“Iremind my clients that a garden is unlike architecture. It’s always evolving and changing—you have to keep an eye on it,” says landscape architect Sheila Wertimer of Wertimer + Cline, whose keen eye seems perpetually “on it” in gardens across the region, including this prime property on a dreamy bluff overlooking the Wappoo River. “When a builder wraps up a construction project, the work is at its peak,” she adds, “but ours is just at its beginning.”
The beginning for this James Island project was back in 1998, when Jeffrey Rosenblum of Rosenblum Coe Architects Inc. asked Wertimer to collaborate with the homeowners and builder Steve Brenner of Solaris, Inc. to transform a ’50s-era ranch on a sprawling lot into a contemporary compound that takes full advantage of its riverfront perch. The Atlanta-based owners, who have childhood roots in Charleston, were looking for a “back home”-away-from-home where they could escape Atlanta’s congestion, savor being on the water, and have plenty of room for grandchildren to romp and adults to relax.
Romp and splash and putt they did, in a lovely pool overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, off the dock, and on the putting green installed for granddad to hone his game (but usurped mostly by the youngsters who knew mini-golf fun when they saw it). But those grandchildren are now in college and getting married, and they aren’t all that has grown during the last decade. Wertimer’s initial plantings have matured, including a bank of Confederate jasmine originally installed as soil-preserving ground cover and an allée of crape myrtles, tea olives, and roses in a formal elongated garden that periscopes toward the river on the west side of the house. “It’s nice to revisit a job site years later and find that much of what we designed has indeed done what we’d hoped it would,” she says.
Then & Now
But as tends to happen when years pass and kids grow, the homeowners began to rethink some aspects of the house—specifically a narrow, dark den and adjacent screened porch that were “leftovers” from the original house and only moderately modified during the first overhaul. “They just didn’t work for us,” says the owner. “We couldn’t squeeze enough people in the den if we were watching a game, and we never used the porch because it was either too hot or too cold. And the rooms just didn’t go with the rest of the house.”
When they decided to replace those less-than-ideal spaces with a 600-square-foot sun-room/family room—a two-year project completed in 2015—it gave Wertimer the opportunity to reconsider how the pool area could better connect with the space. “I love coming back to outdoor spaces we designed 10 or 20 years ago and tweaking them, especially when the corresponding garden changes in response to architectural changes, as it did here. That’s a favorite part of my job,” she says.
The new addition addresses all the earlier shortcomings and more: the room—large enough for casual entertaining or for a group to watch a ballgame; cozy enough for reading or a glass of wine and conversation—showcases the expansive view. Its centerpiece is an impressive glass façade, an uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling wall that serves up a Wappoo panorama.
While stunning, the glass wall was a bit of a stunner, too, tasking Rosenblum with figuring out how to support the roof, skylights, and structure that could withstand hurricane winds without using any view-impeding beams or columns. “It’s one thing to sketch out a great design, then another to make it buildable,” he laughs. “That was the fun part.” He and his clients also wanted the addition to blend in with the existing exterior architecture, but not be a total mimic, a request Rosenblum satisfied by borrowing the brick and fascia details but using a different type of glazing. “I didn’t want it to look like we put on an addition to the house—that was my biggest worry,” the owner says.
“I wanted it to be indoor/outdoor, and I wanted it to be comfortable but pretty, too,” continues the owner, who brought in decorator Pamola Powell from Atlanta to assist with décor. Custom leather panels of natural cowhide give warmth and texture to the walls and follow a panel pattern carried over from the main living spaces of the house. Sitting areas are arranged as “rooms within rooms” but can be easily reconfigured to accommodate a larger gathering; a bar and a large-screen TV amp up the entertainment factor. Opposite the wall of windows, a granite fireplace anchors the space, giving a weighty counterpoint to the glass-front openness. “It all works so comfortably. We’re content to just sit in here and watch the rain,” the owner says.
One and the Same
The “blending in” mandate pertained equally to making sure the new addition flowed seamlessly with the landscape design, beginning with the way the limestone patio serves as an extension of the great room. Wertimer’s goal: “create a feeling of intimate spaces without obstructing the views and make them harmonious with the rest of the garden.” Her starting point was to design a feature inspired by a water wall the owner had seen at the Four Seasons in Paris. “I had taken pictures of this amazing fountain with huge flower pots, but my husband and Sheila told me that it was a bit much and I was getting a little too carried away, so this is how she interpreted it,” the owner says, referencing a subtle stream that trickles past three planters filled with ginger, caladium, and elephant ears, delineating the pool from the patio. At night, one can see the light bouncing off the fountain from indoors. “It looks like water is dancing up the walls—it’s really spectacular,” she adds.
Brilliant red ginger blooms spark from the planters that frame the pool, while olive trees line the patio, their silvery-gray leaves accenting the blue-gray of the pool tile. Mexican beach stones fill the walkway towards the lawn, and the pool itself has a negative edge that spills over into a pond and leads the eye to the river beyond. Wertimer also augmented an existing but seldom used patio “room” on the lower bank, giving it a more “nestled” feel by softening the stonework with fig vine and dwarf palms. “Now it’s much more inviting for oyster roasts and outdoor entertaining,” she notes.
“It’s just so beautiful; we couldn’t be more pleased,” says the owner of her new indoor-outdoor quarters. “I’ve even caught my husband, who doesn’t like the sun, out here on the patio in the afternoon dozing off. In the evening, we’ll come out by the pool and then cancel our plans to go into town because it’s so perfect right here. We don’t want to be anyplace else.”