Beauty on the Beach

Interior designer Carter Kay fashions a sand-and-sea color scheme for a South Carolina beachside retreat

The best beach houses are both casual and comfortable. But Carter Kay has proven that they don’t have to be cliché, either. In this South Carolina seaside retreat, she dared to use Chinese chairs next to casually slipcovered seating pieces, mohair fabrics flanking jute rugs—side-by-side pairings throughout that are both sophisticated and fresh.

It helped, she says, to have clients with a clear vision. The Atlanta owners knew that they wanted a neutral palette with punches of watery hues, something clean and simple surrounded by white walls and dark floors. It had to be comfortable enough for everyday living but suitable for entertaining, too.

Then, of course, there were practical matters to consider. “They have four children, two older boys and two young girls, so the house had to work for a family that includes both toddlers and teens,” says Kay. “And it had to be as easy-care as possible. With every design decision, we had to remember that we were at the beach, where there would be sand, wet towels and lots of friends coming and going.”

Likewise, the structure itself, designed by Wayne Rogers of Catalyst Architects, greatly influenced the interiors. “We were strict with ourselves in terms of keeping with the integrity of the architecture,” says Kay. Simple board-on-board walls, for instance, give the residence a Lowcountry feel, inspiring the designer’s understated schemes—starting, perhaps, with the most low-key decision of them all: From top to bottom, the wood walls were painted the same shade of off-white. The result: A perfectly imperfect backdrop against which carefully chosen elements shine.

The case in point is the soaring staircase just inside the front door. With dark wood treads, white-painted risers (up to the first landing), and stretched cable in lieu of conventional spindles, it takes on a sculptural quality from its wraparound base all the way up to the third floor. The floating design was the combined brainchild of owner and architect, says Kay. “We had no idea just how magnificent it would be. It was a beautiful surprise.”

The gracious sense of space established in the foyer carries through to the rest of the main floor. A single large room, for instance, accommodates both living and dining areas, each defined by a thick-pile rug that’s particularly comfortable on bare feet. The floor coverings, in turn, anchor well-edited furnishings. Living room seating comprises nothing more than a sectional sofa and a pair of wicker chairs, the latter on swivel bases so occupants can take part in group conversation or turn to gaze at the breathtaking beach view. In the dining room, an antique table easily accommodates 12—and what more is really needed than a table and chairs? “The fewer elements you have in a room, the more drama you get,” explains Kay.

Here, too, is another example of this home’s inspired pairings. Slipcovered arm chairs and Chinese side chairs pull up to an oversized surface that originally served another purpose—as a pingpong table. When the designer stumbled upon it, she knew the table was exactly the right size and sturdy enough to stand up to beach house living. And its well-worn dark green finish blended right in with the surrounding décor.

Just beyond these living spaces, done in subtle sand tones, the kitchen distinguishes itself by color alone. The scheme started, says Kay, with the Walker Zanger glass tile on the walls. The owner wanted a mix of colors that would look like water; once the tile was selected, it inspired the sea blue hue that washes over the cabinetry.

This home’s sand-and-sea color scheme is perhaps nowhere more soothing than in the master bedroom. Pulling specific shades from a Galbraith and Paul fabric used for throw pillows and on the foot-of-the-bed bench, Kay started with a taupe-colored linen, using it to upholster the wall in back of the bed; the result is a to-the-ceiling headboard effect that’s reminiscent of the walls’ board-on-board architecture. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the room, a ratchet-arm sofa is swathed in a soothing blue, the color perhaps not so much a surprise as the type of fabric—mohair. It’s a sophisticated choice, but like each design decision, meets other criteria, too. It’s comfortable and more than sturdy enough to stand up to beach house living.

It all adds up to an easygoing elegance that, on any given weekend, makes this second home a first priority.

INTERIOR DESIGN Carter Kay, Carter Kay Interiors, (404) 261-8119  ARCHITECTURE Wayne Rogers, Catalyst Architects, (843) 520-0140