Kay Burner knows what she wants. After the death of David, her husband, 10 years ago, Kay sold their house on the Isle of Palms and moved to the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of I’On and mostly traveled for the next five years. Eventually her travels wound down, and she noticed how crowded Mt. Pleasant had become. “There were 60 people moving down there every day. It was impossible to get anywhere,” says Kay. When contemplating a move from Mt. Pleasant to Columbia, where one of her daughters lives, she decided she wanted to live on Forest Lake. All the homes she found, however, were built in an older style with lower ceilings than she wanted, and many had water damage from 2015’s devastating flood. Building her home from scratch was the obvious decision. So, Kay found a lot on Lakeshore Drive, across the water from Forest Lake Club, and got busy.
“My kids thought I was crazy,” says Kay. “They said, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ But I knew exactly what I wanted. It was nice to be able to build anything I wanted.”
Life experiences gave Kay the knowledge she used to create her new home. Kay’s long careers in interior design and hotel construction taught her plenty about how construction works. She also learned from her late husband. He was a tall Native American. After he turned completely grey at aged 30, he earned the nickname Big Grey. David once walked into a weekend home that Kay had purchased on the Isle of Palms. It had 8-foot ceilings that did not accommodate David’s 6-foot-5-inch frame. “He said, ‘I hope you don’t like this house because I’m not living here,’” says Kay. “To him, it was claustrophobic.” She sold the home after owning it only three months. The couple bought a larger house on the island, eventually making it their permanent home.
Kay appreciates tall ceilings and lots of glass, which marries well with her admiration for Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally from Wisconsin, Kay had early exposure to the famous architect’s work. He designed and built many homes and buildings in Wisconsin, around the country, and around the world. His avant-garde style, with its emphasis on the incorporation of natural elements, openness to nature, and creative engineering, appeals to Kay. It makes sense that she would seek to design a home inspired by Wright’s designs. She envisioned a modern dwelling, with stone and glass walls, tall ceilings, and a design that blended the inside with the natural world outdoors.
To say the least, a house like this is unusual among the more traditional homes that line Forest Lake; however, Kay was not deterred. The fact that the neighborhood has no architectural review board meant she could build the home she wanted without being influenced by the homes around her. Kay drew up a list of must-haves and submitted it to Heather Stallworth, AIA, a principal of Catalyst Architects in Lexington.
“Kay did a really good job of compiling inspirational photos and detailed notes of what she wanted,” says Heather. “She had a clear vision and articulated it very well. Because of that, it came together very quickly.” Heather appreciates Kay’s love of art and creativity. “Kay wanted to build a house that was a piece of art. We designed it during COVID. It was such a source of joy and hope to be working on this cool project with a great client in such dark times.”
Heather introduced Kay to Phillip Kaufman of Kaufman Construction. “He said, ‘I’d love to build this house. I’ve built the same kind of house over and over. I’ve never done modern, and I want to,’” says Kay.
Phillip is a third-generation builder whose father and grandfather were gifted in building cabinetry and woodworking and taught their skills to Phillip. “I really liked that it was something different you wouldn’t normally see in Columbia or in that neighborhood,” he says. Kay, Heather, and Phillip joined with Evon Kirkland-McAngus, owner, founder, and interior designer with Westend Interiors in West Columbia, and Gene Rothrock of Waccamaw Landscaping in Pawley’s Island to form a collegial, balanced team.
“Everyone was on the same page,” says Heather. Phillip agrees, calling the collaboration excellent and enjoyable.
Kay knew that the house needed to be built from the lake to the street. “I told Phillip he had to start with the boat dock, then build the pool, and then build the house,” says Kay. “He would never be able to get around the house to build the pool and the dock if we didn’t build backward, so that’s what we did. The house wasn’t so much built as it was engineered.” Learning from the lessons of the flood, the team built up the elevation of the lot. Drainage from the street runs under the house and into the lake.
Now Kay’s dream home is complete. It was a triumph, not just for Kay, but also for Heather, Evon, Phillip, and Gene. “I think to me the biggest, most rewarding aspect is seeing how much joy it brings Kay and how she wants to share it with everyone,” says Heather. “I feel like we really succeeded in capturing her vision.”
For Phillip, the challenge was to build with stone, wood, and glass, making the whole look seamless. The flat roof was also unique. “It all goes back to Kay,” he says. “It’s her story and her house. She was dedicated to the house and to the process. She never wavered. Kay is probably as enjoyable a client as any with whom I’ve worked.” Kay’s vision and the team’s hard work earned Heather a merit award from the Columbia chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The home also won the Columbia AIA’s People’s Choice award.
Walking up to Kay’s front door, you can see straight through to the lake. The facade is a mix of stone veneer, glass, and cream stucco. The garage is hidden in plain sight, just to the right of the driveway, with a glassed hallway connecting it to the rest of the house. Inside the front door, Kay’s combination living room, dining room, and kitchen are an entertainer’s dream. “I have parties here all the time,” Kay says. “It’s a great house for entertaining, and I love it.” Perched directly across from the front door on bleached walnut floors is a gleaming black grand piano. “Frank Lloyd Wright always had a piano inside his homes,” says Kay. “People play it when they’re here, and it also plays itself.”
