Kelli and Rodney Rhinehart both grew up in small South Carolina towns; Kelli in Wagener, and Rodney in Blackville. Both benefited from a country upbringing where the South Fork of the Edisto River, fields, and woods were their playground and kids grew up mucking stalls, feeding goats and chickens, and learning all the lessons that nature provides. Kelli and Rodney met in 1985 and married in 1987. They were blessed in 1993 by the birth of Gabrielle, whom they call Gabbie; in 1996 by son Hamilton; and in 2000 by Elise, who goes by Ellie.
In 1999, before Ellie’s arrival, the Rhineharts were living on Saluda Avenue in Columbia when a scary moment changed the direction of their lives. “One day, Rodney was playing ball in the front yard with Hamilton,” says Kelli. “The ball rolled into the street, and Hamilton ran after it.”
It was the kind of moment that makes any parent gasp and their heart race. For the Rhineharts, it was that and more. They realized they wanted to raise their children in an environment like the one where they grew up. “We wanted them to have lots of room to run and play, while still being safe,” Kelli says. They also wanted their children to have the opportunity to learn the lessons they did from nature.
The land hunt was on. Finding a large plot of land reasonably close to the city, where Rodney practices as a cardiologist, was no easy feat. However, Kelli’s uncle, Cecil Sturkie who had lived in Columbia for many years, knew that Judge Robert and Sarah Burnside had 25 acres for sale in East Columbia. “The property wasn’t pretty,” says Kelli.
Part of the shrubby woods had been clear cut, and other parts were low-lying and prone to flooding. There was also the issue of five adjoining acres where someone could build close to them one day. Luckily, the owners of that property were willing to sell, giving the Rhineharts 30 acres bounded on three sides by creeks. The clear-cut section provided an ideal home site. Still, flooding was an issue; a severe drop off from the homesite to the rest of the property resulted in frequently damp land. The Rhineharts decided to embrace the water-rich feature of their property and formed a pond in the lowest lying area.
“It’s a natural pond; we’ve never had to put water in it,” says Kelli. In another stroke of good fortune, a neighborhood was being built nearby, and the developer needed somewhere for all the extra fill dirt to go. “He told us that if we’d let him dump the dirt in our yard,” Kelli says, “he’d bring in equipment to grade it. It was a win-win.” The icing on the cake was when Ronnie Cook, Kelli’s father, offered to bring grass from the farm where Kelli grew up to seed the yard. Knowing that the grass came from the same fields where she ran and played as a child is meaningful to her.
When planning their new home, the Rhineharts turned to one of Columbia’s premier builders, Warren Propst. Warren listened to what the Rhineharts wanted and made it a reality. “Warren was so particular about everything,” Kelli says. “Even when things looked fine to us, Warren would fix them if he didn’t think they were right.” While the house was being built, the Rhineharts would ride over from Saluda Avenue in the afternoons to see what the builders had done that day. One day they saw brick columns in the back of the house to support the future porch, but the next afternoon they were gone.
“Rodney called Warren to ask what happened to the columns,” Kelli says. “Warren told him that they weren’t right, so he took them down. He wouldn’t settle for less than perfect.” Warren also helped when Kelli could not decide what front door she wanted. “He said, ‘I know you will want a double door one day. We’ll build it so we can add a double door later. We’ll put in a stock door for now.’”
Sure enough, Warren was right. The house now has beautiful windowpane double doors. Warren also helped Kelli source the only item on which she went over budget: antique heart pine floors purchased in Cameron, South Carolina. “They are such great quality — they’ve never been redone,” she says.
The Rhinehart property entrance is marked with a new iron gate by Palmetto Outdoors, one of a few improvements made to celebrate Gabbie’s recent wedding on June 11 to Nolan Villani, an orthopedic surgery resident. “Before now, the only gate was a cow gate from my parents’ farm,” says Kelli with a laugh.
When Gabbie asked to have her wedding reception at home, the Rhineharts decided it was time to invest in a proper gate. The drive winds past 20-year-old live oaks the family planted. Just over a hill, the home comes into view in dramatic fashion. A wide porch spans the full width of the house, with 12-foot ceilings and swaying porch swings in keeping with the home’s rural setting. This is where Kelli and Rodney spend peaceful afternoons. “It’s always cool, and there’s always a breeze,” Kelli says of her front porch.
Through the glass front doors, a staircase soars to the second floor. The deep foyer is exactly the welcoming space Kelli wanted, spacious enough for a bowfront chest to the right, topped by a tall gilt-framed mirror, and a bench to the left, sporting cheerful patterned pillows. Opposite the bench is the wide-cased opening to the Rhineharts’ dining room.
The inlaid table with seating for at least eight, which belonged to Rodney’s mother, Peggy Rhinehart, is topped by a flower-filled Roseville dogwood vase given to Kelli by her mother, Sybil Cook. Behind the table, the china cabinet also holds pieces of Roseville pottery. On the opposite side of the foyer is Rodney’s paneled study. A light woven carpet offsets the wooden bookshelf and walls, as does a cream sofa over which hangs charcoal portraits of each Rhinehart child. Charming paintings of the children hang on the other walls as well, including one depicting the three fishing with Rodney’s father, Roy Rhinehart.
