Intellectually, parents know that some day their children will leave home. Still, when that day arrives and the last child heads off to college, the empty nest that’s left behind can feel like a bit of a surprise.
For Donna and Jimmy Williams, the house emptied a bit sooner than they’d planned when their youngest son decided to finish his high school education at a Virginia boarding school. “All of a sudden, we were empty nesters,” says Donna. “It made me realize that it might be time to consider moving. Jimmy and I had always talked about having a view of water, and we realized that a one-level home was an appealing thought.”
With a bit more time to invest than she’d had for the past 20 years or so, Donna started looking around, but she was quickly discouraged. “We saw a lot of great houses, but none of them had all the elements we wanted,” she explains. One day, though, she got a call from her real estate agent. “She told me she had found a house that we might be interested in and that we needed to get over there right away. When we walked through those gorgeous front doors and saw the view of the lake and pool, we knew we loved it.”
The next morning, Donna and Jimmy got up early and returned to the house, where they strolled around the misty grounds, coffee in hand, and thought about what it would be like to take that same stroll every morning. They could see that the house would need a lot of work — fig ivy covered much of the brickwork, the view from the pool was screened by too many trees, entertaining space would need to be expanded — but that the structure was good. That night, she and Jimmy discussed the house again and decided that as much as they loved their current home, a lake view and no stairs to climb were just too good to pass up.
Now came the fun part: creating the lakeside retreat that the Williamses envisioned.
With three children of their own and a large and close extended family in Columbia — the Williams family owns the Lizard’s Thicket restaurants — Donna and Jimmy’s first objective was to ensure that the house had enough space to host family gatherings that often exceed 50 guests. Not only would this require a complete renovation of the kitchen, but also the transformation of an adjoining porch into a flexible living and dining space. They wanted to add lots of casual sitting areas with fireplaces and renovate the bathrooms and laundry room. Although some of the rooms just needed fresh coats of paint and new fittings and furnishings, others required more serious work, particularly the kitchen and back porch, which needed to be completely gutted. Working with architect C. Jeff Stroud, the couple soon had a plan that met their needs. “Even though this house is about 1,000 square feet smaller than our last house, the layout actually provides better space for entertaining,” says Jimmy. “It’s worked out very well.”
Dennis Kendrick of The Kendrick Company, Inc. and Steven Ford of Steven Ford Interiors were charged with carrying out the Williamses’ plans. Since Donna and Jimmy lived in the house during the extensive process, the two juggled the timing, adding details to rooms that were close to being finished while others were still in disarray. Remarkably, the inside work was finished in about four months. “Waking up to the sound of jackhammers at 7 a.m. will test anyone,” says Dennis. “Donna and Jimmy never complained and were great to work with.”
With its clean lines, mixes of man-made and organic materials and glass walls looking out onto the natural landscape, the Williamses’ home is typical of the modernist design that was popular during the post-World War II era. A line of Italian cypress trees behind the pool and a breezy veranda linking indoor and outdoor spaces give the home a glamorous Rat Pack-in-Palm Springs vibe.
For Steven Ford, such strong elements gave him a head start on the design blueprint. “The house makes such a statement that I wanted to keep that feel, but make it more current,” he says. The house was filled with enduring surfaces, including glossy parquet floors, marble tiles in the foyer and, on the foyer walls, waxed Venetian plaster in a pretty robin’s egg blue. “Those walls are unique and beautiful and ended up being a springboard for the colors in the rest of the house,” says Steven. “They were too gorgeous to change.”
As striking as those foyer walls are, though, most visitors won’t notice them until it’s time to leave, thanks to the drop-dead gorgeous view that streams in through a sliding glass door directly across from the entrance hall. In fact, the entire back of the house overlooks the pool and the lake, providing a dramatic backdrop to the home’s glamorous furnishings. In the living room, Steven channeled the luxe feel of old Hollywood, using shiny, curvy chrome, sumptuous fabrics and dark wood, all set against ice-blue walls. Silk draperies in a deeper shade of gray-blue soften the lines of the glass door without blocking the view. “We only bought new furniture for this room, because it’s so special,” says Donna. “The pieces from our previous home, including the drapes and the rugs, worked perfectly.” Beyond a coat of paint, the living room wasn’t renovated.
That can’t be said for the kitchen, which encompasses three separate but integrated rooms — a den-like space, an eating area that was once a porch and the actual kitchen. Originally small and dark, today the entire area is an artful mix of textures and surfaces that connects visually to the rest of the house. To differentiate between the trio of connected spaces, Steven worked with Palmetto Tile to create “rugs” of tile. “The floors look like wood and marble, in different patterns, but they’re actually all tile,” Steven explains. “It’s a great way to add interest to a room.”
To encourage friends to gather on the soft leather chairs in the sitting area, Jimmy had a fireplace constructed in the room. “It looks like it’s always been there because we used almost the same brick that’s found in the rest of the house,” he says. “That was important to us.”
If it’s a small party, or just the family, the group can sit around the oversized island, which is topped by a slab of granite that Jimmy had specially cut to encourage conversation. “No matter where you sit, you’re part of the group,” he says. Deep gray cabinetry is a neutral foil for a dramatic backsplash in a mixed linear pattern of metallic, glass and stone tiles. “I found the cabinet color in a magazine and worked closely with Steven Hinson of Hinson Cabinet Company to come up with a functional design,” says Donna. “The 10-foot cabinets are floor to ceiling and have a dramatic feel that go with other elements of the house, like the beamed ceiling over the living and eating areas.”
The guest powder room is equally artful, with wide, hand-painted horizontal stripes in metallic gold, a mirror-framed-mirror, wall-mounted faucet and free-standing granite sink. “I kept changing my mind about this small space,” says Donna, “but with inspiration from artist Georgia Lake, we were able to bring together a beautiful room.”
The work wasn’t limited to the home’s interior. In addition to an outdoor room with a fireplace, which gives the family another excuse to be outside, Donna and Jimmy created a series of patios, courtyards and pocket gardens that envelope the house in beauty. “The rooms that looked over the lake were easy,” says Donna. “Our goal was to give every room something pretty to look at.”
Working with Mark Schimmoeller of Southern Vistas, Donna and Jimmy did just that, creating a shady courtyard for the guest rooms along one side of the house, as well as a motor court surrounded by a garden that combines elements of the desert, like agave and sedum, with native plants, like palms, abelia and river birch. To link the front with the back, Mark also added a few Italian cypress trees. “Donna has a great eye for landscaping. We put our heads together and came up with a great plan,” says Mark. “It’s low maintenance but appropriate to the architecture and interesting all year round.” To set off the plants, Mark and Donna used mixed sizes of river rocks to fill the beds. Tiles salvaged from the original driveway form a geometric pattern that guides visitors along a walkway to the front door. It’s dramatic but understated.
Donna loves the exotic feel of the yard, particularly in the back, where she first fell in love with the house. “I was sitting in the back yard and took a picture of the cypress trees over the pool and sent it to my sister,” she says. “She called back immediately and wanted to know where I was. When I told her I was in my back yard, she couldn’t believe it.”