Lying at the end of a 750-foot-long winding drive created from handlaid cobblestone pavers and shaded by crepe myrtles, the type of entrance that hints of magnificence to come, sits one of the most stunning homes in the Midlands.
Cathy and Kenyon Wells raised their children, Kendall and J. Kenyon, in Lexington. Once their children were grown, Kenyon brought up the idea of living on Lake Murray. “I told him I didn’t want to be at the end of a dirt road or somewhere with no neighbors around,” Cathy says. With these parameters in mind, Kenyon began his search. He found an island owned by the late Floyd D. Spence, South Carolina’s former U.S. congressman, and Debbie Spence, his wife. The island had more than 900 feet of shoreline while adjoining an upscale lake neighborhood. Once the breach was filled in to make the island accessible, it became the perfect setting for the Wellses’ new home.
With this property, Cathy and Kenyon knew they wanted a house plan with wide wraparound porches to capitalize on the spectacular views. After perusing the internet, they found their ideal home, renovated by a South Carolinian, in Louisiana. Houmas House, originally a modest dwelling, was transformed into its current splendor by South Carolina’s Gen. Wade Hampton, III, who purchased the former sugar cane plantation in 1810. He completed construction in 1840. Today, Houmas House Mansion and Gardens is a popular Louisiana tourist attraction between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Cathy and Kenyon loved the Houmas House for its old Southern style and requisite wide, wraparound porches. Cathy and her mother, Dot Smoak, secured the plans for Houmas House and set about redesigning the interior to suit Cathy and Kenyon’s needs. While Cathy was trained as a speech therapist, she has interior design in her blood. Her father was Jim Smoak, an interior decorator whose furniture store, Smoak’s Furniture, was located on Devine Street. With the amazing, detailed help of architect J. Timothy Hance and interior designer Karen Pulliam Menge of Pulliam Morris, their dream became a reality. “Cathy and Kenyon are so generous about sharing their home with others,” Karen says, “so the focus was always to have a warm, inviting environment that is user friendly.”
At the end of the beautiful long driveway, the Wellses’ three-story home comes immediately into view. A circular drive leads to twin curving staircases and the second-floor main entrance. The home is flanked on all four sides by 28 Corinthian columns joined together by black wrought iron railing that Cathy helped design. “I wanted the railings to be beautiful but also designed so that neither children nor dogs could fall through,” she says. This was a must for many reasons, not the least of which were Cathy and Kenyon’s five grandchildren — Rosaleigh and Cashion Wells, and Caroline, Sarah, and Lilly Pickens. The railings also protect the Wellses’ two Shih Tzus, Sophie and Steffi.
Natural light enters the home through multiple Palladian French doors reaching nearly to the 14-foot ceilings in every room on both floors. A wide entrance hall sits just inside the door, where a round table holds an urn full of giant dandelion puff flowers. To the right is the formal living room with the same creamy walls present throughout the home, a fireplace topped by a gilt framed mirror, and two-toned gold and white vases. A pair of wing chairs flank the fireplace opposite a sofa and twin armchairs, all anchored by a coffee table. It is an area cheerfully lit for visiting or listening to someone play the baby grand piano at the end of the room.
Opposite the living room is the formal dining room. The long table sits under a black brass and crystal chandelier, while the left wall hosts a large china cabinet. On the right, a bright abstract painting lights up the room above an inlaid mahogany sideboard. Matching chests topped with tall mirrors frame the double doorway at the end of the dining room.
Back in the foyer, one can look through the arched-ceilinged hallway to the living area of the home. A stroll to the kitchen takes you past a powder room on the right with gold damask wallpaper and an ornate gold mirror. Opposite is an unobtrusive staircase. “Eighteenth century homes had spiral staircases in the front hall, but they took up so much space,” says Cathy. “We wanted to make better use of our floor plan.”
