A Place to Pine For

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On private Pine Island, Japanese aesthetic meets Lowcountry living.

The ethos of Pine Island, a 56-acre private island between Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, is nicely summed up in a resonant quote from Pablo Picasso: “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” 

Picasso’s words have a companion in lifestyle guru Marie Kondo, whose KonMari method and accompanying Netflix show, Tidying Up, contends that one’s home should contain only items that spark joy. Though decades apart, Picasso and Kondo are unexpected contemporaries who share an implied maxim: Superfluous stuff stifles pleasure. In today’s more-is-more, consumer-obsessed climate, the paragon of luxury is striving — not settling — for less. 

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Enter Pine Island. The nearly 5,000-square-foot build on a 22-acre parcel of the island includes four bedrooms, 4.5 baths and Japanese influence throughout. In particular, the house best embodies shibusa, a tenet of Japanese aesthetic focused on subtle, humble beauty. 

Most of the home’s surfaces are rendered in warm, richly variegated American woods and sustainably harvested tropical hardwoods. Architecture firm William McDonough & Partners included intriguing facets like wood-and-glass sliding doors, terraces and atrium-like spaces with live greenery. Standing inside the Pine Island property conjures up the look and feel of an enchanted, Japanese forest. But don’t forget to look up: local artisan woodworkers handled every aspect of the home’s construction, and the exquisite arched ceilings are reminiscent of the inside of a boat (more specifically, a luxury yacht). 

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

As for other interior hallmarks, the single-story home keeps it simple and spacious, but striking. Upholstery and linens are largely neutral with dashes of imperial red and jade. Furnishings are mostly wood, but they’re spectacular: note the real-deal Stickley Furniture chairs, or the burl wood table from George Nakashima, considered a father of the American craft movement. Stone in the kitchen and bathrooms is a sleek, durable and suitably unpretentious choice. Recessed and track lighting enhances the bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen without distracting the eye, while a pair of lantern-like pendants punctuates the main living space with a pop of turquoise patina. On a sunny day, skylights and plentiful windows make lighting fixtures moot, anyway. 

Craft movement art and idiosyncratic keepsakes convey the owners’ tastes: a menagerie of animals affixed to the stone fireplace; a sailboat model; a pair of larger-than-life lizard sculptures; turn-of-the-century Grueby pottery; mid-century ceramics from Peter Voulkos; a bulbous, stone chimenea. Literally topping it all off is a pagoda-like roof, rounding out the Japanese motif. 

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

The overall effect isn’t so much East meets West as East meets South. Inside, you could have an elaborate tea ceremony worthy of those held in the traditional Higashiyama District of Kyoto. Just as comfortably, you could shuck and roast oysters outside with Lowcountry views unfurling before you: salt marshes studded with native saw palmetto and bayberry, and the languid curve of a river at the edge of the horizon. It’s the kind of fluctuating space that ends up being game for any which whim. I, for one, would love to spend an afternoon writing at Pine Island. I’d equally enjoy wiling away the day at the property’s expansive and tranquil pool. As it turns out, this chameleon quality is very much by design, both indoors and out.

Washington, D.C.-based landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden & Associates handled the landscape design, adding unexpected vegetation like ornamental sweet grass in a cloudlike swath of cotton-candy pink. Such a soft and dreamy color perhaps sounds an odd choice, but it just works. The firm’s previous projects and clients include New York Botanical Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden and numerous federal memorials. 

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

In addition to a distinguished landscape, the home also includes access to a list of amenities nearly as long as the 80-foot private dock: there’s an equestrian facility, golf and sporting clays, artist programs, a working farm and 30 miles of nature trails all nearby as part of the larger Spring Island residential community.

Rather than considering the home and surrounding Lowcountry landscape of Pine Island as two separate entities, it’s easier to envision them as a single, cohesive space. Here, the indoors and outdoors are harmoniously linked as one without obstruction or pretension. In other words — actually, in Picasso’s words — Pine Island is all about eliminating the unnecessary. It’s art.

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson


Year purchased: Purchased the island in 1995

Square footage: 5,748

Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths

Architects/planners: William McDonough & Partners

Contractor/builder: Bay 10 Ventures

Tile/flooring: White oak from Pennsylvania farm, recycled western cedar, butternut, white pine, danto, granite

Landscape design: Oehme, Van Sweden & Associate

Furniture: Stickley chairs, Grueby Pottery, George Nakashima table

Art: William Morris, Peter Voulkos pottery

*all resources supplied by homeowners