Cathy and Cal Watson grew up in small towns in opposite corners of South Carolina. In each of their rural communities, Thanksgiving Day was a highlight of the year, complete with large family gatherings, abundant food, and gracious hospitality. Today that tradition continues as the Watson family gathers at Cathy and Cal’s home in Columbia, where they host family who now live across the country. And this Thanksgiving, like all others before it, features a familiar dessert, one they cherish and recognize as the true tradition of their family: Aunt Lucile’s Carolina pound cake.
Born in rural Orangeburg County in 1898, Lucile Tatum was a longtime home demonstration agent in North Carolina. “Aunt Lucile was an incredible cook and well known for her Carolina pound cake,” says Cal. “She made hundreds of pound cakes for her family and friends, and it was always served at our family reunions, birthdays, and holidays. It brings back so many childhood memories.”
On Thanksgiving Day, the Watson family gathers again in Cathy and Cal’s kitchen. They watch as Cathy puts the final touches on the Carolina pound cake before heading to the beautifully set table, accented with golds and greens and piled high with dinner and desserts for all.
“Thanksgiving is a time that we can all get together,” says Cal as he looks over the spread before him. “We have so much to be thankful for.” And one added blessing this year is an updated kitchen and living area where the Watsons will enjoy the holidays for years to come.
Cathy and Cal built their home 22 years ago after outgrowing their previous one. They modeled their house after older homes in the area, cherishing the higher ceilings, simpler lines, and larger rooms of more traditional homes. “We both really wanted the ‘older home’ feel and love the charm and uniqueness that comes with older homes,” Cathy says. “We kept this in mind when we built the house and during this renovation.”
The Watsons’ renovation journey began with Cal’s suggestion that they replace a small television in the den with a larger one. “It was the classic case of ‘one thing leads to another,’” says Cal with a laugh. “But I’m so happy with how things turned out.” Cal’s initial request ended with an impressive new den, kitchen, and breakfast area.
The Watsons’ friend, designer Linda Burnside, was tasked with redesigning a new kitchen, den, and breakfast area. Understanding the Watsons’ love for older homes, Linda reimagined the spaces to maintain the flow with the rest of the house, while giving it a polished, up-to-date look.
“Linda has an incredible talent and is so much fun to work with,” Cathy says. “I love her ability to look at our taste and lifestyle and make suggestions that are just perfect for us.”
“She has this almost supernatural ability to look at a room and see its potential,” says Cal. “I’m a person who needs a picture, so I was constantly in awe as Linda visualized our spaces and described what they could be.”
Sticking with Cathy and Cal’s style, Linda worked to incorporate earthy and natural tones so that the remodeled areas still flowed with the energy of the rest of the house. “It was important for them to maintain the same feelings of comfort, tradition, and warmth when redoing their kitchen, den, and breakfast area,” says Linda, “so we started with a rug that had tones and colors they really liked and worked our way out from there!”
The hints of olive, rust, and copper all help lead the eye to the spectacular kitchen island that was painted by Charles Stevens in a wonderful sage green, mirrored in the hood over the stove. As the recipient of many of the sweet treats Cathy likes to bake, Linda wanted the main focal point of the kitchen to be the GE Monogram oven and stove area.
“The new space had to tell their story, and it’s impossible to do that without a strong focal point in the heart of the house: the kitchen,” says Linda. “Kitchens are always fun to design since they reflect and represent the homeowners. For Cathy and Cal, this wasn’t going to be your everyday white kitchen — they wanted earthy, warm tones, so it was exciting to be able to help them find the perfect colors to match their style.”
“Cal was really hands-on,” Linda continues, as she explains how he referred to himself as her “intern.” “Cal would walk through the space with me, asking questions and giving suggestions on how he wanted the space to feel. It really helped guide the project.”
Linda and the Watsons both love the light fixtures over the island. The Visual Comfort pendant lights share similar colors and hues with the honed quartz countertops and copper backsplash behind the stovetop. “These pendants are a perfect blend with soft tones and riveted edges, bringing in a modern twist with the copper and pendant look,” says Linda. And they perfectly match the existing copper light fixture, which had been hanging in the kitchen window for the past 22 years.
Linda chose ceramic floors to ground the space by giving it an earthy organic feel that still complements the tones of the rest of the house, especially the pine mantel in the den. “I didn’t want to simply plop a new kitchen in their house. I wanted it to be a part of their home, not separate from it,” says Linda.
This seamless blend of old and new can be found throughout the remodel as the Watsons use pieces of their family’s past homes in their own. Not unlike the pound cake recipe that has been passed down from Aunt Lucile, many generational pieces are incorporated throughout the Watsons’ home. Cathy’s grandmother’s bread bowl, an original tintype of Cal’s great-great-grandfather, and a multitude of family pictures are seamlessly tucked in the decor. A hutch hand built by Cathy’s great-grandparents graces another corner of the den.
“Linda also found space for a step stool from my Aunt Will’s house in the den,” says Cathy. “Aunt Will lived to be 102 years old in a house that her parents — my great-grandparents — built themselves. Her house was a mile from the nearest paved road in a wooded part of Laurens County, so a visit with Aunt Will was always an adventure!”
The Watsons’ love of antiques and old homes is also apparent in their kitchen design, including the spice drawer handles made from repurposed porch spindles. “We just love reusing old items from older homes,” Cathy says, “and Linda found a way to integrate these leftover porch spindles into the new kitchen.”
A piece of large exterior dentil molding salvaged from a historic house serves a new role as coat and purse rack in the laundry room. The newel posts incorporated in the Watsons’ staircase had a previous life as outdoor newel posts from a house built in the 1800s. The antique architectural elements are contrasted by art pieces collected from several local artists, including Irene Dumas Tyson, George Stone, Christi Arnett, Susan Lentz, Laurie Brownell McIntosh, and Judy Bolton Jarrett. “These artists are also our friends, which makes their work even more meaningful and special to us,” says Cathy.
Looking into the den, the eyes are immediately drawn to the mantel as well as the new entertainment center, painted the same color as the island in the kitchen. The freshly wallpapered walls make the space seem like a comfortable sibling to the kitchen. However, the mantelpiece is the highlight for the Watsons.
“When we first decided to build a house, we fell in love with a Southern Living dream house and even ordered the blueprints,” Cal says. “Although we didn’t end up building that house, we loved the look of the mantel so we incorporated it into our house.” That mantel and surrounding pine paneling, an original piece of their first “dream house,” now blends harmoniously with their true dream home, a nod to their passion for traditional style. Today, a painting by New York artist Shane Townley is displayed prominently on the pine paneling above the mantel.
The new kitchen, den, and breakfast area allow for the maximum number of people to enjoy the space while all being together, positioned in such a way to match the natural flow of the house. “Even the breakfast table fits our lifestyle,” Cathy says, noting that she grew up with four siblings and Cal grew up with five. “Linda helped us find the perfect round table so our families could all gather together.”
The breakfast area extends onto the porch, where Cathy and Cal enjoy their morning coffee and breakfast each day. “I told Linda about our morning routine, and she immediately went to work making sure the porch and breakfast area were linked.”
This year, Cathy and Cal are beyond excited to prepare Thanksgiving dinner in their new kitchen and serve it in their new breakfast area, and they look forward to entertaining many guests in their revamped den. While traditions may change, homes are remodeled, and children grow up, family — and one delicious pound cake recipe — will remain a constant at the Watsons’ house as everyone prepares to gather around the table for another Thanksgiving meal.