The Charleston You Haven’t Seen

After years of working in inventive industries, Karen Baldwin was intent on participating the creative group of Charleston, S.C., when she started planning to make a house there.

“There’s a whole creative side of Charleston that people aren’t even aware of,” stated Ms. Baldwin, 59, who beforehand lived in New York, the place she studied nice arts at Parsons School of Design, was a longtime worker of Michael Kors, labored as an inside designer and was a founding father of the New York-based trend equipment model Fairchild Baldwin.

Visitors to the town “go to the plantations, or go downtown and do a garden tour,” she continued, “but there’s a lot of really young, creative people who have been moving here.”

Impressed with Charleston’s mixture of conventional Southern allure and contemporary new vitality, Ms. Baldwin determined to construct a house — or two — there.

Ms. Baldwin gave Mr. Hoertdoerfer limited instructions and then set him loose. “The only direction was the programming,” he said. “She wanted three bedrooms and open kitchen, living and dining.”

There was also the exterior color. “I had just come back from New Zealand and had also been in Scandinavia, where I had noticed a lot of black contemporary houses,” Ms. Baldwin said. “So I said to Kevan, ‘How do you feel about a black house?’”

Mr. Hoertdoerfer thought it was a fine idea and proceeded to design a building that bears little resemblance to its red-brick and white-porch neighbors.

“We just went back to basics, with a quintessential gable-roofed form,” he said, completely cloaked in black. A standing-seam aluminum roof folds down over two sides of the house, creating a simple wrapper, while the two ends are clad in black-stained cedar shiplap paneling.

Many of the tightly clustered houses in the neighborhood have side windows covered by curtains for privacy, so Mr. Hoertdoerfer decided to do away with those windows altogether, adding floor-to-ceiling glass at either end of the house instead. That opened up sightlines to the most desirable views: the park across the street and the backyard garden, where Mr. Hoertdoerfer added a cabana.

To animate one side of the home, Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Hoertdoerfer recruited McKenzie Eddy Smith and Elliott A. Smith, artists and designers who own the firm MES Creative Services, to create a dot-based mural that runs up a wall and onto the roof.

For the front yard, Mr. Hoertdoerfer designed a sculpture garden of overlapping artificial-turf-covered squares, where a piece by Carey Morton, a local sculptor, was given pride of place. Mr. Morton’s creations also populate Ms. Baldwin’s empty lot next door, which she may eventually use to build an art studio, or a spec house to sell.

As the project progressed, Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Hoertdoerfer seized on the design process as a teaching tool for elementary school students. “In a lot of cities, schools are cutting out art programs, which, being an art major, just breaks my heart,” Ms. Baldwin said.

Working with Charleston’s Redux Contemporary Art Center, she and Mr. Hoertdoerfer developed a weeklong summer program to introduce children to contemporary architecture. (Ms. Baldwin also held a fund-raiser for Redux at her house). The students received instruction from Mr. Hoertdoerfer, toured Ms. Baldwin’s house and designed dream homes of their own.

After 13 months of construction, the 2,245-square-foot house was completed in May, at a cost of about $700,000, and Ms. Baldwin moved in.

Inside the house, the palette is the opposite of the exterior: white and bright, with flashes of vivid color. Even the concrete ground floor is finished in brilliant white epoxy.

“I loved feeling like I was walking into a gallery, so I wanted to keep it super clean and very contemporary,” she said. “But I also wanted to have a pop of color, since everything is white.”

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