Spring Island residence is surrounded by nature’s beauty
(PHOTOS BY ATLANTIC ARCHIVES, INC./RICHARD LEO JOHNSON)
As much as Steve and Michelle Karol enjoy their life in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill and the convenience of strolling from their tony townhome to a nearby grocery store in the city, they’re more than delighted to spend time a world apart in nature’s splendor and the great outdoors at their sprawling residence on Spring Island.
“Here, we can’t walk to the grocery store, but we can walk out into nature and that’s great,” said Steve Karol, an investments heavyweight and dedicated fisherman and golfer. The couple relishes the undisturbed beauty of their 26 acres of pine, oak and magnolia trees, more than a quarter-mile of private, pristine waterfront property along the Colleton River and an abundance of windows and natural light inside their 9,000 square feet of living space in three separate buildings.
“We do love it,” said Michelle Karol, an award-winning mystery writer in the English genre and avid equestrian who rides frequently on the island. “It’s beautiful.”
Her husband said that it’s been a “long process when we started to think about the last third (of their lives)” about seven years ago, what they wanted to do and where they wanted to do it.
“We still aren’t sure, but we definitely knew we wanted to spend a good portion (of the next few decades), at least in the wintertime, here in the Lowcountry area,” said Steve Karol, who is an avid pilot and flies his own plane back and forth from Boston to Lady’s Island and elsewhere on business. “So the vision was to find the environment where we could do that. When we found Spring Island, it was perfect for us. … We particularly like the nature and the whole idea of conservation here.”
They bought their expansive property in 2010 from one of the two original developers of Spring Island, and set about hiring Grady Woods Architect in Ridgeland to design their Lowcountry/Cape Cod-style home. The Karols then enlisted builder Ken Crast of Crast Custom Homes on Hilton Head, whose team completed construction last September after nearly two years of work. Meanwhile, interior designer Cyndie Seely of CJ Designs in Providence, R.I., who is Michelle Karol’s college roommate and close friend, was creating a spectacular English country look with a discerning eye and artistic flourishes.
Three separate buildings connected by covered walkways occupy the eastern edge of the property on Spring Island Drive. They are not physically imposing in size individually, but are visually distinct and refined in their details. The main residence sits between the “man cave”/garage and guest cottage, both of which resemble New England-style barns. Both are two stories with gambrel roofs, with a weather vane perched atop the cupola of Steve Karol’s “man cave.”
He recently hosted a bunch of buddies to watch an NFL playoff contest in the game room, which features four mounted televisions, a wet bar, a dartboard, an antique foosball table and a pool table. A fireplace warms his comfortable English-style office, which he considers his favorite room and is enclosed by painted yellow pine walls and cabinets. His private getaway also has a bathroom and wine room.
Across the front yard, so to speak, sits the splendid three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom guest cottage, which also boasts upstairs/downstairs kitchens and three fireplaces, making it a relaxing retreat for Karol’s three adult daughters or other visiting guests. The river, marshes, nearby man-made pond and early morning light paint glorious Lowcountry vistas.
“I really love the upstairs bedroom in the guest house; that’s special,” Steve Karol said. “The marsh and river beyond, positioned to get the morning sun … the birds. It’s really cool.”
Other homey touches in the guest cottage are a Dutch door, a clam basket light fixture designed by Seely, wooden beams, a colorful hand-painted wall design in one of the bedrooms, two decks and flooring and walls from the harvested pine trees preserved from the property during clearing for construction.
“We tried to salvage the wood we harvested from the lot and so he (Crast) did,” Steve Karol said. “There are a few rooms on the property that he made out of the trees that came from this property,” including the wall and cabinetry in his own office and cabinetry in the other two buildings.
Beyond the guest cottage is a trillium garden, full of wildflowers and rare plants that briefly flower amidst Native American oyster shell mineral deposits from years ago. Michelle Karol adores this flora collection on the property. A dock far beyond keeps her husband’s 24-foot custom-built boat anchored.
