A Timeless Design
The Clarkson Roney home blends old with new
Opposite: Peter Roney, Margaret Clarkson, M and Sarah Clarkson relax in the newly renovated kitchen featuring eclectic elements from their travels.
Photography by Robert Clark
Margaret Clarkson’s mother, Sarah, was well ahead of her time. Through her thoughtful design process and some unintended delays, including her husband, the late Crawford Clarkson, being recalled to Korea while in the Navy, Sarah had the opportunity and certainly the talent to envision and create the home of her dreams. While the home was built in 1974, it boasts features and design elements that are coveted by builders and homeowners today, including a spacious open concept layout.
Prior to building the home, Margaret’s parents spent years clipping magazine articles and looking for the perfect location to live and raise their family. After much searching, they fell in love with the Greenbriar area and purchased the lot on which to build. Before building their home in Greenbriar, the Clarksons lived in Shandon in a home with two working bathrooms. For a family of eight, it was often a challenge so they had acquired many elements for their new home’s “wish list.”
By the time they moved into the home in Greenbriar, two of the children were in college, leaving Margaret, three of her siblings and her parents. At more than 4,000 square feet with four bedrooms and four bathrooms, the expansive home was built with the family in mind — one side featuring the kids’ rooms and the other housing the master.
“Mom and Dad built his and her bathrooms in the home, and Mom swears it saved her marriage,” Margaret says with a laugh.
Fast forward more than 40 years and, today, Margaret and her husband, Peter Roney, purchased the home from Sarah in 2015 and live there with M (for Margaret), their 12-year-old daughter. While they have made some updates to the interior of the home, the structure remains the same. And so do the stories.
“Peter agreed that my mother designed it so beautifully that we didn’t heed to change anything, just make a few updates,” says Margaret. “My mom created this house. Some of the happiest times of her life were when she was planning, designing and building the home. There are so many fun stories related to it. My parents loved their neighbors, as do we. They tailgated together, raised children together and drank a lot of whiskey together! We are so happy to continue to make memories in this home.”
Margaret asked her lifelong friend, Katherine Anderson, to help her in making the house her own. “I am so happy to have been a part of that house and family all my life,” shares Katherine. “It was so much fun to work with Margaret and Peter because they were so passionate about the house — they have tons of energy and great taste. We immediately fell into our childhood closeness and included poor Peter in our banter.”
Margaret and Peter’s home evokes history from the outside in. The exterior brick is from a jail in Darlington County that was being demolished at the same time their home was being built. The beautiful, distressed brick was just the look the homeowners wanted. The two ornate fireplaces in the home are Italian antiques. On one occasion, Crawford was interviewed for a series on ETV that featured World War II veterans. The series was shot in front of the imposing marble fireplace in the living room. Several people came up to him after the show aired and instead of talking about the content of the show, asked where the fireplace came from. “My father would say, ‘Don’t you want to hear more about the Pacific?’ No, they wanted to know about the beautiful fireplace,” Margaret says.
All of the rooms in the home are large and open. “My mother said, ‘You can always make a room smaller, but you can’t make it bigger,’” says Margaret. That spaciousness is felt with the first step in the front door, where the eye is led directly to the back of the home. The open foyer is well lit with a beautiful chandelier overhead and features one of the home’s most interesting pieces: a long settee covered in bright green and teal fabric that is actually an old Civil War operating table. When the piece was being re-covered, blood stains still shone through the old fabric. This piece is just one of the many throughout the home that has a story to tell.
Margaret and Peter have lived all over the world, including in England and Singapore. Margaret met Peter, an Englishman, while working in public relations in London, and he hired her to organize a BBC televised professional racing sailing event. Two years later they were married. Throughout their time abroad, they had the opportunity to travel to many wonderful locations and picked up priceless works of art and pieces of furniture. The dancing Shiva by that famous living room fireplace hails from Cambodia. A large intricate piece of sculpture nestled in the corner of the living room is actually one-half of a pulpit from a church in the north of England. A sideboard in the dining room is from Singapore, while a magnificent chest in the living room dates back to the Civil War and even features a hole made by a bayonet. These pieces are what make this house a home, delivering an intimate feel that is special and unique.
That charm and interest is also exuded in the architecture of the home. Three lovely archways separate the living and dining rooms, both of which feature 12-foot ceilings. The rooms extend the vista of the home leading to an open patio off of the back, which adds more natural light to the space. “My favorite place in the house has always been standing in the living room and looking into the dining room through the arches,” says Katherine. “That house has always been a perfect party house, which is what I remember most at Sarah and Crawford’s. Margaret and Peter follow that same tradition.”