Through the study door is a discreet powder room lined in gold flowered wallpaper. An oversized dark and ornately framed mirror centers on the wall to accentuate the space of the room. Across the hall is the master bedroom. Cream leopard print carpet and a king sized four poster bed anchor the space. Muted blues, golds, and white form the color palette for the bedding, seating, and drapes. Beyond the bed is a comfortable seating area backed by windows looking out over the backyard. The room has its own private door to the back porch, as well as a large en suite bathroom.
Down the hall from the master bedroom is the Rhineharts’ cheerful living room. A large dark apricot and gold rug laced with cream, blue, and green forms the color palette for the home. Kelli credits Darby Schroder, her interior designer, for the cohesiveness of the color scheme throughout the house. “I’ve worked with Darby for years,” says Kelli. “I like to do things a little at a time, and she is patient with me. She also likes to take things I already have and mix them up to make it look new.” Darby selected complementary floral throw pillows for the pair of cream sofas as well as solid pale robin’s egg pillows to pull out the blue in the carpet.
Coincidentally, the blue is nearly the same as Gabbie’s bridesmaids’ dresses. A gold framed, glass topped coffee table centers the seating space, which is finished with a pair of animal print armchairs. Above the brick lined fireplace is a portrait of Gabbie, Hamilton, and Ellie along with Sammee, the horse the children took care of when they were younger. More Roseville pottery dots the bookshelves to each side of the fireplace.
Beside the living room is the Rhineharts’ warm kitchen. Here, too, wood is featured on the floor and cabinets. On one wall, glass front cabinets display Kelli’s extensive collection of Watt apple pottery. More of the pottery tops the cabinets around the room. It is a special collection because Kelli’s mother, Sybil, bought every piece as she searched out many antique stores throughout Aiken County during the ’90s. This was no easy task because the pottery is old and availability is limited because the factory was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. For these reasons, Kelli loves the collection. The family’s kitchen table, with its Lazy Susan center, is the same one they have used since moving into the house. “I’ve thought about replacing it,” says Kelli, “but there are so many memories of the children sitting around that table with us.”
Adjacent to the kitchen is the hearth room. “This is the room where we live,” says Kelli. Here, more cream seating with blue, gold, and apricot accents pairs nicely with the brick fireplace and the black iron coffee table. Kelli buys her furniture from Strobler and from antique sales. “I like to shop local, and I don’t care if things match,” she says.
From the hearth room or the living room is access to the Rhineharts’ large screened back porch. Here, they can relax on a comfortable sofa and look out over the pool, the pond, and the barn in the distance. It is also apparent here that what appears to be a two-story home from the front of the house is actually a three-story home. With children’s bedrooms upstairs, another set of stairs leads down to the basement level.
“Rodney had the foresight that we might need a zero-entry level for family members at times, and we have,” says Kelli. Downstairs is another living room with a large sectional sofa that is a perfect game or media room. The door leads out to a covered patio framed on one side by a big bush of Knock Out roses and connects to the swimming pool beyond. Opposite the living room are two closets, one for girls’ toys and the other for boys. One of the closets hides another of Warren’s secrets: room for an elevator.
As with the front door, Warren created a plan in the event the Rhineharts decide never to downsize. With an elevator, they can stay in their home as long as they like. Past the living room, a small kitchen sits to the left and a large bedroom to the right, complete with a king-sized bed and access to the patio.
It was Gabbie’s wedding planner, Meagan Warren, who suggested that Gabbie and her bridesmaids dress for the wedding at the Rhineharts’ home. “Meagan knew that during the reception Gabbie would be too busy really to see everything,” Kelli says. “By dressing at the house, Gabbie was able to watch everything come to life.” Gabbie and her friends could dip a toe in the pool while it was being set up for cocktail hour and watched as the big reception tent went up behind the pool fence. Or if they possibly grew tired of the view, they could play the Rhineharts’ Pac-Man game, take a spin on the Peloton bike, or lounge comfortably on the large sofa.
The joyful memories of wedding plans coming to life on the morning of Gabbie’s wedding join so many family memories. They remember when Sammee trotted around the field behind the pool and the many mornings the children rose early to take care of her. They remember bottle feeding Tucker the cow or caring for Jimmy the goat. They gaze over the fields and remember cutting grass, playing baseball or softball on the Rhineharts’ own “Field of Dreams,” or they think of cleaning stalls in the barn.
Their in-town country home allowed the Rhineharts to give their children humbling chores and powerful lessons. They may ponder whether Rodney’s career influenced Gabbie’s, since she is an internal medicine resident. Also, they may consider how caring for animals and the land influenced Hamilton, a Citadel graduate, to follow Kelli’s dad, Ronnie, to choose farming as his career path. Perhaps the perfect design of their home and the stories of how their land developed influenced Ellie, a rising senior at Clemson, to pursue a degree in architecture. It is all perfectly plausible.
On June 11, while Gabbie and her friends dressed for the wedding, Myrtle, the family’s Chesapeake Bay retriever, patrolled the outdoors and scared away pesky squirrels. Bo, Ellie’s Maltese, provided cuddles to any wedding party member in need of stress relief. And, after the wedding, guests arrived to celebrate the happy couple at the Rhineharts’ beautiful in-town country home.