Marshside Modern

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When it came time to find a place to gather and connect with their three adult sons and large extended family, this Louisville, Kentucky, couple wanted to create a space that was as much a home base as a vacation destination.

Using preliminary plans drawn up by Hilton Head Island architect Michael Gentemann of G2 Design and the expertise of long-time friend and interior designer Lee Stough of Lee J. Stough Designs, they selected a prime piece of Palmetto Bluff property in Bluffton, South Carolina, bordered by the May River on one side and a salty tidal creek on the other. 

Using the Lowcountry’s unique architectural vernacular as their roadmap, Gentemann, Stough and Richard Best of Richard Best Custom Homes in Bluffton built a spectacular compound that fulfills the couple’s requirements as much as it blends into the natural landscape.

“‘Respect of place’ was our key inspiration for the interior design of the house,” says Stough. “The Lowcountry and its natural beauty were foremost in consideration of the design choices. While the furnishings, lighting and color scheme were important elements, the setting and the views were our major focus.”

With this in mind, Gentemann developed a floor plan that uses both indoor and outdoor spaces to seamlessly connect the house, finding different planes in the design to create varied elevations throughout the property. A wide open-air dogtrot serves as both an entry way and divider between the main house and the guest wing, its L-shape giving way to an elevated courtyard where agapanthus, lemon trees and other plants are kept safe from local deer. The longer stretch of the dogtrot extends to the upper level of the pool overlooking the marsh, which joins the two outdoor porches together with four stepping stones across the pool.

The main house runs parallel to the river, and the living room, kitchen, dining room and master wing are positioned around views of the marsh and water. A bank of glass-paneled doors runs along both sides of the living room, allowing guests to flow in and out of the main house and for the view of the river to be seen from the other side of the house. 

“We intentionally incorporated a lot of glass so that every room has a view,” says Gentemann. “And rooms where the view is especially great, we maxed out the glass there, which also lets in tons of natural light.” 

A detached guest house sits adjacent to the main house, giving guests both privacy and the comforts of home with a fully equipped kitchen and exterior porch.

Aesthetics were important to the owners, according to Gentemann, and though their tastes tended toward modern, they found common ground between their style and traditional Lowcountry architecture with minimalist touches. The home uses a white-and-neutral color palette as its primary color base with a contrasting slate-gray metal roof and jet-black industrial metal windows and doors. To soften these stark exterior components, Lee and Gentemann used indigenous materials like old brick for the dogtrot floors, tabby concrete on the lower portion of the exterior walls, an outdoor fireplace and an oversized outdoor chandelier made out of a wreath of oyster shells to give the home a sense of place. 

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“We focused on keeping the details simple, clean and modern,” Gentemann says. “But we added some touches of local aesthetics like exposed ceiling beams and tongue-and-groove board to ground the home in architecture that is right for Palmetto Bluff.”

The interiors follow suit. The expansive living room is comfortably appointed with a matching pair of Lee sofas upholstered in a stain-resistant Crypton fabric to encourage conversation without the worry of a spill. On an antique gated-leg drop-leaf table behind one of the couches sits a bowl of ostrich eggs to add a natural touch, while two antique 17th century Italian painted wooden benches flank the living room entryway. 

On far side of the living room is the modern kitchen with its stainless-steel cabinetry and built-in refrigerators offset by a multi-colored mosaic tile backsplash and honed absolute black granite countertops. The dining room sits just off the kitchen, where a round wooden table serves as the centerpiece with its hand-painted compass rose design by local artist Gwen Burke. Vintage rattan armchairs that the owner plucked from an antiques dealer in Louisville — with custom-made cushions — add a relaxed vibe to the dining room.

The master wing continues this laid-back aesthetic, incorporating different textures like the hand-woven seagrass headboard over the king bed with iron bedside lamps made from antique French andirons that the owners commissioned from a lamp maker in Louisville. The master bath’s layout is centered entirely around the stunning marshland view with two large windows framing the vista, a standalone soaking tub and an antique iron chandelier hanging above with unique palm frond accents that came from one of the owner’s parent’s homes in Louisville. 

“This house really has been a team effort,” Gentemann says. “We designed a house that is like an art gallery, where the pieces inside become the objects of focus.” 

Perhaps the pièces de résistance of the home are the three handmade exterior iron gates made by Karine and Matthew Maynard of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The husband and wife team designs and fabricates each piece. Each gate weighs an estimated 500 pounds, a metal work of art depicting different elements of the natural Lowcountry landscape like the signature live oaks and Spartina marsh grass. 

As with any home, the design is never truly finished. Gentemann is working with the owners to design another building that he calls the “clubhouse,” which will serve as another gathering place for the family and their friends with a billiards table, big-screen TV and lounge area. The Maynards are currently developing a new chandelier for the dining room, which Karine designed to look like tree branches from which delicate glass teardrops dangle. She is learning how to hand-blow glass specifically for this project from a master glass blower in Kentucky. The home projects may continue, but they won’t keep guests away — the owners already have plans to spend the holidays at their home with  many visitors, which is exactly what they wanted. 


Year built: 2017

Square footage: Main house, heated: 4,885, under roof: 6,894

Guest house, heated: 806, under roof: 998

Number of bedrooms and bathrooms:

Main House: 4 beds, 4.5 baths

Guest House: 2 beds, 2 baths (does not include loft)

Architect/planner: Michael Gentemann, G2 Design

Interior designer: Lee Stough, Lee R. Stough Interiors

Contractor/builder: Richard Best, Richard Best Custom Homes

Tile/flooring: Tile installer: Steve House, House Detailing II; tile supplier: Kellie McTyre

Hardwood floor supplier: Scott Ziel, Ziels Antique Flooring

Paint: House: Pedro Martinez, The Paint Pros of the Lowcountry; faux finishing: Chris Walker, CN Walker Designs

Windows/doors: Keith Able, Builders FirstSource supplying Loewen windows & doors

Cabinets: Tom Lauderdale, Advanced Kitchen Designs 

Countertops: Ralph Chapman, Creative Stone Accessories

Landscape/Hardscape design: Cindy Cline, Wertimer + Cline

Landscape Install: Justin Martin, Martin Landscape

Hardscape install: Savannah Hardscapes

Electrician: Russ Trent, Trent Electrical Service

Audio/visual: Curt Hubner, Advanced Integrated Controls

HVAC: Gochnauer Mechanical

Furniture: Owner’s personal antiques; dining room table, Gwen Burke

Appliances: SubZero, Wolf kitchen appliances; Artisan & Kamado; Joe outdoor grill equipment; Whirlpool & Miele laundry supplied by Scott Livingood of Livingoods Appliances

Accessories: Upholstery, Lee Industries; decorative painting and dining table, Gwen Burke Art; light fixtures, Circa Lighting and Currey and Company; other decorative accessories: Merridian, Louisville and Nashville; Dwellings, Louisville; Mercantile, Louisville; bedding, Bedded Bliss, Louisville

Art: Anne Wehrley Bjork, B. Deemer Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky; Daniel McClendon, Asheville (commission); Sylvia Trybek, Houston; antique Piranesi engravings;  Andre Pater oil painting; Thomas Coates painting, Cross Gate Gallery, Lexington, Kentucky

Iron Gates: Matthew and Karine Maynard, Maynard Studios