A large kitchen with floor-to-ceiling cream cabinetry fills the space on two sides. On the left as you enter are double ovens and the large cooktop backed by a flowered tile mosaic. “Everyone refuses to let me replace it with something more modern,” Cathy says of the floral mosaic. It is a wise choice, since the mosaic fits the character of the house so well. To the left past the mosaic is the doorway leading to the dining room. A large butler pantry is on the right across from Cathy’s tidy office on the left. Her office displays photographs and artwork reflecting her love of horses. The love must be hereditary, as an old photograph of Andrew Laurie Smoak, her great-grandfather, with his own horse, hangs just outside Cathy’s office.
Across from the kitchen cooktop are dual islands. The first disguises the sink area from the rest of the room. The second is an eat-in bar topped with a single, long slab of Italian marble. To the left against the wall is the high chair Cathy used as a child. “We like to use it now that we have little ones,” she says. A breakfast room table with room for 10 spans the remainder of this side of the kitchen area. Other than a few spots of wall space for some of the Wellses’ colorful and beautiful artwork, the kitchen table buffet, and the mahogany secretary, most of the kitchen and family room walls consist of the same double Palladian French glass doors found in the living and dining rooms. The beautiful lake views can be enjoyed from every angle. To grab a breath of fresh air, you need only turn the nearest doorknob.
The family room is a collection of comfortable seating gathered around the fireplace and flanked by bookshelves. In addition to books, the shelves hold photographs, baskets, vases, and other art objects. It is here that Kenyon’s tech abilities become obvious. “Everything in the home can be operated from our phones or tablets,” he says. This includes managing lights, setting alarms, playing music, and raising the painting above the fireplace to reveal a hidden television.
The same is true in Cathy and Kenyon’s bedroom just down the hall. Above the fireplace hangs a two-way mirror that allows them to watch television. The spacious room is centered by a king-sized four-poster bed but still manages to be a cozy space. Matching club chairs and an ottoman in front of the fireplace invite morning coffee and conversation. Cheerful floor-to-ceiling flowered drapes repeating the same fabric as the chairs and bed skirt frame the doors.
Here, too, the outdoors beckons from two sides of the room where more glass doors lend views to the lake beyond. On the far side of the bed, the doorway leads to Cathy and Kenyon’s airy bathroom featuring a walk-in shower and a large tub below a painting of cheerful sunflowers. Against the wall is the couple’s morning bar, where they can brew a cup of coffee or have a cold drink of water before going out into the rest of the home to greet any guests they may have staying with them.
Outside the bedroom doors, Cathy’s favorite morning space awaits on the porch. Comfortable seating allows her to have quiet time and enjoy the rising of the sun. “With 8,000 square feet of porch space between this level and downstairs, we can enjoy the view no matter the time of day,” says Kenyon. “If it’s hot on one side, we just move to the other. We almost always have a breeze, and it’s very nice out here.” The Ipe, Brazilian walnut, wood-floored porches are scattered with numerous seating areas for relaxing, reading, visiting, and for dining.
Cathy agrees, saying, “Everyone loves to be on the porches.”
On the main level, it is easy to appreciate the beauty of the home’s Corinthian columns up close. “The 28 columns surrounding the house were manufactured in Georgia,” says Kenyon. Humans are not the only ones who enjoy the columns, however.
Cathy and Kenyon use creativity to ward off birds who would make nests on them. “Once I put fake snakes up on the columns,” says Kenyon. “We had a group of ladies from our church having lunch on the porch one day. It was breezy and a wind gust blew one of the snakes off the column and onto the table.” He and Cathy laugh at the memory. “The ladies were wildly upset until they realized the snake wasn’t real,” he says.
The Wellses’ home is perfect for entertaining. It was the setting for both their children’s weddings; Kendall to James Pickens and J. Kenyon to Melanie Cashion. They also host church-related events, such as a small group Bible study that meets at their house every Wednesday evening. Cathy and Kenyon have welcomed groups from Young Life and Reformed University Fellowship, with whom their large pool and jacuzzi is very popular. The pool has a 14-foot-deep diving area and a shallower end for pool volleyball. Cathy and Kenyon recall hosting a group of more than 180 kids two years ago. “I counted 65 of them in the pool, 15 lined up for the diving board, and 12 in the jacuzzi,” Kenyon says.
