There are some aspects of tradition to which Margaret and Jimmy Carter adhere in a Southern home: formal living and dining rooms, French doors and porches. Yet, Margaret’s professional interior design spirit is also evident in a particular flair when it comes to decorating her home. Even though the couple was comfortable and content in the 4,400-square-foot Lowcountry cottage home in Heathwood that they built in 1999, a vacant lot just a block away spurred their creative juices.
Eleven years ago, they were leaving for a trip with their young daughters and noticed a for-sale-by-owner sign on a corner lot tucked near a cul-de-sac. Even though they had no intention of building and moving, it was one of those “pause” moments for Margaret and Jimmy. While they were out of town, they began drawing the shape of the lot, a rectangle, and filling in ideas for rooms.
Margaret explains that the housing market was strong, and a quality home in the upscale Heathwood neighborhood established at the turn of the 20th century was almost certain to retain its value or increase in value. They decided to go for it and hired the same builder of their first Heathwood home, Bob LaMotte.
They put their home up for sale and by the same evening, they had a buyer who, after moving from the Heathwood neighborhood and living in a nearby area for three months, was desperate to return. The buyers offered to rent the Carters their home while building commenced. “It worked out perfectly,” says Margaret. “We essentially switched homes for a while.”
While living in the rental home, the couple settled into an 11-month union with Bob that they both agreed was a positive arrangement the second time around. “He’s so nice to work with because he allows clients to pick out what they want, but he also offers wonderful suggestions. His work is 100 percent custom and quality,” she points out. “From the start, Jimmy and I were intentional about wanting the style of the house to fit architecturally into the neighborhood. We did our homework on finding the right brick, for example, going to Charleston and taking close-up photos of mortar joints so we could recreate it on this house. We tried to carefully think through every detail.”
The Carters took their ideas and drawings of the interior to a draftsman and settled on a Charleston single-house style — with three porches. To fit well onto the lot, the square footage was bumped up to 6,600. There are five bedrooms with private bathrooms, two half baths, a guest room, exercise room, den and playroom. Each room has plenty of storage and closet space, including a spacious mud room entryway from the driveway with a window seat and cabinet for housing the wine cooler.
The family’s main living area involves three open rooms: family room, breakfast area and kitchen. “We pretty much live in this part of the house,” says Margaret. A lover of French doors, she made sure that there were two sets of them in the living room; they open onto a wide covered porch that flows onto a landscaped woodsy-bordered backyard. There are also two sets of French doors that open onto the second-floor porch from their master suite.
The ceilings throughout the house are high, the moldings substantial, and the doors solid. A mix of textures is evident in natural, waxed and distressed woods, plush carpeting, exposed brick, smooth subway tiles, mosaic and marble surfaces and crafted area rugs.
Margaret, who operates Margaret Carter Interiors out of the home, considered the new space as a palette to achieve a look that has come to define both her wardrobe and her décor. “I love neutrals, organic, natural and varying textures and funky focal points.”
The home carries over much of the breezy eclectic feel from their old home, but they also added new pieces. First of all, Margaret had to consider scale. With the current home’s more voluminous rooms, she especially needed some larger accessories to fill them in. She likes to find architectural elements to serve as utilitarian items — an old wallpaper design roller became a beautiful living room lamp, as did salvaged banisters. Sections of columns are door stops, candles or tray holders. A section of an iron gate was fashioned into a buffet for the formal dining room. Statuary is equipped with glass and serves as side tables.
Margaret’s fabric of choice is Belgium linen; it adorns most upholstery pieces. She dressed up two of her grandmother’s old chairs with a fringe fabric, and on the breakfast room seating is a Sunbrella fabric for easy clean up. Most chairs and sofas throughout the house are covered in slipcovers — some loose and some fitted.
The dining room table, which is the focal point when entering through the front door, is round with six slipcovered chairs surrounding it. Above it hangs a novel chandelier made of individually molded resin, tea-leaf beads. Lighting throughout was carefully chosen for both practicality and accessorization.
A contrast color to variations of cream and white is a dark taupe on all of the doors.
A Home – Not a Showplace
For all of the ambiance that Margaret exhibits in the home that she envisioned and helped bring to fruition with Jimmy, the space is also entirely livable and inviting. “I especially love pretty things, but I want to be able to live with those pretty things.”
Seating is meant to be sat in, not just on. As they are big on entertaining, the Carter home is often buzzing with both small and large parties, as well as overnight family and friend guests. Margaret’s mother, Judy, a resident of Santee, is a frequent visitor, and the couple hopes for the activity of grandchildren one day.
Upstairs on the wide landing is an extensive bookcase. “We all love books!” she expresses. Family photos line the stairway to the basement. Downstairs is a pool table, one of their girl’s Barbie houses and plenty of room to stretch out. A niche under the stairwell serves as a “hidey hole.” “From the time our girls were young,” Margaret explains, “we allowed them and young friends and family to write on the entryway and inside on the walls.” A variety of messages in a rainbow of marker colors decorates the exterior and interior of this small space.
Margaret says she spends most of her time at home with the windows and doors open wide to let in fresh air. Her at-home retreat — besides the porches — is her infinity tub. “I crank open the windows above it and light some candles.” she smiles.
Looking back on their second building experience, they maintain no regret regarding their decision to build a new home in an established historic neighborhood. However, like with any substantial project, lessons are learned that benefit others.
A heartbreak was the loss of two giant oak trees on the property. The couple took great strides to protect the oaks, even instructing Bob to build boxes around the root system area. “The root system stretched the width of the canopy of the trees,” she says. Despite their best efforts, plumbers inadvertently cut through the root system, devastating two of the trees. But, two others survived.
As an interior designer equipped to work alongside clients, Margaret has experienced her share of horror stories. She says that making sure there is teamwork between homeowners and the builder is key. “There needs to be daily communication about every aspect.”
Also, Margaret and Jimmy expected problems. “If you think you’re going to be 100 percent satisfied, that’s unrealistic,” Margaret says. “We knew we could get close but it’s impossible for there not to be issues. You have to live in the solutions when building a house, not in the problems.”
Both also agree that it is important not to get the “whatevers” during the building process. It is easy to succumb, but persevering and seeing every aspect through to completion results in a greater overall satisfaction. “If you get into that ‘whatever’ mode and you just pick things or okay things because you are tired or frustrated, you are going to regret it later when you have to live with it. It’s better to cry once when it’s happening instead of twice, or multiple times, later,” she quips.
Both say that even though they were impatient for their new home to be completed so they could move in, they waited until it was punch-list ready so that the details could be finalized and fixed, if necessary, before they went about the business of moving in and making their new house a home.
Finally, the Carters maintain that their daily communication and teamwork made the project worthy of pleasant memories. Margaret and Jimmy are thrilled that the enthusiasm they felt when they first saw the Heathwood lot for sale resulted in a dwelling of which both they and their neighborhood can be proud.