn't a tree in sight.

So, will I ever be able to fully give up my tree? Perhaps, but I can guarantee you it will certainly be a gradual tapering off and scaling down rather than quitting the tradition cold turkey. However, when I think of how quickly I assemble and decorate the 5 foot tall frankly faux silver tinsel tree I place in my foyer, I am tempted to give a tree-free holiday season some serious consideration. After all, when Barbara and Ralph call to say "Happy New Year," I realize they don't have a tree they have to take down.

Fall Fashion

Gregory Vaughan - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It’s that time of year again, change is in the air. Well, almost in the air, but I am not going to complain about these recent 80 degree temperatures at the end of October. Summer is definitely over, the kids are back in school, and the holidays are rapidly approaching.

It is also time for the Fall Furniture Market up in High point, North Carolina. Think of it as the bi-annual fashion show for the home where manufacturers and exhibitors showcase their latest collections so that designers like myself can catch a glimpse of the future trends in home decor.

This year I saw a revival of several themes from the past but as always these styles were tweaked and twisted like we have never seen before. The results were some fresh interpretations of familiar elements, sort of a look into the future with a nod to the past.

Here are some of the trends that caught my eye this market:

(NOT SO) TRADITIONAL TUFTING – Tufting is not only for Chesterfield sofas and leather ottomans, we are seeing it pop up all over the place. On seating, headboards, even some case goods, this traditional detail gets a twist with contrasting color or even metal buttons. It is a luxe detail that adds texture and dimension to solid fabrics and leather and can take a print fabric to the next level.

BOLD BRASS – It is coming back on everything from light fixtures to furniture to accessories. However, this is not the cheesy, shiny, polished brass of yesterday (like the outdated door hardware I recently talked my clients into replacing), but richly grained and brushed giving it an understated patina and allure. It instantly adds warmth and glow to a space.

PLENTY OF PIPING - contrast piping is showing up on a lot of upholstery - this time around it is done a little differently with brighter colors and new materials like metallic threads. It highlights interesting shapes and silhouettes and adds another layer to the design.

STATEMENT TABLES – Who says a table has to have 4 legs, straight edges and, well, just be plain and boring? No offense to the classic Parsons table but sometimes you just want to make a statement. Whether it is a live edge dining table that showcases the natural beauty of the bark of a tree or an unusual sculptural coffee table base supporting a floating glass top, tables are making their own statement.

DUAL FABRIC UPHOLSTERY – I am not talking about those patchwork quilt, shabby-chic style chairs and ottomans that were (unfortunately) in vogue a few years ago. This new trend is a much more sophisticated look which typically pairs a textured or patterned fabric with a solid one. Sometimes the pairing is more about subtle contrast material such as smooth leather on the outside back of a piece with a velvety chenille on the inside cushions.

BURLED, BLONDED, and CERUSED – after years of being drowned in dark stains or covered with paint, wood grain is again being celebrated for its natural beauty and warmth. Exotic inlays of curly maple evoke Neo-classical influences while honey toned veneers hint at Mid-Century Modern. My favorite is the French cerused finish which is a liming technique used on oak to elegantly highlight the linear grain. The technique is not new but the look is fresh, understated, and simply divine.

BRING THE INDOORS OUTSIDE – Manufacturers are really blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor furniture. Durable plush fabrics and intricately detailed weatherproof finishes will provide you with comfort and style you never thought possible for outdoor furniture. Given our wonderful climate here in the Lowcountry (80 degrees in October!) and the proliferation of outdoor rooms and entertaining spaces, these innovative all-weather products will serve us well.

So, is your home going to fall behind with the times or fly towards the future with the new trends? Remember, it is OK to pay homage to a classic look but infuse it with some contemporary flair for a fresh look and feel.

Expressing Your Personal Style

Gregory Vaughan - Tuesday, April 01, 2014

I went to my first Heritage golf tournament this past weekend. That's right, I, like the hoards of other islanders and out-of-town visitors, braved the less than stellar weather Saturday morning and "got my plaid on" at our annual golf extravaganza. How I have managed to work for almost 25 years on an island resort known as much for being a golfer's paradise as anything else and not ever attended this event is beyond me. However, when clients offered me their passes for the day I jumped at the opportunity.

