Charleston's most inspiring homes—and how to create your own

  • Lowcountry Parent April 2013
  • Wade Spees/The Post and Courier Amanda Flynn with Luke, 9, Mac, 6, and Amelia, 3, in their South of the Broad garden.
  • Wade Spees/The Post and Courier The Flynn kids vying for kisses at their mini deck table.
  • Paul Zoeller/The Post and Courier Mom Heather Templeton of Johns Island gives John (left) and Sully a push down their backyard slide.
  • Paul Zoeller/The Post and Courier The Templeton family of Johns Island enjoy their own tree fort.
  • Paul Zoeller/The Post and Courier John Templeton takes a ride on the zip line at his Johns Island home..

For our Home and Garden issue, we searched high and low for the perfect inspiration — families with inviting, stylish interiors and exteriors right here in the Lowcountry. They've managed to reclaim toy-cluttered rooms and take their family spaces from functional to fabulous.

When it comes to interior family spaces, local designer Cortney Bishop says she often sees families take two extremes: Either creating high-style formal rooms where children don't feel welcome, or letting the kids' clutter take over the house and ignoring interior design altogether.

“I think you're doing yourself a disservice if you just continue to say, 'Well, we'll do it one day,' and then you just live in a big hunk of toys and mess,” she said. “It clutters your house and your mind. These are your prime years to spend time with your friends, your family and your children. You should enjoy your home now.”

For her clients, and at her own home on Sullivan's Island, Bishop has created family rooms to be a happy medium as safe, fun places for children to play, without sacrificing style. The first step is to clear the clutter, she said. For her two small children, Bishop uses antique wooden bins throughout her house for toy storage (p. 27.)

“That's my biggest request, as a designer: 'I need storage for the toys,' ” she said.

Bishop suggests baskets as a go-to storage option. They're an easy shopping find and make toy clean up a breeze when company is coming over, she said.

Next, make the room your own with design pieces you love, whether that's antique furniture, framed art or a collection of oyster plates. Upholstered ottomans, stools and soft poofs look chic in a family room while still being safe and functional for kids, she said.

For a quick update, try painting your doors and trim a soft color, like mint green, pale pink or powder blue, Bishop suggests.

Creating a Sophisticated Nursery

When preparing for a new baby, it's easy to fall into the all-blue or all-pink design rut. For a more modern nursery approach, try mixing sophisticated colors and designs with child-like accents.

New mom Jessica Gibadlo took the fresh approach of using a neutral color scheme for her son Grayden's room with splashes of sea foam and gray, her own favorite colors.

“I wanted something that was really elegant yet comfortable,” she said. “I knew we were going to spend a lot of time in here, so I picked things I personally enjoy for the baby room. Now, it's my favorite room in the house.”

Gibadlo incorporated personal touches in child-like fixtures, such as brightly-colored, papier-mâché animal heads from Dwell Studio that she mounted on the wall. Each bust was made from French books, which spoke to Gibadlo's love of French culture, she said.

To control the cost of the nursery, she repurposed pieces of furniture she already owned, including the baby's dresser and a night stand, and found bargains on other essential pieces. Instead of spending thousands on a crib and changing table, Gibadlo focused on more permanent items that her son wouldn't outgrow.

Those pieces included a custom-cut rug for the unusually- shaped room and a statement light fixture, selected by designer Jenny Keenen. Gibadlo's other nursery must-have is a twin bed, used as a couch, staging area and a place to sleep on the baby's restless nights.

She used two upholstered twin headboards as the backdrop for the parallel mattress, with plans to eventually use those headboards on a set of twin beds in her son's childhood room.

Digging out a Secret Garden

Springtime, when all of Charleston is in bloom, is the perfect time to refresh and enjoy outdoor areas. Whether you live South of Broad or in a Mount Pleasant subdivision, a few simple outdoor designs can go a long way in creating your own secret garden.