The couple’s generosity is born from their certainty that everything they have comes from and belongs to God. “God has blessed us far more than we deserve,” says Kenyon.
On the bottom level of the home are three full bedrooms and baths. Both Wells children, even though they were grown when the house was built, were allowed to help design their bedrooms. Kendall, an interior designer, chose cream and blue for her queen-sized rice bed. Her bathroom has a feminine gold-framed mirror nestled between sconces above her bathroom countertop. Gold and blue wallpaper lines the walls to the ceiling, and an elegant garden bathtub is built into the far end. J. Kenyon’s room sports a mahogany sleigh bed with a navy bedspread and windows flanked with blue toile drapes depicting hunting scenes. “He was happy that he got to live here before he got married,” says Cathy.
The most remarkable part of this floor is the self-contained apartment suite that the Wellses offer to friends and friends of friends who need a place to live for a while. Complete with its own kitchen, bathroom, living area, laundry room, private entrance, and private parking, the space has hosted a number of people with temporary emergency needs. Young families between homes and several single mothers recommended to the Wellses by the late Kathryn O’Connor of Daybreak Lifecare Center have benefitted from their gracious hospitality.
“We don’t accept money for their stay,” says Cathy. “We only ask that they work and save their money so when they are able to leave, they have some money with which to support themselves.” Both Cathy and Kenyon want to use what God has given them to bless others.
A staircase or elevator ride leads to the third floor of the house where Kenyon’s office is. Up here are a pair of bedrooms with twin trundle beds in each. “We need the extra beds when all the grandchildren are here,” says Cathy. This floor also boasts a dream playroom complete with a large dollhouse, mini-gym equipment, toy ride-on horses that actually move, and loads of toys and books. Out in the hallway is the home’s last surprise: a spiral staircase leading up to the cupola. A 360-degree view all around the home offers three sides of water looking out over the lake. A group of cafe tables invites visitors to sit with a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset.
Cathy and Kenyon point out various landmarks, such as the new backup dam, Spence Island, and Bomb Island, where the purple martins put on a show every evening from the end of June to mid-August. The Wellses can also view the Fourth of July fireworks from the comfort of their porch. In a bald cypress tree out in the water, a pair of young osprey has built a precarious nest. Kenyon points out where the Spence family once grew corn on the right side of the island before the lake was created. He points again out to the left where the Saluda River flows into the lake. Scattered around the pool are various trees the Wellses planted, including sizable live oaks from Florida.
Here, looking out over the pool and the lake beyond, conversation flows from the many charities the Wellses support, including embattled missionaries in Ukraine, to deeper subjects like personal grief. Cathy and Kenyon lost J. Kenyon to a heart attack in early December 2020 at age 40. The Wellses’ grief is assuaged by the knowledge that he was a dedicated believer in Christ. Kenyon points out to a tree in the water beside the osprey’s nest. “We planted that bald cypress out there for J. Kenyon because he loved to duck hunt there with his beloved Labrador retriever, Lucy, when the water was down in winter.” J. Kenyon’s funeral service was held in the backyard of his home on the Saluda in Powdersville. “Flowers were offered to those in attendance to toss into the Saluda River after the service,” Kenyon says. His finger points out to the left again. “And the Saluda River flows right by here.”
At the end of a winding drive in Lexington, magnificence awaits in the form of Cathy and Kenyon’s home. It could simply be a showplace, somewhere to have parties and enjoy cool breezes on a wide porch. It is those things. It is also so much more. It is a home for those who need a home. It is a place where the laughter of children and young people rings and where family is celebrated. It is a place where lost loved ones are grieved, as well a place where thanks is given for eternal life. It is a place where Cathy and Kenyon live in appreciation for what God has given them and where they share it with others.