Save the trees

2023 Trends and Timeless Design

I recently was at the High Point furniture market and started chatting with a woman at the shuttle stop. She told me that she is a trend spotter. I asked her what the new trends are. She was very coy and said that she could not tell me. But she did say that gray is passé and subway tiles are horribly out of fashion. She expounded by saying that anything that you see a lot of - is already old news.

Maybe being a trend setter is not as desirable as it seems. A friend of mine is friends with a New York-based trend setter. He describes her as looking completely strange and out of place, because she is wearing a look before anyone else. Think about the first people who wore ripped jeans as a style and we all thought they needed to throw out that pair of worn out jeans.

As we move into 2023, HGTV gray and the modern farmhouse aesthetic is definitely history! Gray is replaced with rich earth tones, such as earthy terracotta, ox-blood red and luscious browns.  A popular neutral is warm creamy white.

We are seeing a lot of natural renewal materials; stained wood cabinets and walls, iron railings and unlacquered brass hardware. As lovely as Moroccan Zellige tile is, it might be reaching its saturation point. What is hot is stone mosaics, which have been around since the Romans.

According to the American Society of Interior Designers 2023 Trends Outlook, There will be an emphasis on sustainability embedded into both the form and function of the home. These clients aren’t just expecting energy-saving, carbon-footprint-reducing features like smart home technology, rainwater tanks, and low-energy lighting. They’re also after environmentalism as an aesthetic. Gone are the hard surfaces and synthetic materials in favor of “warmer, more fashionable” touches like brighter woods, natural fabrics, and the integration of renewable materials ranging from wool and cotton to cork. 

I agree with Caroline Herrera who said, “I don’t like trends. They tend to make everyone look the same.” The opposite of trendy is timeless. My discussion with my shuttle companion turned to timeless design. She said that when a house is integrated with the landscape it becomes timeless because it belongs to its place. I agreed, especially since site specific designs are what we do.

This project in Long Cove on Hilton Head Island was built on the last waterfront lot. It was full of beautiful live oaks and most people thought it was unbuildable because of the trees. We nestled the house among the trees and all the neighbors were amazed that we didn’t remove a single tree from the lot.  You can see more photos here.

Construction Costs

Many people who are contemplating building a new home are surprised at the cost of construction. This is especially so since the beginning of the pandemic.

Single family home construction continues to grow in spite of supply chain challenges and rising cost. In 2022, the US Census Bureau reported that 899.1 billion dollars were spent on residential construction which was a 13.3% increase from the 793.7 billion spent in 2021.

Interestingly, homebuilding activity has been heavily concentrated in affordable Sunbelt markets. The US Census Bureau reported that single family building permits increased 22% from 2019 to 2022 for the state of South Carolina and 13% for Hilton Head / Bluffton.

Even with home construction expanding in South Carolina our workforce is not keeping up. The US Chamber of Commerce in their 2023 Worker Shortage Index  reports that South Carolina has a shortage index of 3 out of 4, with 4 being the most severe. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported an increase of 248,000 construction jobs from November 2021 to November 2022 but it also showed that  South Carolina lost 4,700 construction jobs during that same period, even though construction continued to grow. 

Struggles to hire new and skilled employers, supply shortages, and burnout from overbooked schedules are just a few of the obstacles that have resulted in contractors turning down work.

The sources of construction cost inflation have been a moving target. Since April of 2021, the price of lumber has fallen over 90% after doubling in price in 2020. But steel, plastics, gypsum, glass and concrete have all doubled in price since April of 2021. Many of the manufacturers spoke of the need for supply chain resiliency with stockpiling materials to draw from in order to respond to demand as opposed to “Just in Time” inventory that was put in place during the great recession.

Struggles to hire new and skilled employers, supply shortages, and burnout from overbooked schedules are just a few of the obstacles that have resulted in contractors turning down work and increased costs for construction.

Designing for Hurricanes & Earthquakes add to the Construction Costs

Construction costs are higher in Beaufort County because we are in both a hurricane zone and an earthquake zone. The requirements to mitigate both of these hazards include the following:

  • Building the first floor above FEMA’s base flood elevation which adds to the foundation cost.
  • Structural Engineering fees to design code compliant structural systems.
  • Connecting the roof, through the walls to the foundation and footing with threaded rods, go-bolts, hurricane clips or other code approved methods. This adds to both the material and labor costs.
  • The shear walls required for lateral stability are more expensive than sheathing options available in other parts of the country.
  • Window and door openings must be protected from windblown debris. Impact rated windows can cost up to twice as much as non-impact openings.

