The Gallery House

A Modern Style Beach Home for Art Collectors With an Improbable Beginning

The family started off with a different architect and a different design for the modern style beach home they wanted.  They had struggled to gain the necessary local approvals and were horrified by initial construction cost estimates that were well over their  budget. Discouraged, they contacted me. They came to Swallowtail wanting to know if I could rethink the design to satisfy the strict local building codes, reduce construction costs while keeping their core design requirements.  They wanted a new, contemporary home that would showcase their art collection, and provide seamless access to outdoor living areas.  They had planned for a reverse floor plan that maximized the views.  Shortly after that initial meeting, the family called to say they had decided to abandon the project.

Best Architecture Award 2018
2018 ArCH Design Award

Wait, I said. I have some ideas.  Let me send you my sketches.

The home was conceived as a series of boxes of varying sizes, with cutouts for the porches.   We used large windows to create a rhythm with the porches of solids and contrasting voids. This created a contemporary home that had small-scale massing with a richness in the shapes that complimented the scale, massing, and porches of other Sullivan’s Island homes. The front of the house is a contemporary riff on the traditional Charleston single house, with the two “halves” of the front façade suggesting two single houses side-by side.

Being conscious that many reverse floor plans give scant attention to the first floor, I used a grand stair to connect the principal rooms on the upper floor to the entrance. The stair is easily seen from a number of vantage points, letting visitors know how to navigate the reverse floor plan. Rather than treating the stairs as a necessary evil, I made them a key design element visible from many points in and outside the house.  The staircase is detailed with side walls in glass, making it visible on all floors. Diagonal views between the floor levels, and views of and from the stair enhance both the interior and exterior design. Both interior and exterior stairs form strong diagonal elements and are accentuated with lighting. The exterior stair up to the roof terrace was situated as a complementary diagonal to the interior stair.

To give effect to the families vision for the display of their artwork, all exterior and interior finishes were white and off-white.  While we ‘painted’ with light and texture that changed with the time of day, we wanted a clean and quiet backdrop to the magnificent display.  The art display plan located the art pieces in all rooms and circulation spaces, making them visible from a variety of vantage points and a part of the homeowners experience throughout the house on a daily basis inside and outside.  The plan created rooms and spaces with layers of transparency between each other and the exterior, so all rooms allow for views of both the art work and the exterior.   This treatment also allows intriguing partial views of rooms, creating a deeper, richer and more satisfying experience. For example:  the club room and dining room enjoy the magnificent view of the Intracoastal Waterway, seen through the living room and backporch, and the foyer has a clear view of the Intracoastal Waterway through glass panels into the family room and then through the back porch.   A wine room became a wine wall, but with a highly visible display—its glass doors opposite the stair and echoing the large window there;

After seeing the sketches, they called me back, delighted:

You got everything we wanted and made it even better!


Other design plan strategies included:

  • Locating the living room, dining room, kitchen and club room on the upper floor with a wide back porch running across the full width of the rear of the home, providing all of the principal rooms with excellent views;
  • Reducing the heated square footage and area under roof to meet the budget. This meant stripping the project to its core elements and then building up the design so that the spaces flowed well and had multiple functions. This had the added benefit of creating spaces that were interconnected and allowed us to frame their art collection from many vantage points. For example:
  • Reducing the width of the front of the home to allow views from the principal rooms which also helped me meet the town’s zoning requirements to break up the mass of the building and created a sculptural, well-proportioned front elevation.

After the couple moved in and put their art on display, they told me.


Every time I pass through the hallway,” she said, “I stop and look at the art. And when I turn toward the door at the end of the hallway, its window perfectly frames the bridge. I can’t believe I am lucky enough to get to live in this house.

Image Gallery

Gourmet Kitchen
Architect: Rachel Burton, Swallowtail Architecture
Builder: Sea Island Builders
Landscape Design: Kelly Messier
Structural Design: Stephen Caskie

From Rachel’s Desk

Modern Home on Sullivan’s Featured in Post & Courier

An Architecturally Striking and Contemporary Home on Sullvian's Island Swallowtail Architecture's modern-style Gallery House has been featured in The Post and Courier.   The article discusses the homes unique character among the homes on Sullivan's [...]

CRAN Features Swallowtail Architecture

Swallowtail Architecture has been selected as this month's featured architectural firm in Charleston, SC by AIA CRAN Charleston.  An honor bestowed on us by our peers who also practice architecture in the greater Charleston area.  The home highlighted with this honor is the Gallery House.