Getting married and having children, watching them grow and then go out on their own, empty nesting … all of these are familiar phases of life. For Lisa and Bryan Kay, these phases can be traced through their Columbia homes.
After meeting at Clemson University where Lisa and Bryan both majored in business, the two fell in love and were then married two weeks after graduation in 1989. When Bryan’s sales job required him to cover the entire state, it made sense for the Clemson and Honea Path natives to locate centrally in Columbia. They found their first home on Monroe Street. With its close proximity to shops and restaurants in Five Points and its idyllic, oak-lined streets, Shandon was the perfect place to spend the first years of marriage and, eventually, welcome their sons, Jordan and Matthew.
The Monroe Street home quickly became too small for their family of four. So, within the year after Matthew’s birth, the Kays moved to a new home on Abelia Road in Heathwood. There, Lisa and Bryan watched the boys grow up and built wonderful memories along the way, both as a family and with their treasured neighbors. As it tends to do for everyone, time flew for the Kays. Before they knew it, Jordan graduated from high school and Matthew was a high school senior.
“We felt like we aged out of Abelia,” Lisa says. Leaving was a hard decision as so many happy memories were tied to the home where their boys grew up. However, two things made the decision easier.
First, a lovely young couple, Eveleigh and Rocky Hughey, was excited about making memories of their own in the Kays’ home on Abelia Road. “Knowing the Hughey family was so excited to raise their family in that house was icing on the cake,” says Lisa. Second, the Kays found their ideal “empty nest” home on Portobello Road near Lake Katherine. “The street had a lot of empty nesters,” she says. “And the home just felt right.”
The Kays’ ideal empty nester’s home was built by Dottie Lafitte in 1979 on Portobello Road. Connie and Stan Smith lived in the house until the Kays purchased it in 2010. “We really had the freedom to come in and do whatever we wanted,” says Lisa. “It was a blank slate, so to speak.” Robert Lafitte, Dottie’s son, assisted the Kays with their renovations. They removed the yellow Masonite siding and replaced it with bright white siding that makes the black shutters pop.
Lisa, who prefers things to be symmetrical, replaced the single, solid front door with two. “The front of the house gets a lot of sun,” she says. “Having solid doors really keeps the heat down inside.” Turning their attention to the interior of the home, the Kays noticed that every doorway downstairs was 6 feet 8 inches tall. In order to accentuate the 10-foot tall ceilings, they replaced the doors and case openings with 8-foot tall ones. The result is an open and airy interior. Renovation continued with the transformation of a full bath off the front hallway into a half bath. Then, the Kays added a full bath to the downstairs bedroom that they use as a guest room. Also, they pushed out the back of the house to create a small den and double the size of the kitchen.
Structural changes complete, Lisa turned her attention to decor. Entering the house at the front door, visitors feel the sense of calm created by the floor to ceiling creamy white walls. A bow-front chest anchors the right side of the foyer, across from the staircase. It is accented with an oversized wooden bead rosary and backed by a piece of the Kays’ beautiful art collection. The front, formal rooms in the house are framed with dentil molding and more formal pieces of art. To the left of the foyer is the living room featuring white tailored furniture and gold accented coffee and end tables set on opposite ends of identical sofas that face each other. A beautiful marsh scene painting by Cami Hutchinson above the fireplace is the focal point of the room. On either side, built-in bookcases were removed to host matching console tables, mirrors, and white lamps. The blues in the painting are echoed by blue pillows and a pompom trimmed throw.
Across the foyer from the living room is the dining room. Eight white chairs surround the mahogany dining table, which is topped with a free form gold bowl under a crystal chandelier. On the left wall is a portrait of Jordan as a boy, painted by Kirkland Smith. The right wall features a dreamy abstract painting in blues, pinks, and whites.
Walking past the dining room sideboard on the back wall, one enters the Kays’ large, beautiful kitchen. On the left side is a wet bar, with white cabinets topped by white quartz, a Calacatta marble subway tile backsplash, and glass front cabinets that display the Kays’ glassware. Gold toned hardware shines against white cabinetry that reaches to the ceiling. In the center of the wet bar, above the television, are three playful Thrace Shirley ceramic angels representing each Kay gentleman. Beyond the wet bar is a window framed nook containing the family’s kitchen table. It is lit by a dark beaded chandelier. “We are an eat-as-a-family family,” says Lisa.
Opposite the wet bar and kitchen table is the Kays’ massive storage-filled island lit by two large, white cone-shaped light fixtures with gold interior trim. Behind the island is the stove and cooktop flanked by more cabinetry that conceals appliances and the like. To the left of the island is the sink area where Lisa and Bryan can look through the four windows to the backyard. On the opposite wall from the sink is more storage and another prep area. It is a dream kitchen for Lisa, who loves to cook.
