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Charleston Style & Design


By M.S. Lawrence | Photography By Holger Obenaus

Spaces of Distinction - Livingroom
Denise Balassi of Spaces of Distinction created elegant spaces that are also tough enough for a family of seven's fun and active lifestyle at the beach.

Wanted: a comfortable yet stylish environment for a family of five children under age 13, including four boys. Must be durable and hard-wearing, yet able to host grown-up gatherings. Needs to accommodate many toys for an active family of seven. Must have brains and beauty.

Designer Denise Balassi and her team at Spaces of Distinction heeded the call of this busy family for the third time, helping them find a balance between fun and fashionable on beautiful and family-friendly Kiawah Island.

"This is the third home we've designed for these clients," says Balassi. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, she was lead designer for a prestigious New England firm before founding Spaces of Distinction nearly 30 years ago.

"These homeowners were very hands-on during the three-year project, which we worked on together, starting with initial space planning, with architect Chris Rose and the build team at Russ Cooper Associates. The owners embraced our design concepts with enthusiasm and gave us creative license to think outside the box so we could make the project a success," she says.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the home's form-meets-function oceanfront showstopper: a tiled patio that sinks hydraulically to double as the pool's floor. While it was the homeowner's idea ("She viewed the space as valuable real estate and didn't want to devote it exclusively to a pool," notes Balassi), Spaces of Distinction executed much of the aesthetics, designing the tile pattern for the pool while carefully adhering to weight and composition requirements. "Even the grout had to be specially formulated," says Balassi.

Spaces of Distinction - Kitchen
Balassi partnered with Terry Scarborough of Kitchens by Deane in Connecticut to design a sleek kitchen with walnut cabinets, white onyx countertops and custom stainless and glass hood with inlaid bamboo tiles.

Spaces of Distinction - Dining Room
Balassi designed the custom lighting, oversized square table and banquettes to comfortably and casually accommodate large family gatherings.

This kind of attention to detail is evident throughout the home, starting with the Ramon Gray limestone tiles that quietly blur the line between outdoors and in, segueing from the front porch, where they're sandblasted, to the foyer and other interiors, where they're honed. Patterns vary in size as they flow from room to room. Balassi used glass tiles to create a baseboard in the entry and then repeated the look on the outdoor stair risers, which, she says, was another unique approach that the owner embraced.

In fact, the design of the foyer was revisited as the homeowners' tastes edged toward contemporary. "We work closely with builders to make changes and adjustments as designs develop," says Balassi. "As the owners' tastes evolved, we were able to scale back some of the traditional Southern details and give some of the rooms, including the entry, a more streamlined look and feel." Four paint colors and a circular tile focal piece shed any remaining hint of the Old South.

Likewise, in the great room, the design team replaced a typical fireplace with a modern firebox dressed in Macassar ebony with mitered square joists and steel "ribbons." They designed the ceiling and other trim work in the room, which flows from living area to dining to kitchen, to read as one space. "We were responsible for much of the millwork designs throughout the house," says Balassi.

A "smart house," it incorporates many environmentally friendly features including low-VOC paints and formaldehyde-free, Pure-Bond wood cabinetry and furniture to reduce airborne contaminants, which were of particular concern to the family. For the wood finishes throughout the home, Balassi brought in craftsmen expert in the old-world technique of French polishing, which yields a high gloss by combining several coats of shellac with hand-rubbing in stead of lacquer. Automated, remotely controlled window shades concealed in the woodwork provide privacy and protection from the sun, yet keep views and windows uncluttered.

Spaces of Distinction - Montage
(Clockwise, left to right) The billiard room; the great room, with firebox and custom modular seating; the "multipurpose" room, with Macassar ebony ceiling panels; the master bedroom, where a chenille chaise quietly underscores the view.

Spaces of Distinction - Exterior
Beyond the hydraulic pool is a cocktail deck, fire pit, misting tunnel and playground for the family's five kids, who love to help make pizzas in the outdoor kitchen on the pool deck.

Spaces of Distinction - Bedroom

A guest bedroom features cozy seating, warm, rich tones and a rope-wrapped chandelier.

Spaces of Distinction - Bathroom
The master bathroom features a mosaic floor, freestanding tub, two-tiered double vanities and all-around ocean views.

Hard-working materials including tile, leather, raffia, flat-weave rugs and indoor-outdoor upholstery fabrics handsomely stand up to sun, sand and rough-and-tumble kids. Everywhere are signs of Balassi and her team's outside-the-box approach: a touch of pizazz with an asymmetrical sink in one bathroom; a ship's bunk theme in the boys' room; Venetian plastered walls and shaped glass lighting; porcelain tiles punctuated with hammered metal tiles in the laundry and powder room; an oversized square table with banquettes in the dining room. In the third-floor master suite, with private laundry room and breakfast area, the ceiling was faux-painted with glass crystals to mimic the sparkle of the water outside, Balassi says.