A Pair of Southern Charmers Turn Back the Clock On Their Midcentury Home
A trip to yesteryear.
By Suzanne Davis
August 11, 2021
Tasked with bringing life (and charm!)—back to a 70-year-old Charleston house for a pair of childhood friends, designer Elly Poston Cooper dug into her bag of magic decorating tricks to transform it into a vibrant and colorful family home that feels fresh yet oh-so-timeless.
Anyone who has ever sashayed past the sherbet-hued 18th-century facades of Rainbow Row knows that Charleston, S.C., has no shortage of eye candy. But when designer Elly Poston Cooper was hired to reinvent this Georgian-style Charleston property, it was more of a Sour Patch Kid: not everyone’s cuppa.
After an ancient live oak toppled in a storm and devastated the structure’s roofline, the former owners put the 2,400-square-foot place through what Poston Cooper calls “a really unfortunate flip,” imbuing the premises with every noxious design trend: a chevron backsplash in the kitchen, overly white-on-white interiors, and open-plan living situation that felt antithetical to the architectural style.
Old columns repurposed from the porch of a centuries-old nearby property were turned into pedestals for a pair of urns, and make the space feel more 17th century than 21st. Because the couple use their formal dining room often, but didn’t want it to feel stuffy, “we let the valances be the wild card,” designer Elly Poston Cooper says. “Yet they’re still very formal and Southern and grand.” The walls are papered in Brighton Pavilion by Miles Redd for Schumacher.Laurey W. Glenn
What a difference new owners make. Poston Cooper’s friends from her Charleston childhood, Jordan Kruse and his husband James Hewlette, purchased the property, then enlisted her to set things right. “The guys really just wanted it to feel more like a 1920s Georgian and not like the 1950s box that it was,” the Richmond, Virginia-based designer says. “We worked on adding back some of that charm, repurposing the rooms for it to be more entertaining-focused and family-focused.”
“They love backgammon and play all the time, so it was nice to have a game table,” says Poston Cooper of this kitchen-side perch, which doubles as extra seating at parties. The chairs are upholstered in Wave Velvet by Miles Redd for Schumacher.Laurey W. Glenn
To start, Birmingham, Alabama, residential designer James B. Laughlin set about bringing the home back to its architectural roots, enlarging the windows for a statelier effect and adding functioning shutters (all the better to block summer squalls) and a pea gravel drive that adds ye olde crunch underfoot. Because the new homeowners had no use for a mudroom, they lowered the existing space’s ceiling—which helped it feel built in, say, 1700, and gave it a homier vibe that would be the perfect spot for a cocktail bar with all the trimmings.
They kept the original bluestone floors in the former mud room, which are “very durable for a bar,” but injected it with plenty of glamour, thanks to a 19th century Italian mirror, Galbraith & Paul wallpaper lining on the shelf backs, and lacquered green walls. “This room does get dark, which is fun—it’s so moody at night,” she says.Laurey W. Glenn
A happy accident by their contractor transformed the custom mixed trim in a semi gloss into a gleaming high-gloss. “It makes everything pop and be a little more crisp,” Poston Cooper says. On the upstairs landing, the indoor/outdoor rug is by Dash & Albert, and the roman shade and bolster pillow are made of Pyne Hollyhock by Schumacher.Laurey W. Glenn
For design inspo, the couple joined Poston Cooper for a two-day shopping spree at the Washington Design Center. They began at Schumacher, where one particularly dreamlike botanical wallpaper—Brighton Pavilion, based on an 18th century document and part of Miles Redd’s collection—formed a lush, seductive muse for their entire revamp. “We wanted it to be colorful, and livable, and interesting,” Poston Cooper says of the face-lift. Unexpected art pieces—including a photograph they commissioned by Anne Rhet of Drayton Hall, a famously unrestored circa 1752 Palladian estate that sits on the languidly flowing Ashley River, and a gallery wall of botanicals they ripped out of a 19thcentury book from Sweden— bring a fresh, vibrant energy for a necessary dose of cool.
“Tons of tricks” also help set the aesthetics apart, the designer says. One such sartorial subterfuge? Making draperies from less-expensive fabrics like linens and cottons, then glamming them up with tassel fringes here, buxom valances there. Yet not too much. The gentleman duo that live there longed to keep her finer graces while injecting a subtle masculinity throughout. “James and Jordan are just really the most gracious, inviting, ‘door’s-always-open’ couple,” Poston Cooper says. “But they didn’t want it to be too feminine.” Enter a peppering of black within the home’s color palette, which Poston Cooper employed like an exclamation point: strong, graphic and emotive.
Painting this guest room’s walls and trim in an envelope of Farrow and Ball’s Calke Green “gave it this rich presence and made it as cheap and cheerful as possible,” Poston Cooper says. Placing a Ballard desk there was a prescient move, pre-Covid. “We put a desk in almost every room because they both work in and out of the house all the time—it’s very much come in handy.”Laurey W. Glenn
Take the Greek key painted details flanking the wood floors of the dining room, meant to define the edges. A rug would have left the space feeling poky—and been untenable covering up the vents, since “the air conditioning pretty much runs in Charleston 360 days a year,” the designer says. Another deliciously moody touch: edging the grasscloth walls in the entrance hall and up the stairs with black grosgrain ribbon and brass French nails. “Just that little bit of black helps it from getting too Southern and sweet,” Poston Cooper says. Their wallpaper hanger was not amused by her idea. “But he did it…with a lot of cigarettes.”