Although I do not play myself, I can appreciate the talent it takes to play the game. Seeing it live certainly gave me a better perspective than watching on television and mingling with a crowd that was so energetic, for the most part, very well behaved, only made it more enjoyable. One of the things I discovered most interesting was some of the players' fashion choices.

Of course, golf attire was once known for for its sometimes garishly loud color palettes and less than subtle patterns, making it the butt of many jokes. However, over the years it seems the clothing has gone the way of so much other active wear and become more homogenous and less flamboyant. So, I was fascinated by some of the more daring clothing choices and wondered if the players' personalities matched their outfits.

What is it about golf fashion that allows us to perhaps step a little outside our comfort zone and express ourselves a bit more than we may normally do? Or, in the case of big tournaments, do the sponsors act as personal stylists and dictate what the players will wear over the course of the tournament? A quick google search actually revealed a little of both. If the players are game for it, the sponsors will happily oblige. Why not have some fun with it and make it personal?

This got me thinking about how much interior design is like fashion. In fact, it is fashion for the home. And I find the most interesting and successful interior design is when it is personal and reflective of the owners as opposed to super trendy and of-the-moment. With the proliferation of design and shelter magazines, and the ubiquitous television home decorating channels like HGTV it is easy to get caught up in the drama of it all.

Sometimes when I look at a heavily styled, staged, and edited photograph in a glossy magazine it just looks like no one actually lives there, or if they do they live in a make-believe world. The goal of designing your home, even when you enlist the professional assistance of an interior designer, is to create a place to be yourself. It should reflect your likes and embrace your quirks at the same time. When I see a room decorated in all one style I just think what a missed opportunity to create something truly personal. When something is limited to one note it is often boring.

How about a little unexpected pop? If you love old houses and antiques then by all means celebrate the two. But do you really want to live in a house museum? I don't.

I am all about adding a little eclecticism. The juxtaposition of a slick, contemporary steel and glass cocktail table sitting in front of an antique 19th century mahogany chest can be pure magic and decorating bliss. And who says modern abstract art can't happily hang on the wall next to 18th century prints?

If you have many facets to your personality then so should your home's interiors. Only then is it a true portrait of you. Never be afraid to express yourself with your home's interiors. If you do not want to blend in with the crowd then step outside your comfort zone and get your plaid on.

Streamlining Your Decor for the New Year

Gregory Vaughan - Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I have started, have you? Now that the chaos of the "Holidaze" is winding down and 2014 has arrived, I have begun dismantling my holiday decor. In fact, I must admit, I started the day before New Year's Eve.

As much as I love the warmth, sparkle, the festivity decorations add to my home there comes a point when I reach my saturation point and it all needs to go away. I start to get a little claustrophobic with all the tinsel and beads and glittery bric-a-brac, not to mention that bedazzled fire-hazard of a dried-out fir tree taking up precious square footage in my living room. You know that tradition of keeping the tree up until the twelfth night? Forget it, that is not happening in this house. No way.

The first thing to go was the present wrapping station that gets set-up in the guest room upstairs each year. Putting away the rolls of paper and all the bows and tags and bags to be used again next year (I try to be green and recycle as much as possible) gets me primed to tackle the bigger projects around the house. Being able to once again see the bed motivates me to move on downstairs.

Next are the mantles in the living and dining rooms. Those fragrant greens of holly, running cedar, magnolia, spruce, and cypress, having already made the trek down from Virginia many weeks ago in the trunk of the car, are no longer looking so fresh and green. I am always amazed at how attractive a plain, unadorned mantle can be.

Taking down the tree is of course the main event. While I have enjoyed it through-out the season, it is time for it to go. About mid-way through this endeavor I become over-whelmed with the process and fear there is no end in sight. But once the ornaments are packed away and the tree cut-up and carried out to the lane behind the house to be turned into mulch, I rediscover my living room. Empty space can be a beautiful thing!

It is about this time year when I start assessing my interior decor and begin to think about streamlining things. In fact, it becomes one of my New Year's resolutions. I vow to really make an effort to pare down some of the clutter around my house. As I have said before, minimalism is not really my personal design style but there comes a point when less is indeed more.