Downtown residents Amanda and Kevin Flynn have become known for their garden oasis, which is frequently included in historic home tours. When the couple moved into their Lamboll Street home in 2005, the garden and yard was basically just dirt, Kevin said. With a little bit of research, they discovered a 1926 Post & Courier article praising the home's magnificent gardens.

“By the time we bought the home, the yard had just been run down and we decided to bring it back,” Kevin said.

With the help of landscape architect Sheila Wertimer, the couple designed the gardens around their home to be separated into several distinct spaces, including a space for the garage, a pool and a back patio the family is fond of.

“We had Sheila design a series of outdoor rooms basically,” Kevin said. “She likes to do rooms so you can see the distinction between the different areas. One room is more of a utility room, while the formal room is up front and then the little entry foyer. Each one we use a little bit differently.”

The family often hosts outdoor parties in the formal garden and uses the large yard for sports and games with their children, Amelia, 3, Mac, 7, and Luke, 9. The back patio and pool garden are used more casually for outdoor living space in warm weather. The kids enjoy helping out outside, too, Amanda said. They've been known to pick weeds out of flowerbeds and collect ripe lemons off the lemon trees.

“It's nice just to have the ability to go outside anytime we want,” Amanda said. “It's crowded downtown and now we don't always have to go to the park to get outside. I love fragrant flowers — azaleas, magnolias, cherry trees — so in the springtime, it's fabulous.”

Making the Porch Even Prettier

There's something about a welcoming porch that is quintessential Charleston. If you're lucky enough to have one, screened or otherwise, treat it like part of your home by extending your design plans past the front door.

Bishop recommends making an outdoor porch homier by considering it like another room in the house, not an afterthought. Try using similar color accents and styles to tie the porch design in with the interior décor. Potted plants and flowers add life to space while retaining an outdoors feel.

Choosing cushioned furnishings and utilizing outdoor throw pillows makes porches a comfortable place to relax. Bishop suggests families with small children use low-profile furniture, so kids can climb and play without getting hurt.

To eliminate bright glare, Bishop uses bamboo shades for a more relaxed, island vibe and outdoor floor-length drapes for an elegant style.

Bishop said a well-designed porch can be the ideal place for families to spend time together, especially in the warmer months. Her own porch is her family's favorite room, including children Ryder and Lucy Kohl.

“About 6 p.m. every summer night we're out here listening to music, we're singing and dancing, drinking wine — that's kind of the life,” she said. “We're in the backyard every single day of the summer.”

Building the Best Tree House

After moving to Johns Island for some much-needed outdoor space, Heather Templeton and her husband decided what was missing from their large yard was a little whimsy. Their boys, John, 7, and Sully, 3, loved The Swiss Family Robinson tree house on trips to Disney World, which inspired the couple to design one of their own for their yard.

J.R. Kramer, principle at Remark Landscape Architecture, helped the family design their

pirate ship tree house set above their live oaks with remarkable marsh views. To make the two-story structure safe for all ages, the tree house is made up of two towers — one for older children with a fire pole, rock wall and zip line, and one for younger children with rope bridges, a swing set and slide.

Templeton said designing a customized tree house as a family, instead of buying a pre-built play structure, let the kids pick and choose the features they wanted, which was almost as much fun as playing on the finished product.

“It's been a big help to me to have it here,” she said. “I can take them out here and sit in the chair under the tree and they'll play for hours.”

Safety is something you should always think about when designing a tree house, Templeton said. With Kramer's help, they chose to use wood instead of metal for the surfaces and customized trap doors and gates to lock off areas of the tree house unsafe for smaller children. The zip line, which holds up to 300 pounds, requires adult assistance — that is, when the adults aren't busy playing on it themselves.

“When you think, oh we have a zip line—that's a pretty big idea,” Templeton said. “But with the right help and the right research, it's possible. Dream big.”

Katie Hurst is a freelance writer and editor living in West Ashley. Find her at

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