Repeating the past
The interior design and architecture of the Lowcountry that went down in history and lives on today.
Story by Michaela Satterfield
Lowcountry design is timeless, so its history is practically alive right in front of us. In the 1700s, architecture and interior design unique to the area began to form. It was built on lasting principles that still stand today. Visitors to the area often come for the nature, and residents often stay for the nature. That’s why the goal of most structures in the Lowcountry is to blend with nature. Design should not stand out on its own, but enhance what is already there. One of the best places to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty is a wrap-around front porch, complete with a rocking chair to sit outside and greet the neighbors as they walk by – a trademark of many homes in the area. One of the best ways to cultivate that Southern hospitality and those irreplaceable nature views is with design. Lowcountry design is an important trait that makes the Lowcountry, well, the Lowcountry.
Back to the basics
What is known as skillful design today was once created primarily for function. Whether it comes from the swampy landscape, high tides or the occasional hurricane, there is a good chance water will be reaching most Lowcountry structures at some point. They frequently sit on top of a raised first floor to solve the problem, which is now a common architectural feature. If there is one thing true about the Lowcountry, it’s that it is hot and humid. To prevent homes from getting stuffy, air circulation is a must. Open-concept layouts are popular, along with big rooms and high ceilings to let the heat rise. Many homes are centered around an open breezeway to promote airflow. Large windows, frequently framed in shutters originally added to protect them in case of a hurricane, also keep air flowing. Not to mention, they let the nature views in. Well-designed outdoor spaces are common to take advantage of surrounding landscapes. Hipped roofs with overhangs cover those roomy porches. The porch ceilings are often “haint blue,” a color thought by members of the Gullah culture to ward off spirits. Others believe the color repels bugs. Regardless, the color is drawn from nature and blends well with the Lowcountry style.
A notable name
Although typical beach houses and Southern houses are essential to the area, the Lowcountry has its own distinct spin on design. Charles Fraser is the man who gets a lot of the credit for this. As an American real estate developer, Fraser set out to construct Sea Pines, the first resort on Hilton Head in 1956. His ideas were later copied around the United States, as Sea Pines was the first resort of its kind in the country. It implemented covenants and deed restrictions to preserve the surrounding environment – a trait which set it apart from other resorts. While many resorts of the day were filled with oceanfront cottages, Fraser’s resort looked much different. Homes in Sea Pines were built in pine forests near the ocean, rather than on the sandy oceanfront. Using earthy colors and materials, they were designed to blend with surrounding nature – a standard which continues today.
You’ll often find a mix of old, new and something blue on the inside of Lowcountry homes. Traditional antiques dance alongside casual, beachy décor. Lowcountry homes need to be put together enough to host large parties with a good dose of Southern hospitality, but casual enough to relax in after hot days at the beach. Rooms are light and airy, with a touch of cozy. Formal Chippendale furniture is balanced with driftwood accents and blown-glass lamps. Spaces are caught somewhere between traditional, which maintains respect for the past, and modern, which progresses into current times. Colors are often borrowed from nature, such as soft blues, greens, grays and neutrals. There are no heavy draperies in order to let the outdoors in, as always.
Mix & match
Variations of Lowcountry design keep it interesting – no two homes in the area are the same. Lowcountry design influenced by the Caribbean uses a brighter color scheme than the typical soft, natural color palette. The Mediterranean Lowcountry style adds stucco features and lots of arches to give homes a European twist. It also ties in some warmer colors. New England interior design found in the Lowcountry features a lot of white and has a nautical feel. The farmhouse style is a more relaxed version of Lowcountry design with lots of charm, like the homes with the iconic wrap-around front porches discussed earlier. The formal variation uses lots of ornate furniture and is peppered with antiques. Contemporary Lowcountry design keeps up with the times. Drawing from classic Southern homes, the modern versions simplify features of the style to make it more minimalist. Traditional details are replaced with cleaner lines. No matter which variation you prefer, all Lowcountry design is timeless. Choose your favorite, and the rest is history.