Margaret shares that at Christmas, they place the tree in the exact same place as her parents; there is a position between the columns designed especially for it. “It is such a focal point and is visible from many rooms in the house,” she says. “Our only regret is we have to take it down in January.”
Margaret remembers that decorating the tree and unpacking all the ornaments was always a memorable family affair with her parents. Pulling out the ornaments now reveals a beautiful blend of gifts from Margaret and Peter’s friends all over the world as well as her childhood ornaments.
“Mom and Daddy’s ornaments just came with the house and bring lots of funny memories. Each ornament has a different story. One thing that was always consistent — Daddy would get totally frustrated with the whole decorating process and depart. It did not take long for us to find him happily in his beloved study in his favorite chair drinking his favorite wine from Morganellis and watching Bill O’Reilly.”
The dining room leads into the comfortable family room, whose expansive white built-in shelves house many of Margaret and Peter’s favorite reads and treasures. The family room opens directly into the kitchen, which was actually redesigned by Peter. “I suggested they open it up to play off of the arches in the dining room,” says Katherine. Its quartzite counter and sprawling island with ample seating area are a cook’s dream, and yet a little daunting to Margaret. “The kitchen is amazing,” she says. “It’s fancy but also intimidating!”
It’s also the ideal space for entertaining or enjoying a cup of coffee. The kitchen features interesting elements from their travels, including two lights over the island that Margaret found on the back of a truck in Massachusetts at an antique market. The kitchen and living space also feature art work from Vietnam and Cambodia. This home is a testament to the value of keeping one’s eyes open for that diamond in the rough and next perfect find.
While the entire home is special to Margaret, she finds the study to be the most meaningful space. Not only is it her favorite room, it was also her father’s. In fact, in order to go into the study, one had to be invited. “You had to be very cool and very special to be invited to my father’s study. Every now and then, we were all welcomed in. He entertained often and had a lot of fun in that room. We called it the den of sin. You could go in and never come out,” Margaret says with a smile. Crawford was a night owl, was wildly entertaining and could talk all night. Because of all of the memories that it held, the study was the hardest room for Margaret to change.
The modifications they did make to the space brought in their love of boating. The expanded wet bar now features an actual boat deck for the bar’s sleek counter. Boat cleats serve as handles for the cabinets, and they converted authentic portholes off of a ship in Charleston to lights on the backsplash of the countertop. The nautical motif runs throughout the room, without being overdone. Boat-inspired artwork dots the walls, and a fish-patterned chair adds whimsy to the charming room.
French doors lead from the study to the home’s newest addition — a roomy, screened-in porch that features a cozy fireplace, ensuring the outdoor space will be used throughout the seasons. The porch is a wonderful compromise for Margaret and Peter. Margaret is an outdoor person, while Peter would prefer to steer clear of mosquitos; this porch enables them to both enjoy the outdoors in their own way. It also allows Margaret to take in the beauty of the large lot. They are fortunate in that one side of their property is still very wooded. She has planted a garden specifically for birds and butterflies as they are working hard to create a sanctuary for the birds, barn owls and different wildlife that visit the space.
Margaret appreciates the memories that she made growing up in the family home and looks forward to the new memories that she and her family will make. Many of those memories are made at the parties and celebrations that they hold in their home. While she loves hosting parties for family and friends, what’s most special to Margaret is that she was able to keep the home in the family and that Sarah, who now resides in a retirement community, can still come to visit. “It’s so special for my mother to come to the home — her home — and see how the design she created is still there just with a bit of updating,” says Margaret. “We love that my mom designed this house so beautifully, and we want to honor the space by continuing the fun and joy from when they lived in it, but with a slightly different twist.”
It’s that distinctive blend of the old and the new that makes this home so timeless. And all first created by a woman who was well ahead of her time.
“It is a huge responsibility being the keeper of so many fantastic and very fun memories that come from being in this house, while also thoughtfully making changes in the house from the way my parents did things,” says Margaret. “The way the door sounds when it closes, or the way the sliding glass door sounds as I open it can take me back in a flash to a high school memory or a funny conversation with one of my five brothers and sisters. And often out of the corner of my eye, I can see my dad walking toward me, with a glass of wine in his hand and a devilish twinkle in his eye, and somehow I know everything will be alright.”