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Open House: Monica and Ken Seeger regularly welcome nonprofits and VIP guests into their historical single house

Open House: Monica and Ken Seeger regularly welcome nonprofits and VIP guests into their historical single house
April 2023

Built in the 1730s, the Seegers’ home is one of the oldest single houses on the peninsula

Years ago, when Spoleto organizers went on the hunt for a distinctly Charleston setting to host a luncheon for the festival’s major donors, one board member had a hot tip: call Monica and Ken Seeger. The couple is well-known for flinging open the doors of their lower King Street manse and adjacent courtyard garden to welcome nonprofits and their guests. And they are in for quite a treat: the home, built in the 1730s, is one of the oldest surviving single houses on the peninsula—and, with its stone-colored stucco-over-brick facade, Tiffany-blue shutters, and year-round lush foliage, it’s one of the most charming, too.

The South Carolina Aquarium, Historic Charleston Foundation, and most recently, Charleston Literary Festival and Ibu Foundation have all benefited from the Seegers’ open-door policy, whether via events hosted in the garden, with partygoers mingling amid the star jasmine and foxglove, or visiting authors and artisans enjoying plush accommodations. While the Seegers don’t charge a dime when they loan out their abode or take in VIP guests, they say the experiences have been hugely rewarding in other ways. “Friends know they can call us and use our house and garden,” Monica says. “We enjoy giving access to a historical property. And the benefit for me is that it’s given me the opportunity to meet so many interesting people.”

The Seegers were longtime Californians before coming to the Holy City in 2010. Though Monica grew up in Georgia and Ken hails from western New York, the two met and married in the Golden State and raised their now-adult children in the Bay Area, where Monica helmed a thriving real-estate business and Ken owned a land development company. When WestRock (formerly MeadWestvaco) tapped Ken to lead its Charleston-based community development division, the pair found themselves embarking on an unexpected Lowcountry adventure.

Monica and Ken share a penchant for historical architecture, and by California standards, their previous residence—a 1930s Cotswold-style cottage—was considered old. But while house-hunting in Charleston’s Historic District, they fell for a much older, 18th-century manse that’s steeped in history. Named the “William Elliot House” for its first occupant (a home builder who received clients in the cypress-paneled parlor on the first floor), it survived the Great Fire of 1861 and went on to serve as a girls’ boarding school. “This house was here before America had its first president, before the American Revolution,” Monica notes. Previous owners had outfitted the place with all the comforts of 21st-century living, especially its two kitchens and five baths, and a separate kitchen house had been connected to the main structure via a hyphen, upping the home’s footprint to about 5,000 square feet.

“It was nice that it was move-in ready. Back then, we only chose to update the fabrics and paint colors to really make it feel like ours,” Monica says. To that end, design pro Amelia Handegan guided them toward furnishings and fixtures that were refined yet inviting, all in line with the historical home’s more petite rooms. Atop this, Monica layered artwork that reflects her past and present, including her collection of California plein-air paintings and works by Charleston Renaissance artists such as Alfred Hutty and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. Artifacts collected during her many travels add texture and pattern throughout.

(Left to right) From the first-floor piazza, the eye is drawn down the center path of the parterre garden into the rear courtyard. Like much of Monica’s statuary, the figure of Pan (the Greek god of nature and shepherds) came from her garden in California; Its green spaces were originally conceived by noted garden designer Loutrel Briggs in 1951 and 1961; A gate and an arbor covered in star jasmine lead the way to this space.

More recently, the Seegers undertook a renovation of the home’s hyphen, including the kitchen and upstairs primary bath. Working with local architect Mark Maresca, they enlarged the main cooking area to better align with the scale of the surrounding rooms and transition into the south-facing courtyard. “We popped it out about four feet, and now it feels like it’s in the garden,” she notes. Monica, an experienced gardener, also transformed the petite back kitchen into a horticulture workspace. “I thought, ‘We never use this room. Why don’t I make it into something I can really enjoy?’” she explains.

Originally the handiwork of noted landscape designer Loutrel Briggs, the garden is divided into two distinct zones—a formal French parterre and a horseshoe-shaped courtyard. Monica, who regularly reimagined her clients’ landscapes while working in real estate (“it was not at all unusual for me to be out there trimming their roses or bringing over new plants—anything to up the appeal of a home!” she says), had a vision to honor the garden’s history while suiting their needs. She called on landscape designer Sheila Wertimer, whose firm first worked on the property in 1988, to create a planting plan.

Operating within the framework of the existing brick and stone hardscape, Wertimer replaced two rotting crepe myrtles and other leggy shrubs with mature plantings, transplanted the parrotia and fringe trees, and brought in more of the traditional flora Briggs would have most likely used, such as hydrangeas and azaleas. She also ensured something would be blooming year-round, be it foxglove in the spring or camellias in the cooler months. Monica’s own collection of statuary, brought from her garden in California, provided the finishing touch. “Monica is a talented horticulturist,” Wertimer notes. “She has maintained—and improved—the plantings beautifully over the intervening years.”

Monica travels often to far-flung destinations such as Kenya and Morocco, sometimes with her pal Susan Hull Walker, founder of Ibu Foundation, for which Monica serves on the board. The word Ibu means “a woman of respect,” and it’s both a King Street boutique showcasing textiles and accessories made by women around the world, as well as a foundation to expand markets for these artisans, disrupt poverty, and “help build their capacity for success.” Monica’s approach to other cultures reflects her welcoming attitude toward sharing her home with the larger community. “I’m broadening my world with these magical experiences,” she says.

But when she’s home, Monica spends a part of every day in the garden, clipping roses, pruning boxwoods, or filling beds and planters with blooms, such as foxglove, alyssum, and delphinium, emphasizing a romantic English country garden style. She enjoys getting her hands dirty, but says the true pleasure lies in sharing the space with friends old and new. “Our home and garden have been a vehicle to getting involved in our community—to making friends and creating new adventures,” she notes. “It’s been a large part of what makes us feel so connected here in Charleston.”