Everyone can relate to the feeling of not wanting a beach vacation to end. For Grace and A.B. Henley, the solution was clear: extend their beach stay indefinitely with a family home in Ocean Isle, North Carolina.
Grace grew up in the coastal town and beach living was a family tradition, one she wanted to extend to her college-aged children and, hopefully, future grandchildren. Because she and A.B. envisioned a place where family would visit for years to come, they knew they had to make it as accessible as it was elegant. Raleigh-based interior designer Kate Hutchison, principal of Kate.H.Design, helped them do just that.
“They didn’t want the house to feel too serious,” Hutchison says. “Being able to live in it practically was important to them. They wanted a place that was like them—warm, inviting, relaxed, and fuss-free.”
Hutchison delivered a design that suits the name the family ultimately gave the house: Charis—the Greek word for grace. It was a name that not only honored the woman of the house, but also the boat her father had when she was growing up. And it’s appropriate because as Grace says, “We feel really blessed.”
The Henleys brought Hutchison on board early in the process after falling in love with her online portfolio. She worked with them to nail down a style even as the walls were being raised and drywall hung, selecting tile and paint colors in tandem, a process that helped with the flow and overall cohesive feeling of the design.
The goal was to design a space that was “future friendly” in both form and function. They wanted to be able to entertain family and friends who would visit, all with a design that had a timeless feel. “I didn’t want to be able to look back and say, ‘Oh yeah, that style was popular in 2019,’” Grace says.
The home’s just-under-3,000 square-feet are spread out over three floors, in what Hutchison calls “a reverse floor plan.” The living and dining areas are on the top floors to maximize the water views, with the bedrooms on the lower levels. A large sliding door opens to the main porch, tying the indoor and outdoor spaces together seamlessly and expanding the entertaining area.
“We’ll do yoga stretches on that porch, or congregate with friends and have cocktails while we enjoy beautiful sunsets,” Grace says. Inside, they wanted a clean, uncluttered look that reflected the coastal surroundings without seeming cliché. Hutchison opted for a color palette of clean white and nautical blues to set the tone. “The way she uses color is fabulous,” says Grace. “It’s rich, it’s youthful, yet she uses it very appropriately in different situations. Our primary home is Georgian and she translated that very well here at the beach.”
Hutchison’s palette also acts as a backdrop for the vibrant art that hangs everywhere. “The Henleys’ appreciation of art is amazing,” says the designer. “They were very intentional about how they went about purchasing it over the three-year period when this house was being built.”
“Once we knew we were going to do this project, we just started looking [for art]. I don’t have any special training, I just know what I love and I love discovering new artists,” Grace says. “Plus,” she adds, “art is personal, and something you can leave for your children and grandchildren to enjoy for years – unlike furniture, which can get outdated.”
Once they agreed where a piece would live, Hutchison would draw on the colors in the painting for the rest of the décor. The console that separates the kitchen from the living area, for instance, was painted a deep blue to coordinate with a large painting Grace bought for the family room. And a grouping of oyster plates in her daughter’s bathroom, which had hung in Grace’s childhood beach house, coordinates beautifully with a painting she found for the adjacent bedroom. “We wanted the art to convey the full selection of colors and tones, and vice versa,” A.B. says.
Other standouts include a set of abstract portraits of Grace and A.B. that hang above one another outside the bar, and a beach scene commissioned from Anna Vaughs. The commissioned piece was done in two panels so that they could be placed over doors that conceal the flat screen television in the living area. “It was Kate’s idea to split it,” says Grace. “We watch TV, but when you’re at the beach sometimes you just want to turn off all your electronics and enjoy it.”
“Enjoying it” also meant designing for practical things, like kids running in and sitting on the furniture in wet bathing suits, or the family’s two dogs—a Cavalier King Charles spaniel-poodle mix and golden retriever. To that end, Hutchison says, all the upholstery is done in performance-grade Krypton indoor-outdoor fabric, which they chose in lieu of slipcovers because it’a more tailored look. The dining room seating is done in what Hutchison calls “extremely wipeable” vinyl that looks and feels like leather and is pretty close to indestructible. Even the delicate-looking clear acrylic stools at the kitchen island are sturdy, comfortable, and easy to clean.
Hutchison chose materials that look better with wear, like teak patio furniture, which as it ages, creates a nice natural finish, and honed Carrera marble countertops. “Honed marble is more forgiving,” she says. “The Henleys are relaxed and casual and marble wears over time with a space so it speaks to how they live.
It’s like leather. The first time a dog jumps up and scratches it you get worried, but after ten years you get this beautiful patina and weathered look.” These materials also underpin the subtle nautical scheme. “We wanted a coastal vibe, but without putting a seahorse on everything,” Hutchison says. She executed this with lots of texture: rope and rattan; sea glass; a coco bead chandelier in a powder room; horizontal shiplap on the walls and vertically on the custom-designed range hood in the kitchen—the focal point between two windows.
Even the laundry room doggie door, cleverly disguised as a cabinet, has a decorative metal insert. “The overall, cohesive feeling of the whole house is what I really love about it,” says Hutchison. “We were able to blend this casual yet sophisticated feeling. It’s inviting and comfortable and beautiful.”
The owners agree. Grace recalls that just five days after moving in the family left for a trip. While they were gone, Hutchison added the finishing touches and staged the house for their arrival. “It was so much fun to walk in and see pictures hung, plates out, books on shelves,” Grace says. “It was like Christmas. It was better than Christmas.” Even better still, she goes on, is living in the space every day since. “When all the fanfare is over, it truly is such a livable space.