Use these must-have design details to bring the Charleston look to your living room.
Step inside the living room of this 1830s, Federal-style home, and you know instantly you’re in Charleston. “This city has such specific architectural characteristics, no matter what the exact style of each home,” says Charleston interior designer Jenny Keenan, who designed this gracious room. Rooms are defined by their small size, symmetrical design, a fireplace with a carved mantel, cornices with elaborate details, large windows, and well-worn heart-pine floors.
So much of what defines a Charleston room is its architecture. The lines are clean and the heart-pine floors are simple, but elaborately carved moldings add the defining touches. “There was such attention to carpentry detail,” says Jenny.
When it comes to the decorating, Jenny says it’s about the mix. “Rooms in Charleston have a personal, collected look that is rich with layers of history,” she says. “If you don’t include those traditional pieces, such as an antique secretary, you’re cheating all the people who lived in your home before you.” Along with antique furniture, hand-painted wallpaper is a unique Charleston tradition. “You can find beautiful wallcoverings as far back in Charleston as you can date,” Jenny says. “Today’s twist is to pick a classic pattern in a fresh color.”
Use antiques to anchor your room and then mix in modern touches with bold fabrics, mid-century lighting, and sculptural accessories. Jenny also says that a rug is the perfect place to add that twist because you already have a weathered wood floor to play it against and you can additionally ground it by layering a few older pieces of traditional furniture.
“Comfortable and formal can go together,” says Jenny. She suggests pairing silk curtains and mirrored tables with clean-lined upholstery and lots of colorful pillows.
Many of the original Charleston settlers came from England and, later, other parts of Europe. They often imported those country’s
goods or had local craftsmen create new pieces with details from several different items. “Charelston style is really a melting
pot of lots of different influences,” says Jenny. This means your room doesn’t have to be all one style or contain furnishings
from only one region. It should reflect where you’ve been and what you’ve collected.
One commonly used accessory that is a must for any room is the antique French mirror. “The mirror is very traditional Charleston,” says Jenny. “You can probably find a gilded mirror in every single house south of Broad Street.”
Whatever the personal mix, there are several icons that are must-have accessories in any Charleston-style room. “If you only buy one thing when you come to Charleston, it should be a sweetgrass basket,” says Jenny. “It is definitely a craft that is closely associated with the city.” Other must-haves on her list are brass andirons, shells, and the silver julep cup. “The mint julep cup is a staple,” advises Jenny. “We use them for everything.”