More people today are finding themselves fortunate enough to be able to have a second home — to break away from the everyday work life and enjoy a little rest and relaxation. After 35 years of marriage, Mary and Billy Keenan built the perfect getaway along the Waccamaw River in Litchfield Plantation.
“My husband’s family used to have a place on the Intracoastal Waterway, and he loves the river,” says Mary. “Building a house here was a great choice for us because we have access to the river and the beach is nearby, although I’m not much of a beach person.”
When the Keenans first started talking about building a second home, they weren’t really sure what they wanted. “I knew what I didn’t want, so I spent a great deal of time on the Internet looking at photos, and it just evolved over time,” she adds.
Mary teamed up with her friend, Ford Bailey of Verve Interiors, to help with the interior design as well as the exterior. “She was there from the beginning with the architect’s design,” Mary notes. “She was able to help with elements to create the right spaces and the flow of the house.”
In viewing the project, Ford reflected on general rules that she’s learned through years of experience. “I feel that it’s important to have a designer early in the process when you’re building or remodeling,” Ford says. “A designer knows how you’re going to walk in and out of rooms and where windows need to be to allow for the most natural light as well as where furnishings will go. You can avoid mistakes in the concept stage by understanding the number of people who will be using the dining room table, making the doors open in the right directions and figuring how the kitchen will work.”
Mary and Billy brought the plans to Ford as soon as they had them. They wanted to make sure the footprint was right, so they tweaked and tailored the plan to their goals and preferences.
Mary was fortunate to have a builder in whom she had complete confidence. “It’s hard when you’re building from long distance,” she says, “but Lee Lanford of Lanford Construction was exceptional. When you walk into the house, you can tell that it’s extremely well built. He was fastidious about every detail.”
Mary made sure to capitalize on her chance to build a house that was very different from their home in Columbia, which was built many years ago. The layout is very different from what she envisioned for their river house as it has multiple smaller rooms, plus they wanted large open spaces for the new house.
Mary explains that because they weren’t sure exactly what they wanted, they drove around and looked at houses. “I knew we were never going to do this again, so I came up with every image I could to help inspire ideas,” says Mary. She and Ford spent a good bit of time perusing the website houzz.com.
Ford even admits that she wasn’t familiar with Houzz previously. “Mary was the first of my clients to introduce me to the site, and it is a great resource for someone who is looking for ideas.”
The end result was an open floor plan with a large kitchen, dining and living space that offers a spacious feel with wonderful views of the river. The main house also has three spacious bedrooms.
To ensure that space, Ford looked over the initial architectural drawings and recommended that they relocate two additional bedrooms, intended for the main house, to the separate garage. “We were able to open up the main house by putting two smaller bedrooms with a suite and bathroom over the garage to create a guesthouse,” says Mary.
The kitchen features a 13-foot long island with plenty of seating to accommodate visiting family and friends as well as additional counter space. The cabinetry, finished in a light gray shade, provides clean lines for a modern feel.
Each of the bedrooms is large enough to accommodate two beds, with the exception of the upstairs bedroom, which provides a king bed. “We wanted to make sure we had enough space for guests staying over,” Mary adds.
The master bedroom was also large enough to have what Mary refers to as “grandparent chairs,” knowing she wanted enough space for two armchairs, even before they became grandparents. A second den upstairs provides a getaway space inside the getaway home. “My husband loves to watch television — everything from sports to movies. It’s his time away from being an executive with Keenan Energy and his downtime. So we made sure there was a spot for a television in every room, except the bathrooms,” she says with a laugh.
Mary admits her main objective was for a natural feel throughout the house … and many of the furnishings and artwork help accomplish that goal. She and friends spent many hours combing through antique shops around the Southeast, including Camden, Atlanta and even New Orleans.
The interior is extremely bright with plenty of natural light and modern décor. “We chose whitewashed shiplap for the walls in the downstairs area and up the stairway but opted not to put that in the bedrooms,” Mary recalls. She took the idea for whitewashing from a photo that she found during her many searches for just the right look for the house.
The dining table is handmade from old cypress wood pulled from the swamp. For their entryway, Mary found a George III mahogany sideboard from the late 18th century that features large side drawers called “bottle drawers,” where alcohol was often kept. She also found an inlaid walnut drop-leaf table from the 19th century with a star and “SC 1791” carved into it.
“Before we even had plans,” Mary says, “I was at the art market in Atlanta with a friend. We came across two sets of doors. One was an Egyptian antique door and the other was Chinese. Not having any idea where we were going to put them, I bought them anyway, and we later found the perfect place to put them in the house.”
Ford and Mary even designed the fireplace to accommodate the tall cannonball andirons that she found at an antique store in Camden, S.C. But don’t think the house is filled with just antiquities. “I like a mix of old and new,” says Mary. “It makes the house much more interesting. So while I have some things that are old, I also have items that I found at Ikea. In our house in Columbia, we have a lot of inherited things, and it’s taken years to put together. When we did the install for the new house, there was never a spot where we said, ‘We need something here.’ It was such a rare opportunity that it all came together.”
Mary likes visual stimulation and admits she had so many choices for resources. “I made decisions like using the same wastebasket in every room rather than picking a different one for each room,” she says with a smile.
To help achieve that natural feeling, most of the fabrics used throughout the house are natural fibers. “We used a good deal of leather, cotton and linen,” says Ford.
Art is a significant part of their lives, and Mary put great effort into finding the right pieces for their river house. “The art here is very different than the art in our Columbia home. It has a very different feel,” she says. “I didn’t buy things thinking: ‘This will go here and this will go there.’ I bought things that I really loved, and somehow, it all came together. It’s the little things that make it look better.”
Mary also tried to use mostly South Carolina artists in the river house as she is passionate about being as supportive as possible for local artists. One of her favorite pieces is her “Angel” carving by Jan Swanson which she saw at a show. A friend later gave it to her as a housewarming gift. Mary even recently brought the piece back to Columbia temporarily to use at her new grandson’s christening.
Another wonderful feature of the house is the screened back porch. Large enough for a comfortably sized sitting area and an eight-person wicker dining table, Mary wanted to make sure she had enough room for larger groups. The back porch offers great views of the river and wildlife. “We see alligators all the time,” she says, “and the beautiful sunsets over the river are spectacular. What a special place the coast of South Carolina is. I know why people come here from far and wide.”
Ford agrees that the house is one of comfort and relaxation. “The house truly speaks for itself,” she says. “Mary has good art and kept the house itself quiet. The house is really about the view and should always be in the background. It’s the people in it that provide the color and the personality.”
While Mary regrets that she and Billy don’t get to devote nearly as much time as they would like to at their river house, she is grateful for the time she spends with their family and friends. “Both of our sons work with Billy at the business, and it’s nice to be able to enjoy each other as a family in a different environment away from work,” she says.
“The one thing that I know without a doubt … there is not one spot anywhere in this house that I wish I had done differently. Considering that I didn’t really know what I wanted when we started, this house completely met my expectations.”
All flowers and styling by Denice Degenhart of Denice Degenhart Design.