For instance, my kitchen counters, probably like many of yours, could really use some de-cluttering. I am looking forward to having some counter space again once the holiday "carbohydrate station" as my friend Alan calls it, is depleted and the cookies, sweets, and other not-so-healthy snacks are finally consumed. But more than that, I want to clean-up my mail and phone charging organizer and my kitchen utensil crock in serious need of editing (I mean really, how many spatulas and slotted spoons does one truly need?).

And remember, not every horizontal surface in your house needs something sitting on top of it. Not every table top needs groupings of candlesticks and not every dresser needs picture frames lined up like soldiers. Pick a few really good objects and let them breathe in the space without competition. Not every wall needs to be adorned with art either. After all you spent a week looking at paint swatches and agonized over finding the perfect shade so why not let it be seen and enjoyed?

As I sit here in my home office writing this column I see yet another area that could benefit from some streamlining, the bulletin board behind my laptop. It has various photos and notes and cards that have served their purpose and now need to be filed somewhere or better yet thrown away to make room for the new clippings and miscellany to inspire.

Think of streamlining your decor as a spa treatment for your house, a way to refresh and renew for the new year. That is probably something we all could use right about now.

Fall Fashion 2013

Gregory Vaughan - Friday, September 27, 2013

My how this year has flown by. The temperatures have dropped, the leaves are beginning to turn, Halloween is over, and Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Autumn is here!

For many reasons, this my favorite time of year here in the Lowcountry. I welcome this break in the weather from our long and often sweltering summers. When tourist season is over, I appreciate the (slightly) less congested traffic on the roads and the increased elbow room on the beaches. And I enjoy the long shadows of the afternoon light that embellish the vistas of our beautiful landscapes in this part of the country.

But one of my favorite reasons to look forward to in fall is attending the semi-annual High Point Furniture Market in North Carolina. With 11 million square feet of showrooms, this event showcases the absolute latest trends in home furnishings and accessories. Attending this event is both invigorating and inspiring. Designers, manufacturers, marketers, and trend-spotting, blogging journalists descend upon this furniture mecca to view the future of home fashion and have a little fun. I think of it as a sneek-peek into a crystal ball for upcoming interior decor.

So, what did I see?

BOLD BLUE

You won't be singing the blues when you view these beautiful and intense hues. After years of seeing watered-down aqua and washed-out turquoise the tides of trendy tastes have turned to deeper waters for inspiration. Cobalt, cerulean, indigo, and that good old standby, classic navy, make new waves in home decor and capture the calming currents of the aquamarine ocean.

PROUD PURPLE

There is a reason purple is associated with royalty, it is rich, regal, and ready to rule. Drop something purple into a room and watch it command attention. Look for all shades of this intriguing combination of racy red and blissful blue to find its way into your future interior design palette. It is a color that can be masculine or feminine, loud or soft, bold or subtle, but it always makes its presence known.

GLITTERING GOLD

Gold tones are coming back strong. After a very long run, the popularity of oil-rubbed bronze is waning, and so too are the silvery tones of chrome and nickel. Muted, dusty, matte-finishes in soft gold and champagne are turning up on everything from furniture to fabrics to accessories. Lillian August introduced a simply scrumptious metallic finish for casegoods called blah blah blah that had the slick look of metal but still allowed the warm, welcoming, weathered woodgrain to shine through.

RECYCLED and RE-IMAGINED

Who says recycled chic has to look old and time-worn? After way too many seasons of fifty-shades-of-gray, reclaimed materials have revived and reinvented their appeal. At one showroom I saw area rugs woven from recycled Indian silk saris. These beautiful designs were boldly colored and abstractly patterned. A visual feast for the eyes these exotic beauties are also a luxurious tactile treat for your bare feet.

BEDAZZLED BARS

Bars are popping up everywhere. From mobile carts, with their slick, chrome-y legs, glass surfaces, and demure casters to full-scale armoires fitted with mirrored innards and lighted, translucent shelves, these pieces celebrate the art of the libation and facilitate our love of entertaining. As well as functional these pieces are practical since many of us do not have the budget nor the dedicated square footage for a full-scale, built-in wet bar.

