Smart fashionistas know that the right accessory — a scarf knotted just so or the perfect necklace — can transform an outfit into something extraordinary. Not surprisingly, the same is true in home decor.
Just ask Designer Linda Burnside, of LGB Interiors, who collaborated with Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ CEO Lou Kennedy to create a collection of design details that completed the Kennedy’s home on Lake Murray. “Lou travels all the time, and wherever she goes, she absorbs and remembers what she sees,” says Linda, a longtime friend who has worked with Lou on several homes. “Sometimes she’ll spot something and buy it right away because she knows it will be perfect for the house. Other times she’ll have a concept for what she wants but no time to seek it out, so we will work together to get it done. It always ends up working.”
Natural stone cabinet pulls prove this theory. Crafted from giant milky hunks of softly glittering selenite crystal, the custom pieces are perfectly imperfect. “I find anything from nature to be soothing and calming, so I want to fill my house with as many natural materials as I can,” Lou says. “I was on a hunt not to have the same doorknobs, hinges, and other hardware as everybody else. Linda found someone in New York to make these. They’re like jewelry.”
Linda gives Lou all the credit for the concept and design of the lighted wet bar top that was crafted from a slab of quartz that Lou came across in Miami when she was choosing materials for the house. “I often create things in my head that no one has thought of or can even really comprehend,” says Lou. “In this case, I saw that slab in Miami and knew I wanted to light it from underneath.” She also wanted the finished bar to glow evenly from within, as if the light source is the translucent stone itself.
To achieve the look, a lighting designer packed thousands of tiny LED bulbs into a high-density plastic box that diffused the light. As a result, it was impossible to tell where one bulb ended and another began. When the boxes were mounted under the stone, it radiated soft light that revealed the quartz’s crystal-like interior pattern. Set atop a deeply colored cabinet, it brings a dash of unexpected drama to the bar. “Luckily, the bulbs have a 50-year life span, so we won’t have to worry about changing them,” says Lou.
A bit of creativity was also required to make the most out of the cavernous fireplace that takes up nearly an entire wall of the home’s formal dining room, a light-filled space filled with French antiques. “The fireplace is huge — you could stand inside it — but we didn’t want it to dominate the room visually,” says Linda.
In the end, Linda and Lou worked with Denise McGaha, a Dallas-based designer known for her line of custom marble mantels. The finished piece is so large that 10 craftsmen were required to carry it in and set it up. Yet it is also understated, with a strong, elegant arched surround, classically carved legs, and marble over mantel that reaches to the ceiling. Topped by a narrow slab of Nero marble and fronted by a black fire screen, the mantel ties in nicely with the black steel window that flanks it. “We worked with Mitchell-Hill in Charleston to create the custom black and gold iron fireplace screen, which takes its cues from the gilded antiques that decorate the room,” says Linda. “It’s a showstopper.”
But not every fabulous detail in the Kennedy home is bespoke. The sleek metal sculpture that decorates a wall in the theater room is actually the side of a historic airplane that Lou discovered in a Paris flea market. “I love the oval windows and the fact that it reminds me of the sky,” says Lou. “It’s a real conversation piece.”
A fixture with blown-glass fish and turtles that lights the back porch provides another example of an item that was purchased, not custom made for the home. “Bill, my husband, saw it while we were on vacation in San Jose del Cabo and said he’d love it on the porch,” says Lou. “I said, ‘Happy birthday,’” and we were done. I think it’s wonderful.” A similar sighting in Italy brought the oval grapevine chandelier to South Carolina, only this time it was Lou who found the hand-made work of art. “The man who made it hid 50 tiny bulbs behind the leaves, so there’s light, but you can’t see the source,” says Lou. “It’s absolutely magical.”
While some accessories can transform a room with their vibrant presence, others add layers of richness. Such is the case with some of the details added more recently to Jack Brantley’s historic Camden home, built in 1810.
