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Opposites Attract

Opposites Attract
January 2018

With help from stylist Nathalie Naylor, a local physician marries his love of modernism with his 19th-century French Quarter abode

PHOTO - When Eddie Irions came to town for a stint at MUSC, he didn’t plan to stay. But the doctor, who usually opts for all things modern, fell hard for the historic city—and more specifically, this 18th-century abode with its epic view of St. Philip’s steeple.

In matters of the heart, they say opposites attract—and Eddie Irions is proof that the old adage can be applied to house-hunting, too. The Memphis-born gastroenterologist is drawn to bold colors and modern silhouettes. But when he laid eyes on the 19th-century stucco-over-brick home where he now resides with his Wheaten terrier, Kasey, it was love at first sight.

Much of the French Quarter residence’s allure was its location in the heart of one of downtown’s most charming neighborhoods. After studying medicine in Atlanta and New York, Irions landed at MUSC to finish his training. It was meant to be a temporary stint, but the doc fell hard for the Holy City. In some ways, it reminded him of his Tennessee upbringing. “I’m a true Southerner despite the fact that I talk too fast at times,” he laughs. It appealed to the city-dweller in him, too. “Charleston has a very strong pulse: the restaurant scene is fantastic, the quality of life is unmatched. I wanted to be in the middle of things here, just as I was in New York.” He soon found himself scrapping plans to return to the Northeast and instead searching for a place on the peninsula to live.

As he explored the city, his appreciation for its historical architecture grew. One afternoon, while cruising around on his bike, Irions noticed a three-story, circa-1821 building for sale and arranged a tour. Before even crossing the threshold, a special detail caught his eye: the front door was outfitted with a brass physician’s knocker, a style of hardware once used to identify the homes of doctors. “I thought that was a cool coincidence,” he says, adding that the knocker is thought to have belonged to Dr. Joe C. Chambers, an area doctor and health department official, who lived there in the 1970s.

There was much else to love about the structure, which had served as a three-unit apartment building many decades ago. In the foyer, a wall of exposed brick and tabby mortar, believed to be original to the home, adds texture as well as history. In the rear, the iconic steeple of St. Philip’s Church presides over a lushly landscaped courtyard. And though it’s nearly two centuries old, the home is well-suited for 21st-century living: Over the course of multiple renovation projects, previous owners updated the plumbing and electrical systems and connected the once-separate kitchen to the main house.

Irions took the plunge and bought the place in 2011, but several years went by before he was ready to put his stamp on the interiors. “I err on the side of modernism, but this isn’t an apartment in Miami; it’s a 19th-century home in the French Quarter of Charleston,” he says. “Respecting that needed to be kept in mind at all times.” Still, he wanted the house to reflect his taste, and so in 2014, he enlisted Sullivan’s Island-based stylist Nathalie Naylor to help him curate furnishings and decor that would complement, rather than compete with, the architecture.

“Eddie wanted a timeless decor with some fun elements,” Naylor says. “His style is definitely ‘less-is-more.’” With that in mind, and knowing his affinity for all things modern, she guided him towards shapes that are contemporary, yet streamlined—such as a concrete-slab table and Lucite chairs in the dining room. “We focused on simplicity; nothing is too ornamental,” Irions adds. To that end, the rooms are intentionally spare, with few focal points to attract the eye. Irions credits Naylor with keeping things well-edited: “It was great working with Nathalie; she was very good at redirecting when something didn’t work,” he says. “I would text her an idea, and she’d be kind and just say no; it was refreshing to work with someone so concise and spot-on because it saved a lot of time.”

The stylist also helped Irions to establish the right scale, pointing him towards pieces such as a low-profile Chesterfield sofa from the Wynwood Art District in Miami and the petite Art Deco chandelier from ESD. They make a statement without competing with the home’s good bones. “There was no need to overdo it,” Naylor notes. “We kept it simple, but not boring.”

In regards to selecting colors, the palette throughout is mostly muted. “It’s very classical, white and grey, with some bold accent walls,” Naylor notes. Against a neutral backdrop, those bright notes shine without overpowering. In the living room, for example, an orange wall and a colorful oversize portrait by Brazilian artist Robson Reis Marques are tempered by white walls, neutral furnishings, and a solid black rug. In the dining room, Naylor had the fireplace surround and adjacent built-ins painted black. Rows of succulents in terra-cotta pots and a piece by local artist John Duckworth provide contrast and visual interest.

With his abode thus furnished, Irions feels he’s finally living in a place that reflects his personality—and he’s stoked to be so close to the action at the heart of his adopted city. Nowhere is this clearer than in the carriage house-style scullery, his favorite perch when working from home. Though he admits he’s not much of a chef: “I think I may have the cleanest kitchen in Charleston because I rarely use it. My friends made it clear it’s best I don’t try to cook,” he jokes. Otherwise, he’s very productive at the kitchen table.

From this vantage point, the sounds of city life, such as the chatter of passersby and the ringing of church bells, drift in from the street. “You can hear the hustle and bustle,” he says. “It’s nice to know things are happening just outside, and you can always walk out and be a part of it.”