LUSTROUS LACQUER

Lacquer was everywhere this year, from small "martini" tables to consoles to chests of drawers. A rich, lustrous, painted finish can transform even the most humble of of objects into something fun and unexpected. It is luxe personified.

VULLOPTUOUS VELVET

Upholstering something in velvet does not have to mean it is off-limits. In fact, it is just the opposite, what more welcoming and relaxing textile is there? Whether a pillow, a chair, or an entire sofa, velvet beckons a sit-down-and-relax-a-while invitation to chill and unwind.

After my week of sensory overload I am ready to crash on a sapphire blue velvet sofa, ensconced in an aubergine room, with a plush silk carpet beneath my feet, and a shiny, sleek bar cabinet nearby.

Streamline Your Design

Gregory Vaughan - Thursday, September 05, 2013

“You will have to excuse the state of our kitchen,” my hostess bashfully told me as we toured her home last weekend. “We have not renovated it yet and it is not very pretty.” Her husband and my partner are both professors at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and this was my first time visiting her exceptional 1840’s Greek Revival-style townhouse in downtown Savannah. Having just learned what I do for a living, I think she was having second thoughts about offering to show me their home before we headed out to her courtyard for an al fresco dinner by the pool. “I promise I will not be critical,” I assured her with a smile.

And what a great space it was, with soaring ceilings, two generous sets of south-facing French doors filling it with light and offering a commanding view of the enormous courtyard outside. These are coveted attributes in any house and especially difficult to find in an older home downtown. I barely even noticed the dated 1960’s era cabinetry, the older appliances, and the awkward layout of the work surfaces. What I saw was lots of potential.  Lots!

“We have done the bathrooms and laundry room already. I am just not sure what to do in here, but I have ideas. I want modern, clean, minimal. Is that wrong to do in an old house like this?” she asked.

“Not at all. In fact, several recent clients have opted for more contemporary kitchens in historic houses in Savannah and new construction on Hilton Head and in Bluffton.”

Streamlined, modern kitchens do not have to appear stark or sterile. The trick is to employ rich finishes and materials. Glass, man-made engineered stone, and stainless steel may seem cold and uninviting at first, but when combined with rich wood tones and subtly patterned travertine and other natural materials, the effect is alluring.

An example is a remodel project in Wexford Plantation for a young couple relocating from New York City. Here I collaborated with kitchen designer Gregg McLain of Advanced Kitchen Design to reinvent the kitchen. The clients desired a contemporary, open, loft-like feel that would extend to the adjacent family room. Sleek, stylish, functional and not too fussy were the adjectives they kept repeating.

To keep the slab-fronted cabinetry doors from being too stark, we decided on using two shades of gray stain, a lighter one for the upper wall cabinets and a darker one for the base cabinet doors. Stainless steel framed glass doors, two of them opening garage style, frame the sculptural exhaust hood. Gregg cleverly designed a Parsons-style “table” extension on the island for interest, and suggested using Wenge wood. The rich wood grain and warm color serves as a welcoming buffet. A simple, flat molding on the top of the wall cabinets caps the doors yet does not compete with the larger, more traditional crown molding of the room at the ceiling. And to offer a patterned relief to the solid white Caesar-Stone countertops I used a mosaic tile backsplash in a brick pattern of white and stainless steel.

 The clients are thrilled with their new kitchen. They may now be living in the Lowcountry nearly 1000 miles away from Manhattan, but their slick and modern space would be right at home in a chic, urban loft in Chelsea.

Finding Your Niche

Gregory Vaughan - Friday, August 02, 2013

We all are familiar with the saying “Bigger is better” right? But is this always true?

Don’t get me wrong. Who doesn’t want more square footage in a closet? Wish for more elbowroom in a bathroom? Or, perhaps, covet more counter space in a kitchen? But, who needs more room everywhere? Maybe it is just me, but I like cozy. Grandly scaled rooms are great for parties and entertaining large groups of people but what about when it is only you or you and your significant other? I find that smaller, intimate spaces are more inviting and conducive for our day-to-day living.

Case in point, I recently vacationed in San Juan, staying at the El Convento hotel, right in the heart of Old Town. This wonderful, historic building was formerly a convent, thus the guestrooms were not at all spacious by modern standards, being perhaps two-thirds the size of your typical hotel room. However, what my small room lacked in square footage was more than made up for by tons of charm.