The wondrous wandering on the property eventually centers on the main residence.
Forty thousand pounds of slate excavated from a New York quarry are supported by structural trusses in the great room, which rises 25 feet high from the floor to the top of the ceiling. Numerous windows stretch from the floor to as high as the wall space allows.
“We don’t like to be cramped; even though we don’t have a lot of rooms, the rooms are big,” Steve Karol said. “We wanted to have nature from the outside come in. We wanted to have a lot of light and windows.”
Their living quarters have a grand kitchen, an inviting great room, a spacious master suite downstairs and warm guest bedroom upstairs, an informal dining room adjacent to the kitchen, a butler’s pantry, two bathrooms and a huge office with an antique desk and sitting area for Michelle Karol upstairs, her favorite room where she can see the sunsets every day.
“I love the interior design,” she said. “We were going for a sort of country English feel because it has the oriental rugs … I’m an Anglophile and write English mysteries, so this is what we were looking for.”
What she was looking for — and got — includes original artwork showing dogs and horses posing and romping in the English countryside. She also nudged Crast to build her, amongst the massive bookshelves of pine that he designed, a “secret” door that, when activated, allows access from the master bedroom to the great room.
“I’m a mystery writer, so I said I wanted a secret door … look at this,” she said, as a sizable portion of the bookshelf slid open with the touch of a finger.
The floor joists and reclaimed virgin heart pine custom made into 12-inch-wide stained planks all came from Massachusetts when an old factory was demolished. Ironically, the 800-year-old wood was shipped from the Carolinas up north after the Civil War and now has returned home.
“I think it’s kind of neat that it’s back in South Carolina,” said Crast, whose company has built about a dozen homes on Spring Island since its founding in 1992.
The fireplace in the great room reflects another piece of history unto itself. The fireplace mantle and original surround dates to 1877 and was retrieved when a Boston Back Bay brownstone was razed.
“So we basically took that whole mantle, and stretched it, and recalled pieces for it, made it probably 4 feet wider and probably 4 feet taller than it originally was,” Crast said. “They wanted to use part of that original surround, so we had to recut that part out with the date and then we inlaid it into the new surround, which was absolute black granite with a matte finish.”
In the kitchen, a blue-gray stove from La Cornue in France commands visual attention, as do the metal and painted wood range hood that Crast designed and the blue hand-painted Italian tile backsplash depicting dogs at play. A custom-made pot rack hovers over the marble-topped island with heart pine legs, and an antique carver’s bench serves as an enticing buffet table. The Crast-designed cabinetry of painted maple and heart pine wood fully integrates all the elements.
Elsewhere, the master bath features antique European marble flooring and fixtures by Waterworks in France. The twisted rope balusters on the staircase were custom-made in Alabama. Handmade tile from Mexico lightens up the mudroom. More than 40 custom-made heart-pine doors with rounded tops ease navigation within the three buildings, and custom-built mahogany doors stand guard to the exterior.
Flat ceilings are nowhere to be found in the residences.
“I wanted every ceiling to be vaulted,” Michelle Karol said. “It’s very charming.”
Outside on the screened porch, a fireplace, working kitchen, a swing bed, Savannah brick and a light blue Gullah-inspired ceiling provide warmth and comfort.
Even though the next chapters in the Karols’ lives have yet to be written, relaxing in Lowcountry splendor during the extended winter months surely will provide some clues about the years ahead for this couple and their three dogs.
Builder: Crast Custom Homes
Cabinets and built-ins: Chris Flathers and Brian Ellis
Interior stone and Waterworks fixtures: Savannah Hardscapes
Stone countertops: Distinctive Granite and Marble
Audio: Scott Geltz
Heart pine flooring: Scott Ziel, Historic Heart Pine Floors
Dock: Steadfast Marine
Windows and building materials: BFS
Architect: Grady Woods Architect
Interior design: Cyndie Seeley
Landscape design: Alan Jackson