At the right end of the room is a large white kitchen with warm brass hardware. At each end of Kay’s professional-grade cooking range is a single cabinet stretching from floor to ceiling. One is a freezer, while the other is the refrigerator. On the right end past the refrigerator is a food preparation area that houses an ice maker and Kay’s double ovens. A wide welcoming island separates the business side of the kitchen from the rest of the space.
Behind the kitchen area, glass doors fold away, opening onto a spacious porch overlooking the pool and the lake. A round table seats six across from a large gas grill. Past the dining area is a comfortable seating area complete with fireplace and large screened television. When she wants to pull the heat of this fireplace into the rest of the house, Kay pushes a button and a plastic screen rolls down to seal off the room from the outdoors. “The entire house is a smart home,” she says. Both the kitchen and the porch have lower ceilings covered in white oak.
To the right of the kitchen, a hallway leads past a large custom-built bar to the garage. If you take a left turn, another entrance to the house opens to the backyard. “The dogs love to play in the pool,” says Kay of Cleopatra the Great and Jax, her friendly Labradoodles. “I can bring them in this way and they don’t get water all over the house.” Opposite this entrance is the large combination laundry room and dog showering area. Cleverly, the dog shower is built up higher so no backs need be strained while washing a canine. A wide cabinet topped with white countertops is backed by playful glass bubble tile and topped with floating shelves. Back in the living area, a long walnut dining table custom built by Phillip seats eight.
The far end of the room, past the piano, is a large seating area opposite another fireplace and television. To either side, shelves hold treasures from Kay and David’s travels. Here and throughout the house are Kay and David’s favorite objects, like elephants and lions. All of the artwork is original, including portraits of the couple’s dogs who have crossed the rainbow bridge. The entire living area looks out over the pool. Past the pool is a flagpole bearing a large American flag that Kay erected in David’s memory.
“He was very patriotic,” says Kay. “I’ve had people ask if he was a general, but he just loved his country. I think at first the neighbors thought I was crazy, but then a few other flagpoles have popped up now. It’s nice.” The yard slopes down to the lake, which is fenced. “I had to fence the yard so the dogs wouldn’t be in the lake all the time, or they would be,” Kay says. The house commands amazing views of the lake from nearly every room.
Past the living area to the left side of the house is a floating staircase leading to the second floor. Underneath the staircase is the home of a François-Xavier Lalanne sheep, which is sure to spark conversation. Reaching this end of the house, the master bedroom is to the right. Besides a beautiful view of the lake, the room features a stunning four-poster Venetian glass bed. “I told the movers they could break anything else, but they couldn’t break this bed,” says Kay with a laugh.
A wide bench at the foot of the bed is what she calls Cleopatra and Jax’s launching pad. The bed is one of their favorite places in the house. Kay’s master bath is walled with marble and more sleek cabinetry. Her soaking tub appears to be floating above the floor thanks to crafty engineering. Behind it is a walk-in shower and beyond that her master closet. Opposite Kay’s room is her office. It is a cheerful room with comfortable seating, books, and a beautiful view of her manicured front lawn.
The stairs or the elevator take you to the second floor. “When we were building, some people guessed the place was going to be a bank since the elevator shaft looks like a vault,” says Kay. “Others thought it was going to be an extension of Forest Lake Club because the architectural styles are similar.” Upstairs are two more large bedrooms, including one that looks out over the lake and, like the master bedroom below it, has a terrace with clear glassed walls to keep occupants safe while affording an unobstructed view.
A long gallery looks over the living area downstairs and provides another stunning vista of the lake. Here again, glass keeps you safe while giving the illusion that nothing separates you from the rest of the house below or the natural world outside. “People love to come up here when I have parties,” says Kay. At the top of the staircase is another conversation piece, not just for anyone visiting the house, but also for those passing by on the road or out on the lake. It is an artsy white light fixture made from sailcloth that can be shaped. With the touch of a remote, Kay can turn it from one color to another.
“People ask me to turn it different colors for special occasions like when they have babies, and I do. It’s fun.” Another conversation piece best viewed from the second floor is the glass mural that hangs on the wall on the right end, just above the dining table. Created by Tom Lockart at One Eared Cow Glass, the mural represents Kay and David’s life journey. Made of many different pieces, the left end of the mural has blue wavy shapes representing the water Kay and David lived near for so long. In the water are five fish representing their five daughters. As your eye moves to the right, the blue pieces end and fall-colored leaves begin, representing Kay’s season of life. Among the leaves is a branch on which a grey bird named Little Grey is perched, representing David.
“In building and decorating this house, I did so in hopes that if David’s spirit is here, he would like it,” says Kay. Given the many touches that evoke his memory, he surely must.