Clear-Cutting and Cultivating

Denise and Keith Hudson create a lakeside gathering place

Robert Clark

Tucked away from sight at the end of a long, winding driveway, Denise and Keith Hudson’s stunning residence comes into view. After more than a decade of dreams and planning, the Hudsons’ Lake Murray home is their “gathering place.”

The Hudsons share an energy when they talk about their new home. In stages, they bought the land that would soon yield scenic lake views from every direction. “Even before we thinned the overgrowth and shrubs, we knew it was a special place,” says Denise. 

Inspired by their travels, the Hudsons wanted a home, horticulture, and hardscape that was understated, European, and that blended in with the environment. As Kaufman Construction began building the house, designed by Catalyst Architects, Denise and Keith interviewed landscape architects. 

Sheila Wertimer of Wertimer + Cline Landscape Architecture in Charleston had the vision, creativity, and enthusiasm to match that of the Hudsons. She walked the property and presented her ideas, large and small. “Sheila shared her vision with us, which was great because we knew what we wanted but we didn’t know plans and materials,” says Keith. The overall goal was to achieve synergy between the home’s architecture and the natural surroundings. 


A Group Effort

Once the architectural landscaping plans were finalized, the Hudsons hired Hay Hill Services to bring the blueprint to life. Familiar and respectful of each other’s work, Hay Hill and Wertimer + Cline worked well together. Catalyst and Kaufman also referred to the landscape plans often in completing the home construction.

They would go back and forth fine-tuning the details, such as which plants would thrive in the clay and heat of Lake Murray rather than the soil in Charleston. So, some of the details changed in the process. “It was great having more people with skin in the game,” says Denise. As she remembers the recent consuming months of her life, Denise uses a word that often eludes large and time-consuming projects such as this: fun. “I can honestly say this was a fun project for everyone,” she says with a smile. 

 David Stack, landscape architect with Hay Hill Services, recalls the challenge of leveling the deep slope of the lot. “We had to bring in all the dirt for the back of the house. We called in a structural engineer. All the walls extend 10 feet underground. The whole terrace is completely built up from scratch.” Despite the mass of the underground walls, the visible portion is understated, interrupted at regular intervals by short, capped columns. Raising the height of the lot achieved the goal of ground floor access to the infinity pool without the need for stairs. 

“The Hudsons did not want hand rails to obstruct the view, so to keep in code we created a series of terraces that were a certain height for safety. Leveling the lot was the genesis of the terraces,” explains David.

This type of attention to detail is evident from the front gate. “Initially, it was a bit tricky to get to the site. But now we feel the entrance flow is easy and elegant, and there is an enhanced sense of arrival,” says Sheila. A person driving down the exposed aggregate driveway catches a relaxing glimpse of the cove, then slightly turns to encounter landscaping, various lake views, and a natural area before squaring up to the house. 

Spaces for parking again turn visitors toward a sweeping view of the lake. Wertimer + Cline succeeded in emphasizing the lovely views from the Hudsons’ peninsula as well as providing ample parking space. “We needed to be able to handle a good number of vehicles, so we designed an entrance parking court that we feel relates well to the architectural style of the house. It also works as a ‘room’ in the greater garden,” says Sheila.

Keith adds, “It is so relaxing and always a new view. When I drive in at night the courtyard is softly lit, and the cove just illuminates with light reflecting off the water.”

The back and side yards may be accessed numerous ways. Interest abounds due to the unique shape and angles of the home, nestled in by a variety of landscape features. Despite the dimensional, multi-leveled, and differently shaped structures, there is a seamless flow of recurring patterns and materials.

Beside the cabana area and back deck, the subtle arc of the infinity pool is repeated in the curves of the arches and the low terraced walls. Catalyst used travertine to create cast stone columns for the house, and the walnut travertine pool deck not only keeps a cool temperature for bare feet, but also repeats the hue for a cohesive feel. Blue slate flooring on the covered porches mimics the changing blues and grays of the pool and lake.  Keith loves these touches. “It seems like everything dives down together over the pool wall.”

The old-world symmetry of the hardscape flanks graciously wide steps. A terraced wall offsets beds of scented lavender, pale pink gaura, white and pink azalea, yew, rosemary, and spheres of manicured boxwood. “The terraced walls are wide enough for sitting, which not only adds interest and flow, but also increases the usability of the site,” says Sheila.

A few more steps lead to the lower landing, then onto the green lawn. However, if one prefers to linger at the level of the beds, a horizontal row of square stepping stones softened by loose gravel awaits.

From the manicured grass lawn, one may choose between different relaxing destinations. Adirondack chairs at the lake’s edge are set toward the ever-changing sunset. They rest on crab orchard fieldstone, a reminder of the material used in the terraced walls. 

Toward the east of the lot, one passes by more natural areas on the way to the dock. Once again, the steep grade of the lot called for some careful planning. Hay Hill recognized that to follow the original plan would result in an awkward step up to the dock that would make it more difficult for people carrying items to the dock. They conferred with Catalyst Architects, Wertimer + Kline, and the Hudsons to make a change. “We redesigned the dock on site by adding a walkway that went directly to the dock, as well as a retaining wall to bring up the elevation to meet the dock,” says David.


More Welcome Surprises

A different set of steps leads up into an enclosed courtyard. The espaliered magnolia thrives on the far wall, and the pale green leaves of two olive trees flank the custom gate. In this space one of the Hudson’s favorite views comes into focus — the Lake Murray Dam and beyond that, the Columbia skyline. 

 “We didn’t even realize such a view was there before the trees were cleared. This is another example of how this property just came to life,” says Keith. In the Hudsons’ opinion, the need to build up the lot led not only to the nestling terraces but also to the unforeseen bonus of the skyline view. 

Even before the finishing touches were completed, the Hudsons threw a Christmas party. “We invited many of the people who worked on this house and yard, and they loved seeing their individual part in the final result. They got to show off their work,” says Denise.

Centered just outside of the outdoor kitchen area is the Hudson’s fire pit stamped with the words, “The Gathering Place Established 2016.” Keith says, “As homeowners, Denise and I call this the Gathering Place. We gather for food, fellowship, and enjoyment of the outdoors.”