Best Practices

There are several best practice options that will cost more initially but will either save money on your home insurance or utility bill that we recommend.

  • A secondary roof under a metal roof that ensures water tightness if the roof is compromised during high winds.
  • An U.L. certified lightning protection system will add $7,000 to $10,000 to a 2500 s.f. house but will protect your house and electronics from lightning strikes during our many lightning storms.
  • Spray foam insulation is typically 2 to 3 times more expensive than fiberglass insulation but is a far superior product. It stops air and moisture infiltration, will not sag, keeps dust and pollen out and reduces capacity requirements, maintenance and wear of heating and air conditioning equipment.

TV remodeling shows also add to unrealistic time and cost expectations. Those shows often have donated materials, low cost fees from the contractors and have pre-built a large portion in a warehouse prior to the show.

Cost, square footage (both inside and outside) and quality of materials and workmanship are the triad of construction. Estimators QS report that construction costs for  luxury single family homes in South CaroIina range from $350 per square foot to $550 per square foot with an average of $410. This is consistent with what we are seeing. If cost is the driving issue in your project, you must be flexible in the size of the project and the quality of materials and workmanship.

The Case for Resiliency

According to NOAA, since 1980, the US has sustained at least 341 weather and climate disaster where the overall damage exceeded one billion dollars. Hurricanes are a combined 1.3 trillion in total damages with an average of 22 billion per event. The other natural disaster in order of costs are drought, wildfires, flooding, freezes, winter storms and severe storms. The South and Southeast regions experience higher frequency of billion dollar disaster than other regions. In 2022 natural disasters cost the US $165 billion dollars.

resiliency coastal

Despite the evidence – we are ignoring the consequences of building in vulnerable places.

According to the National Institute of Building Science's research found that mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs, for every dollar spent on hazard mitigation. They also demonstrated that investing in hazard mitigation measures to exceed select building code requirements can save the nation $4 for every dollar.

They estimated that implementing these two sets of mitigation strategies would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

flooding resiliency

Resiliency is similar to sustainability but there is a difference. Sustainability is reducing a building’s impact on the environment and resiliency is reducing the environment’s impact on a building or community. Generally, sustainability initiatives are add to a building’s resiliency but some resiliency requirements are not as sustainable, especially when they are creating redundancy.

resiliency from hurricane

Resilience is about surviving and thriving regardless of the challenge, whether it is a chronic stress or an acute shock. Chronic stresses weaken the fabric of a city on a day-to day or cyclical basis. They include issues such as global warming, poverty, homelessness and aging infra-structure. Acute shocks are sudden sharp events that threaten a community. Often acute shocks are weather related but they can also be human induced such as an act of terror.

Four Kinds of Resiliency

Climate Resiliency

vulnerability to sea level rise map

Architect, Lance Hosey identifies four kinds of resiliency. The first is Climate Resiliency which is reducing the environment’s impact on the building. Depending on the anticipated hazard buildings and landscapes may be protected or hardened against the elements to withstand hurricanes, floods, and fires. Other options include adapting or retreating.

In the case of rising sea levels the options of protecting is building levees or other “hard” methods, accommodating would be raising structures or using “soft” or natural protection measures such as wetlands restoration, and finally retreating would be accomplished by moving or demolishing flood-prone buildings.

This is a huge issue for us because the southeastern US alone represents nearly 70% of the entire projected populations at risk.

Functional Resiliency

The second is Functional Resiliency.  This includes the systems where the building is still habitable and functions. Current standards and codes focus on preserving lives by reducing the likelihood of significant building damage or structural collapse from hazards But they generally don’t address the additional need to preserve quality of life by keeping buildings habitable and functioning as normally as possible, what we call ‘immediate occupancy.

Community Resiliency

The third is Community Resiliency which focuses on municipal and neighborhood resources that help people bounce back to normality or better.

The National Institute of Standards & Technology’s Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems (Guide) provides a practical and flexible approach to help all communities improve their resilience by setting priorities and allocating resources to manage risks for their prevailing hazards.

Aesthetic Resiliency

The fourth is Aesthetic Resilience which is best described by the Senegalese poet Baba Dioum, “In the end, we conserve only what we love.”

Guest Rooms

As we get ready to welcome family and friends this holiday season, here are some tips from our clients on how to make your guest feel at home.

This Long Cove Club  guest room checks all the boxes; comfy seating, full length mirror, drawer space, extra blankets and a great view. The arched window and high ceiling adds drama.

This Fripp Island guest house has plenty of privacy with its private porch overlooking the golf course and ocean. The guest house has a small kitchenette for morning coffee and a desk for sneaking in a connection to the office. Be sure to leave the wifi password on a card that is easy to find.