Jack, who owns Aberdeen Catery, has spent a lifetime collecting antique porcelain, holiday paraphernalia, ornate rugs, and artwork that fill every nook and cranny of the rambling house. Several years ago, he decided that the high white ceilings were a bit … well, plain. So he called his friend Doug Vinson, who has vast experience in carpentry and decorative details.
“Every room was originally topped with only one piece of 2-inch molding; the doorway casements were plain and the ceilings were unadorned,” says Doug. “I like a lot of molding anyway, but this house really needed it to stand up to its layers and layers of decor.”
Before long, Doug found himself ensconced in a multi-year project that touched nearly every room in the house. One of the most challenging was designing the pattern of gold accent pieces that decorate the ceiling of Jack’s exuberant living room. “The room could take a lot, so we combined elements from ceilings in Versailles and the Louvre,” says Doug. “The company that made them for us also created the pieces used to decorate the walls and ceilings of the set for the movie Titanic. They’re really ornate and beautiful.”
Once Doug and Jack had decided where to place each gilded corner piece, scroll, rosette, wreath, and swag, they had to be attached to the ceiling, a process that involved Doug lying on his back on a scaffold for hours on end — a la Michelangelo — first drawing the pattern onto the ceiling, then carefully placing each element exactly where it should go. “I only had one chance, so it had to be exactly right,” he says. “Once it was attached, it couldn’t be moved without damaging the whole thing.”
He also painted the ceiling medallion in shades of rose, mint, and periwinkle to match the room’s collection of porcelain figurines, an artistic touch that he employed in other rooms, always using colors from the room’s decor. “It took Theresa Giffen (a decorative artist) and me about 80 hours to do all that painting,” says Doug. “Looking at it now, I don’t know how we did it!”
He did not stop with the ceilings. Doug also created and installed custom crown moldings for several of the rooms, working with a close friend’s son, Derek Aycock, as a necessary second set of hands. In some cases, the moldings incorporate five separate pieces of wood; in another, paint was applied and then wiped off yards and yards of wood to create just the right tone and texture.
In the next step, Doug transformed several fireplace mantels from utilitarian necessities into decorative highlights filled with detailed carvings and elegant corbels. At the same time, he re-cased door openings with larger, bolder molding. “Doug is so talented,” says Jack. “It’s such a fun house, and now it’s even more beautiful.”
Veronica Russell, a Columbia-area designer, used a series of understated elements to pull together several rooms for a client in Gregg Park. In the kitchen, for instance, the woven fabric that covers the bar stools echoes the diamond pattern of the stove’s marble backsplash. Instead of ending the marble at the base of the stove’s hood, Veronica chose to run it all the way to the ceiling. “It sounds strange, but this is the kind of detail that you’d only notice if it wasn’t done,” she says. “When something is perfectly finished, it often doesn’t call attention to itself.”
Veronica used shape and texture to unite further the kitchen’s various elements, including arched doorways, a new built-in cupboard, and a beloved family antique corner cupboard. “We started by mimicking the arches within the built-in,” she says. “Then we tied the two cupboards together by using seeded glass in the new piece, which gives it a subtle, Old World look.”
In each of the bedrooms, Veronica used a unique fabric trim on the draperies, bed skirts, and decorative pillows to add both cohesiveness and — thanks to creative application — style. To keep it from looking overly matched, she also mixed metals and textures throughout the space. “You want the room to feel pulled together, but in a collected way,” she says. “It shouldn’t look like everything was done at one time.”
Other details are even more subtle, particularly in the bathrooms, where Veronica added interest by installing neutral tone-on-tone tiles in a herringbone pattern, mounting an unexpected light fixture directly into the mirror, and creating a sense of formality by hanging a shower curtain made with inverted box pleats. “It’s a more tailored look,” says Veronica. “You might not know exactly why, but when you walk into the bathroom, it feels finished. And that’s really the point.”