Glazed terra-cotta tile floors, rustic dark wood furniture, ochre-toned plaster walls, and rich fabrics gave the room the welcoming warmth not found in most chain hotels. Not one, but two French door balconies, complete with louvered wood shutters, framed views of the quaint roof-top pool terrace and the colorful cityscape beyond. It was the perfect perch from which to wake-up in the mornings and enjoy a strong cup of Puerto Rican coffee and to unwind with a cool and refreshing rum cocktail at the end of the day. I seriously doubt the much newer Sheraton hotel on the other side of town, with its larger, corporate-themed, cookie-cutter guestrooms offers an experience anywhere near what I enjoyed during my stay at the El Convento.

I think it is just human nature that we seek out spaces that offer us shelter and comfort. I find myself creating those special niches in my design work for clients, both figuratively and physically. Establishing a room-within-a-room, or an oasis, that lures you in to sit and relax is integral to good design. We naturally want a spot where we can comfortably spend some time and chill.

With our trend towards large, open-concept design, finding the right balance of roominess and comfort can be a challenge. In bigger rooms I always try to make an intimate seating arrangement for conversation. Sometimes this dictates having two groupings, one for larger gatherings of people and one for more intimate encounters. Architectural details can facilitate this. If there is a fireplace or bay window or a nook tucked away to the side, I take advantage of it. Creating a special space within the composition of a larger one is the key.

I like to group a pair, or more, of comfortable chairs upholstered in an inviting fabric, around a unique ottoman or unusual table to set the scene for a quiet tete-a-tete. Sometimes setting a game table in an alcove for a chess challenge or a puzzle is the way to go. Tucking a chaise-lounge into an alcove for the perfect spot to read a book, cruise the internet, or catch a nap is always an added bonus. Creating a personal space inside a bigger one to enjoy some private time makes a bigger room multi-functional.

I also find many clients are asking their architect to design a small space in their home from the get-go. In my client Joanne’s new home under construction in Sea Pines there is a special room just for her that we refer to as simply the nook. Tucked away in a quiet part of the house it is just big enough to contain a reading chair and a small writing desk, a bookshelf, and space for her electric keyboard. It will be her personal sanctuary and she cannot wait to enjoy it.

A little thought and planning to make a personal oasis in your home is easy. If you need help, consult a professional to assist you. Finding your niche is rewarding and fulfilling. And remember, bigger is not always better, but good design is priceless.

Making a House a Home

Gregory Vaughan - Monday, July 01, 2013

When does a new house become your new home? I thought about this the other day while perusing a cookbook. Seeking inspiration for a dinner I wanted to prepare for out-of-town guests visiting over the 4th of July, I had grabbed my copy of Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I must admit that the book was not on a shelf in my kitchen, but in a stack of books piled high on my bedroom nightstand.

I read cookbooks like others read novels and I find Nigella’s wonderfully composed culinary descriptions are both entertaining and inspiring. One passage prompted me to ponder the very question of what makes a house a home. Nigella says, “I don’t really feel a kitchen is mine until I have cooked a chicken there.” 

(This is where we all conjure the marvelous memory those mouth-watering aromas a favorite dish of our mother’s brought to our home.)

Anyway, that got me thinking, when does a house really become a home? When you close on the deal and sign the papers? When the inspector gives you the certificate of occupancy? When you move in? Surely it has to be something more meaningful and personal than the handing over of keys, the making of beds, or even the stocking of a pantry. But what?  Do you remember when you truly felt your new home was your new home?

For me, a house becomes a home when it functions as you hoped it would; providing comfort and joy for you and your guests. Case in point, my clients’ new home in Spanish Wells Plantation. Recently I attended two very different events they hosted in the same week -- one for the Chamber of Commerce and the other a birthday celebration. Very different events, the home worked flawlessly for both.

A casual, coastal décor was established from the start. The clients were relocating from a very traditional, red-brick colonial-style home in Virginia and desired a more relaxed and less formal atmosphere for their new digs in the Lowcountry. “No fuss” and “user-friendly” were key to establishing the design direction. The kitchen, more than any other space in the house, exemplifies this theme.  It is truly the heart of the home, connecting the living and entertaining spaces. This integration was very important to the clients. They wanted the kitchen to embody an intimacy for two on a daily basis yet allow a catering set-up for 80 or more when needed.