A great mattress with fine linens make this St. Simon Island guest room a mini retreat. Remember that your guest will need a space to put their stuff, so empty drawers and cleared nightstands are greatly appreciated.

En suite bathrooms are really popular as shown in this Palmetto Bluff bedroom. A full length mirror helps your guest make sure that they are ready for visiting the town.

Bunk rooms are perfect for grandkids. Each bunk has it’s own reading light and small shelf for a book in this St. Simon Island house.

There have been many spend the night parties in this girls guest room on Fripp Island.

High windows capture views of the majestic live oak outside of this guest room on St. Simons Island.

A Ben Ham photograph is reflected in an antique mirror in this Daufuskie Island guest room.


It’s the time of year where we all want to gather together and snuggle up around a fireplace. Here in the lowcountry, some of our favorite fireplaces are located outdoors, either on a screened porch or free standing in the garden. Fireplaces add a great focal point to a space whether it is indoors or out. Here are a few that we have designed over the past thirty years.

Brick Fireplace with Claire Crowe firescreen and Holly Hunt Swan lamp

Fireplace with bookmatched stone

Craftman fireplace

Arts & Crafts inspired fireplace

Concrete fireplace

Four sided brick fireplace

Outdoor brick fireplace with oyster roaster

dogs love dogtrots

Brick fireplace with Phoebe the dog

Dog in front of a fireplace

Sculptural fireplace with Stella the dog

Historic fireplace

Sleeping porch fireplace

Contemporary fireplace with Venetian plaster finish

Exterior fireplace inspired by a historic rice mill chimney

Screened porch fireplace that opens to the great room

Another rice mill inspired chimney

Double fireplaces

Outdoor fireplace on an addition to a historic house

Screened porch fireplace

Construction Update November 2022

Islands of Beaufort Dogtrot

Take a close look at the return air grill. It was custom designed by Benjie and made by Michael Sanders of Sanders Woodworking. The design is based on the footprint of the house.

Brays Island Cabin

The Brays Island Cabin is nearing completion. We are loving the tile selected by Lydia Lewis of Kelly Caron Design.

Long Cove Club house

This Long Cove Club house in Hilton Head Island is in the middle of framing. The raised first floor creates great views of the pond and golf course. There is a half story for the second floor.

A kiln in Okinawa that angles up the hill that it is build on

Biophilic Design in Japan

Biophilia translate to “love of life” and signifies humans’ innate biological and emotional need to connect to nature. Biophilic elements have been shown to reduce stress, improve cognitive performance and support positive emotions and moods. In contemporary architecture it is considered a fairly new concept.

Michael and Jane recently visited Okinawa, Japan and found ancient and contemporary examples of biophilic design. The atrium shown above is the Hotel Moon Beach which was completed in 1975, in 2002 it was awarded the Japan Institute of Architects’ 25 year award.

The Architect Yukifusa Kokuba said of his project “The Moon Beach concept is an architectural realization of the shade of the banyan tree I once saw. The semi-outdoor space softens the strong Okinawan sunlight and creates an airy space.”

Fukushuen Garden located in the Kume neighborhood of Naha which was once the center of Chinese culture during the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). The Chinese Garden uses natural materials throughout. The sculpture on the left are eroded natural stones from the edge of the sea and carefully located in the garden.

The paving is made of individual stones in a concentric pattern.

The new folk dwelling in Nakijin won the JIA Sustainable Architecture Award in 2019. The architect was ISSHO Architects.

This small contemporary house is based on the traditional Okinawa typhoon-proof houses. The structure and natural ventilation are well thought out.

A kiln in Okinawa that angles up the hill that it is build on

The Yomitan HIll Kiln was completed in 1980 and won the JIA 25 Year Award in 2011. The architect was Asao Sugama.

The architectural expression of the Yomitan Hill Kiln can be said to be determined by the waste materials. The kiln is made of prewar roof tiles and used telegraph poles which are then combined with field stones.

The form of the building harmonizes with the landscape as it climbs up the hill.

Glascow Island Regenerative Design

The Glascow Island Regenerative Design is located off of Edisto Island on the South Carolina coast between Beaufort and Charleston. The client wants to make the project an example of regenerative design which reduces negative impacts on the environment but also produces positive impacts. We are super exciting to be pursuing the Living Building Challenge.

Living Buildings are:

  • Regenerative building that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature and community
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site
  • Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them

St. Simon's House Featured in Savannah Magazine

The Thomas Black House on St. Simon's Island was featured in Savannah Magazine. Read about it here. See more about the project here.