The couple who bought this 1950s home in downtown Charleston, South Carolina wanted it to look modern yet timeless, and be a beautiful backdrop for their growing art collection. They dialed an expert – Alaina Michelle Ralph, a city transplant since 2007 – whose portfolio combines iconic traditions with clean new lines.
This husband and wife team sometimes travels separately for long work stints, but when they return, they always like to entertain (a favorite pastime in their hospitable home city), so the right dining room and living room – for cocktails or after-dinner coffee – were important.
“The house, a classic Charleston ‘single’ across from an old horse lot, was in great shape. The clients updated and painted when they first moved in and it felt fresh with shades of white on the walls, but blank. So, most of the work I did was decorative,” Ralph notes. Her additions included paneling above the fireplace and new hearth and crown moldings. She found a brass fire screen that plays nicely with the original mantelpiece.
“Mostly, they needed help pulling it all together,” explains Ralph. “They have great taste but wanted to get the details right.”
She arranged contemporary, vintage and antique furniture against a limited palette. Color accents come from the artwork. “Helen in Blue” – the Mark Demsteader 2017 oil painting over the antique enfilade (or sideboard) that anchors a living room wall – set into motion a thread with turquoise books and fresh green plants. “All the plants are real and live in the home – we didn’t bring them in for the photos. They add a little life, and the large ones feel almost sculptural,” the designer notes.
Rewired vintage enamel Stiffel lamps cast a glow; a couple of clocks from a beloved collection mark the time.
In the serene living room, a cotton velvet-covered sofa invites guests to kick back and stay awhile. The vintage coffee table was crafted from etched bronze and the handsome, authentic burl wood table is a restored Biedermeier.
“The antique curio cabinet belonged to the homeowners, and we filled it with some of their combined collections,” adds Ralph. “I think the set of Hardy Boys books adds the perfect splash of color!” More artwork is displayed over the sofa: “Possessor No. 11” by Louise Camille Fenne. Ralph designed the bench with bolsters for sitting in front of the fireplace, especially inviting on a gray afternoon or evening.
In the dining room, a long-loved pedestal table is surrounded by wooden- back side chairs and a pair of skirted host chairs to introduce a bit more upholstery to the space. “Corduroy Pockets,” a painting by Paula Rubino, hangs over a timeworn rosewood chiffonier. The aged but cherished Italian gilt tole chandelier is the couple’s own.
It’s definitely design that’s worth coming home to.
Photography by Audra Rhodes.