Down the hall from the kitchen is a powder room. It is covered in white, gold, and blue horizontally striped wallpaper. Framed gold leaf paintings by Anne Herlong accent the walls. Past the powder room is the guest room decorated with tan and white wooden furniture, blue and white linens, and a beachy radial mirror. White marble basket weave floors, a Carrara marble countertop under a gold mirror, and a step-in shower finish the guest bathroom. The entire guest suite features more of the Kays’ extensive and colorful art collection.
On the opposite side of the house is a large den with more comfortable furniture in hues of linen and soft blue set on a tan sisal rug. The space extends into what the Kays call their “little den,” a room awash with sunshine on the back of the house. In the bigger den, wooden chests and end tables add warmth throughout, while the square marble coffee table anchors the seating area. Just across from the sofa is one of Lisa’s favorite features: the fireplace. Originally natural brick like the one in the living room, the Kays painted this fireplace the same creamy white as the walls and painted the interior black. The fireplace houses a linear gas insert. When lit, the flames reflect in the black paint and provide a decidedly modern vibe. “I love it,” says Lisa. “I light it every day of the year.” Mornings find her there, in front of the fire, accompanied by the Kays’ two friendly Parson Russell terriers, Tilly and Daisy.
The view from the kitchen door looks out into the yard where an enormous magnolia tree stands in a circle of ivy on one side. In the center of the yard is a round fire pit surrounded by Adirondack chairs. To the left of the back door, past the playful metal pig planter, is the home’s newest addition: the large covered porch. Added by Lucas Bunch in 2015, the porch features a white brick, wood-burning fireplace and tan slip-covered seating, accented by bright blue ottomans, blue lamps, orange and blue throw pillows, and large blue glass lanterns on the fireplace hearth. The porch also boasts a dining table as well as a large flat-screen television. Floor to ceiling curtains block the sun as needed. Avid Clemson fans, Lisa and Bryan watch games out there with their friends. The porch is also the setting of “Dinner and Drama,” when the Kays serve their friends dinner and the women then watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. “We love to entertain,” says Lisa.
For her beautiful decor, Lisa credits Eveleigh. The inheritor of the Kays’ house on Abelia Road became Lisa’s go-to mentor for all decor decisions in their Portobello Road home. Eveleigh, daughter of the late well-known gardening writer Orene Horton, is an interior designer with Brandon Davidson Interiors. “She is my kindred spirit,” says Lisa of Eveleigh. “I don’t think she knows how much she means to me.” Before Lisa makes any decision, such as when she is shopping for the art she frequently finds on Etsy, she consults Eveleigh. “This house feels more like a home now than ever,” Lisa says, “and it’s because Eveleigh listened to us and really tapped into how we wanted to live in the house.”
For the Kays, living in the house on Portobello Road is not just about the house itself. It is about their neighbors as well, especially the littlest ones. Since they do not have any grandchildren yet, Lisa and Bryan enjoy the company of the approximately 20 children who live on the street. “The pandemic has brought back that old neighborhood feeling, with kids playing in the yards,” says Lisa. She and Bryan are particularly fond of twins Jane and Henry Bunch, who live next door, and Nelle and Monroe Spires, who live across the street. “We love having them around,” Lisa says. Once afraid of dogs, Jane and Henry are now fond of Tilly and Daisy. “They’ll knock on the door and ask if Daisy can play,” says Lisa. Daisy has been to the Bunches’ home for nap time, to watch movies, and even to spend the night.
All of the children know about the special secret hidden in the Kays’ kitchen island: the refrigerator drawer filled with frozen treats. The kids know they can come by and help themselves. It is not just a favorite hiding spot for the little ones; the big kids like it, too. Bryan favors banana pops. Jordan, who lives nearby with Amelia, his wife, enjoys plundering the drawer as well. “Jordan will pop in to say hello sometimes, and he usually hits the ice cream drawer while he’s here,” says Lisa with a laugh. The drawer is a frozen treat lover’s dream. In addition to banana pops, it contains delicious surprises like ice-cream sandwiches, Fudgsicles, Popsicles, and mochi, to name just a few.
The Kays’ home is a special one, both inside and out. Lisa and Bryan are building new memories in this phase of their life with fellow empty nesters and with their little neighbors as well. Lisa and Bryan think of their three Columbia homes as integral parts of their life lived in Columbia. As newlyweds, parents, and empty nesters, all of their homes hold special memories. They are happy to be spending this phase on Portobello Road. “It is a neat street, very special,” says Lisa. “It was a nice place to land, and we’re very fortunate.”