Step Inside Designer Ceara Donnelley’s Historic Charleston Home

A New Yorker reimagines an 18th-century home for a modern living and elegant holiday entertaining.

December 15, 2022

When interior designer Ceara Donnelley picked up her family and moved from New York, where she had a career as a lawyer, to Charleston, South Carolina, she fell in love with her soon-to-be house even before she fell in love with the city.

Built in the 1740s, this classic Charleston single had the perfect bones—original arched windows, moldings and panels, and beautiful floors to boot—but needed a major overhaul. Thankfully, Donnelley was up for the task. Her love of the tension between old and new propelled the transformation forward with ease. She artfully transformed the historic home by gutting and renovating the kitchens and bathrooms and rejiggering the traffic flow to fit modern family life. In other words: The house is now dog, cat, kid, and entertaining friendly, but still maintains its 18th-century charm.

Because the house was dark, Donnelley strategically added sconces, chandeliers, and table lamps. She swathed the triple-height foyer walls and ceiling with a reflective Venetian plaster finish that helps bounce light around the entryway. A reproduction Tony Duquette chandelier and a moody blue-green paint color inspired by nearby Drayton Hall were the jumping off points she used when designing the dining room. Her formal living room is a mix of modern and traditional; highlights include an ivory tufted sofa with long bullion fringe and a sculpture that’s an homage to Claude Lalanne. She describes her bedroom as the “hub of the house,” with a canopy bed she designed out of bleached and pickled oak as its centerpiece.

While Donnelley takes a more modern approach to interior design, her Christmas decorations are classic, traditional, and meant to evoke feelings of love and importance of family. The designer happily admits that she’s “in charge of creating [Christmas] memories for her children.” And the setting she whips up each holiday season is a blissful one, with several live trees throughout house, cookies baking, an annual tree-trimming party complete with hot chocolate for the kids (and champagne for her!), and the most luscious magnolia garland that proudly frames the house’s front door. While the holidays are always a frenzy of hustle and bustle, Donnelley makes time to create a mood of joy and celebration that spans the entire month of December—because every day should feel like Christmas.