And, I feel, this kitchen would bring a big smile to Nigella’s face . . . 

Credit architect James Ogden and cabinet designer Arlene Williams with finessing the efficient layout of the kitchen as well as the adjacent mud room. This small but multi-tasking space serves as a secondary entrance from the garage to the house, a home office, and a catering space when needed, keeping the main kitchen free of clutter and mess. I integrated the paint colors, granites, and other finishes with the main kitchen so the two spaces would flow together as one larger room when needed.

Judging from the relaxed expressions on my clients’ faces for both of these special occasions as well as when I have dropped by during lunch preparation, I can tell their kitchen works for them. While the design team coordinated the look and feel, it’s the client’s personal touches like family photos and treasured mementos that make the space truly special.

“Down to Earth Design”

Gregory Vaughan - Wednesday, May 08, 2013

“Wow!” I said as my client rolled-out the plans for her new house to be built in Colleton River Plantation. We were having our first meeting at the design studio, getting to know each other and talking about her likes, dislikes, her lifestyle, and what she desired for her new home.

It was an incredible plan, unlike any I had ever worked on before. The footprint of the house perfectly mimicked the unusually shaped peninsula lot, taking advantage of marsh and water views on three sides of the property. The home was divided into two distinct “pods” connected by a window-walled “bridge” that separated the master bedroom, guest bedrooms and an intimate media room from the kitchen, dining room, massive greatroom, and spectacular screened porch overlooking the river. This was no ordinary plan. I was intrigued.

After chatting for a few more minutes I knew Kathy was going to be fun to work with on this project. She was a painter and photography enthusiast. She loved to go “junking,” as she put it, “You know, not in fancy antique stores, but rummaging through someone’s old barn who wants to clean it out and get rid of stuff.” And, judging from the overflowing binder she brought in with her full of magazine clippings and ideas, I could tell she was not afraid to do her homework and would be engaging in the design process.

“I am probably not going to be your average client and the décor I want for this house will not be what you typically do down here in Hilton Head. I want it to be casual and rustic, like an old family fish camp that has evolved over time, but not contrived. It needs to embrace the setting and bring the outside inside in perfect harmony.” Then she added, half jokingly, “So, are you up for this challenge?” 

Oh boy, was I ever up for this! As a professional designer I relish any opportunity to work on a project that challenges me to think outside the box and create something special. This was certainly going to be an enjoyable collaboration. I could not wait to get started.

Well, that initial meeting in the design studio was about 2 years ago and Kathy and her family have been enjoying the home for the past year or so. The building process lasted for a little over a year and the end result is nothing short of spectacular. The home perfectly harmonizes with its unique setting and suits Kathy’s lifestyle to a “T”.

The design scheme was all based around the nature found here in the Lowcountry, specifically on her property. Color inspiration came from the lichen, ferns, pine needles, palm fronds, tree bark, sand, and driftwood found on the property. The faded wood stains, distressed finishes, shell encrusted tabby, glazed paint colors, and textured, natural fabrics all look as though they were plucked from the land and help to blur the line between indoors and out.

Original works of art in the form of one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures, fabricated by Lowcountry Originals, grace the home both inside and out. A particular favorite of mine is the custom oyster shell chandelier that casts a welcoming glow over the dining room table. Chucky, rock crystal embellishments add some rustic bling while keeping it casual enough for family dinner caught from the local waters (Kathy and her husband love to fish).

Rustic antiques, found objects, and repurposed treasures from Kathy’s “junking” adventures are all intertwined with the newly bought furnishings I carefully selected to look as though they had been enjoyed over time. Slipcovers add a casual note to sofas and chairs and offer practicality as well. Distressed finishes on tables and chests suggest years of use.

Having had the opportunity to spend time in this home for social gatherings, I can attest (despite my obvious bias) that this “family fish camp” feels as though it has been there for many generations. It has an ease about it that is both familiar and welcoming for guests without pretense or contrivance. It feels integrated into its surroundings and is elegant in its simplicity. The home is truly down to Earth.


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