“To put it simply,” designer Kevin Walsh is telling me as we flip through photos in his Little Rock showroom, “Palmetto Bluff is in the middle of, like, nowhere. It’s … how can I describe this? It’s kind of a barefoot kind of place, you know?” Which, it turns out, is precisely the reason a pair of his longtime clients decided to plunk down some vacation-home roots in the South Carolina map-dot town: for that barefoot, easy-breezy, middle-of-nowhere type experience, far from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives in Little Rock.
“It’s sort of like you’ve stepped back in time when you’re there,” he says. And in looking over his shoulder at the photos of the place—of the cottage’s metal roofs, of the moss-draped live oaks, of the bicycles pulled up next to gas-lantern-lit front porches—that definitely seems to be the case. “Everyone walks, rides their bikes, takes the golf cart to dinner or down to the river. It’s super laid-back. Super casual.”
“Super casual” isn’t how he’d typically describe this family’s style, which he says is “more traditional, more formal.” But this house? That’s how it had to be. For one, it was to be their let’s-get-away-from-it-all hideaway, a place to unwind and relax. It was also a place they envisioned taking friends and extended family, which meant there’d be lots of folks—big and little—coming in and out with sandy feet, wet towels and glasses of sweet tea. Upon taking charge of the project and learning of his clients’ goals, Kevin knew that “casual” and “carefree” would be his guiding principles in designing the airy, open-concept space. Also, it’d need to accommodate, like, a lot of people.
“That was one of the biggest things: bedrooms and bathrooms,” he says. “We needed to sleep as many people as possible.” To that end, the home was designed with two downstairs “masters,” each with their own bathrooms and clever, space-maximizing additions like upholstered window seats that can accommodate little ones overnight, and desk-and-chair scenarios that can serve as a vanity in a pinch. The “master” bathrooms got upgrades like marble tile and Quadrille wallpaper, which added a touch of elegance without overwhelming the budget. Upstairs, the kiddos got their own rooms and baths—pink and frilly for her, blue and boyish for him—as well as a bright, lofty playroom that features built-in daybeds with pull-out trundles for friends and cousins. (“It can sleep four,” says Kevin, “but if they’re littles, you could pack in a bunch.”)
As for the living spaces—those needed to be roomy and ready to welcome, say, 12 folks for oysters and a lowcountry boil. The solution? Create a kitchen, breakfast room and living room that all flow into one another, and to add pocket doors leading out to the screened-in porch that could fold away, essentially softening the separation between the indoors and out. “The screened-in porch leads out onto the backyard, so the kids can be in the yard playing and the adults can relax and watch,” Kevin says. “It’s a true extension of the house.”
As we flip through the photos for a second time, it becomes clear, upon second glance, that the blending of the interior-exterior space continues in the material palette used throughout the home. “Sunbrella fabric isn’t just for the outdoors,” says Kevin, noting that he used the solution-dyed acrylic fabric—a no-fuss, easy-to-wipe-down material—on everything from the living room chairs to the playroom’s daybeds. The floors throughout were covered in hard-working heart pine, which is characteristic of the Southeast, and were left mostly bare. And the color palette throughout the house is whites and neutrals, with pops of cool, calming blue—reminiscent of the nearby beaches and rivers.
“She wanted blue—this was the ‘blue house,’” Kevin says of his client. He looks down at his shirt, which is checked in cerulean and white. “Obviously, I’m a big fan of blue. I wear it. I live in it. I just love it. So does she. But she didn’t want it to be ‘beachy’—just light and happy and fun.”
In this house, that meant keeping things simple—a soothing piece of art here, an oversized light fixture there—and a mix of low- and high-end. Which was easy for Kevin, who tends to rely on design that’s traditional, “but with more of a modern take so it’s not too heavy.” That’s why there are Jonathan Adler pieces on the bookshelves, but also thrift-store finds. A mail-order desk next to a custom-upholstered chair.
Taken together—the breezy layout, the durable materials, the serene blues and whites—the effect is a comfortable, calming space that the family’s anxious to visit when it’s time to unwind.
“It’s not a huge house, but it lives like one,” Kevin says. “And it’s just fun. I have a feeling they won’t ever get sick of it.”