A stunning, sustainable residence overlooking a rice pond blends form and function.
“To be able to draw, use your imagination and to have your imagination come forth in the design of someone’s home that eventually gets built—that’s an amazing voyage.”
– Chris Schmitt
There is a home on Spring Island located on a historic rice pond, enshrouded by vegetation and enveloped by living nature. Designed with great imagination and remarkable creativity, this sustainable residence is home to a global collection of furniture, sculpture and art.
The rice trunk was an ingenious, yet simple apparatus that made large-scale planting and irrigation control possible in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Hung on uprights, the swinging doors, called gates, could be raised or lowered to drain or flood a field. When the gate on the river end of a trunk is raised, the water in the field runs into the river at low tide. As the tide turns, the rising water exerts pressure on the river gate and swings it tightly shut, preventing water from returning to the field. To flood the field, the process is reversed.
In the past, the rice pond did just that. Today, it serves a refuge for all types of wood ducks, egrets and ibis, with the gates used when it is necessary to control the water’s depth. The wildlife and the dappled light cast through the maritime forest are ever present and entwine the multiple view angles from the home and each of the outbuildings within the three-acre compound.
Porter and Lorraine Galloway, this Spring Island home’s kind, charismatic and creative owners, are both interior designers. Every wonderful piece of furniture, uncommon sculpture, creative accessory and original piece or art serves as a reflection of their taste and talent. Having lived all over the world, they have acquired a collection that befits this remarkable home.
The architecture sits lightly on the ground as can be noticed by the multiple structural pilings and the raised foundation. The minimally invasive design follows the natural terrain and changing grade, which slopes from all angles to the rice pond. Each of the buildings reaches to the sky with reverse sloped roofs that enabled the architect to provide views with vast expanses of glass. The buildings are positioned to receive just the right amount of light, while capturing and embracing the natural views. The facade of the main building, on multiple sides, has more glass than walls, creating a gorgeous transparency.
Studying the reverse roof design, one realizes the genius of the collaboration between the architect, Chris Schmitt, and the landscape architect, Thomas Angell. The design of the home is truly sustainable and has both form and multiple functions. The form is contemporary, incorporating imagery of a mill from the past, while the function includes extra-wide timber-braced overhangs.
The configuration of the various roofs directs the rain water from the upper roofs to the lower roofs and into gutters or wood-encased slues, at times creating waterfalls that are visible from the interior, as they flow into rock beds below. These rock beds are then directed at varying grades to the rice pond, with winding raised wooden pathways, which at times act as a bridge over the gentle multiple terraced slopes, allowing the flowing water to infiltrate into the earth. Very little water reaches the pond, due to the infiltration, as it is also purified by the earth and nature, creating sustainability at its greatest level.
A short distance up a slight hill, along a winding wooden path nestled in indigenous natural plants and trees is the guest house. Secluded and exuding the feel of a retreat. this small structure is self-contained and offers guests all the comforts of home while continuing the architectural design.
Further along a winding boardwalk, two outbuildings anchor the landscape. One structure is an art studio, fully equipped and with great care taken with the siting for the morning and evening light that is just right for an artist. The adjacent building is a workshop with two glass overhead doors, allowing an enjoyable cross breeze while working on a woodworking project or repairing fishing poles. Just around the corner is a temperature-controlled wine “cellar,” fit for even the most discerning of sommeliers. Completing the exploration of the compound is a visit to the “car barn,” which includes ample space for a wide range of vehicles.
This masterful twilight photograph of the rear of the home by Tom Jenkins best depicts the genius of the home and brings it alive. This is the view from the pond, with the wood pilings blind fastened to an embedded steel plinth and forming a concrete pier, the braced vaulted roofs allowing for the vast expansive glazing providing unobstructed views, the flanking trellises, which blurs the edge on that side of the house and, yet, providing shadows through the interior at certain times of day. The red eaves and sashes create definition. The simple board and batten siding and the subtlety of the varying slat widths of the hog pinning are a great choice. The indigenous landscaping is unassuming and allows the structures to feel as is they have always been there.
Walking up to the Main Entry, one does not know what quite to expect with the austere façade. Entering this exquisite home, the senses become awakened. Which angle to look at first, which next? From the Great Room that draws your eye to the pond and roosting egrets in the distance, upward through the pine trees and steel stairway, to the small windows in the tower above, then notice the bold and colorful collection of paintings covering the wall, or peek around the corner to observe, tucked away in an angular niche, a smooth standing stone abstract sculpture peering upward as if mimicking your movement. The focus through the glass door shifts to the landscaped terrace beyond.
The cross beams fastened to the interior post establish the structure to support the giant sloping roof. The great room overlooking the trellis and undisturbed nature offers easy access to the dining room, kitchen, the smaller central sitting room and the landing of the master bedroom.
With its extraordinary wall mural, the master bedroom and adjoining study feel like they are part of the surrounding natural landscape. The unique oriental apothecary chest, though large in scale, does not overpower the space because of the height of the space and the simplicity of the accompanying pieces.
The kitchen is simple, with built-in cabinets and appliances emphasizing function and flow. The asymmetrical island and cabinets feature flame-grain faces creating a smart, refined look. The opaque overhead cabinet doors, simple hardware, second prep kitchen, patterned stone, backsplash tile and stainless steel appliances offer an urban look that blends effortlessly with the overall space.
The main room of the guest house feels as if it is part of nature with no walls. Notice the structural, yet artistic, cross-beams and iron plates that support the reverse roof. Beyond the porch is the flue that creates a waterfall during heavy rain.
The uncompromising care that was given to maintaining and enhancing the natural landscaping and controlling stormwater runoff quality is evident here. With the guest house visible in the background, you get a sense of the fall from the house and how the slue functions by slowing the runoff down and allowing it to infiltrate.
- ARCHITECT: Chris Schmitt, Walker-Concepts Architecture, LLC, Charleston, South Carolina
- LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Thomas Angell, Verdant Enterprises, LLC, Savannah, Georgia
- CONTRACTOR: Gollihugh and Hull, Seabrook, South Carolina
- INTERIOR DESIGNERS: Porter and Lorraine Galloway, Spring Island, South Carolina
Article by Randolph Stewart. Photos courtesy of Tom Jenkins Photography