Deceptively Modern

Posted On July 5, 2019

This 1922 home in the Hollywood-Rose Hill neighborhood looks the part from the street. Step inside, through a massive eight-foot door of wood and glass and the scenery changes.


When artist Judy Hubbard and her husband, retired law professor Pat Hubbard, decided to move from their 1913 home in Old Shandon after 40 years, they had definite ideas about what should come next.  “We wanted a more manageable life,” Judy said. For her, that meant stripping down a bit and embracing a more minimalist look. (Example: a 65% reduction in furniture.) For him, it was a question of land. Less than before, but enough to feed his passion for tropical bromeliads, instilled during his boyhood visits with his favorite aunt in Miami, Florida. First, they had to find an historic home that they could work with.

“We probably looked at half a dozen homes, but this one seemed different to us both,” Pat said. “We started asking questions.” Judy felt the spirit of the house almost instantly. “It felt like home as soon as we walked in.” A home, however, that needed quite a bit of renovation and reimagining to make it theirs.  

As an artist, Judy needed a studio and lots of light, plus ample walls to display not only her work, but the paintings and sculptures in their collection, “mostly from South Carolina artists and friends,” she said, laughing. She didn’t want lots of heavy furniture weighing things down, but there were family pieces that were important. He needed a greenhouse to cultivate and protect his passion for bromeliads and orchids. Plants are a primeval force for life and beauty in and around the home. They both wanted a terrace and lots of pathways to explore the gardens, but no lawns. “I gave away my lawn mower,” Pat explained.

Enter architect Michael Haigler, who had worked with them before and was the couple’s only choice to envision the transformation. There is clearly mutual respect. “To have brilliant clients involved in the color and light and placement was a gift,” he said. The three spent hours configuring and imagining finalizing plans and design elements. “Some of it happened mid-process,” Haigler said. “For example, there are lots of fifteen degree angles through the interior. We were looking for a way to break out of the existing box and move the energy through the house, and soon we realized the angles became a recurring theme so we kept going.”

They name a number of craftspeople and contractors who helped them. In particular, Wesley Farnum, the contractor, was patient and dedicated to the many details involved in bringing their dreams to fruition.  Sometimes, the discussions were lively. “Michael and I were two people running in different lanes,” Pat explained. Haigler shared that, with his lawyer’s mind, Pat asked questions and wanted reasons for details and design solutions. Together, the collaboration was creative and frequently a bit passionate. “We wanted to preserve the history, yet add structural integrity, new wiring and modern construction elements,” Pat said.  “We wanted a new home that looked old.”

The first challenge was the entry. A full-length front porch, so typical a hundred years ago, made the entry cramped and less welcoming than anyone wanted. They turned half of the porch into part of the entry, leaving room for a treasure of a new powder room and more space for a much safer and friendlier wrap-around staircase to the second floor. Art is everywhere. The metal handrails on the stairs are very modern. They were designed by Judy and Haigler and were masterfully crafted by Stuart Sneed of 803Iron.  A similar design appears near the back of the house in the overlook and stairs leading to the basement. (They call it the Atrium.  Stairwell just doesn’t do it justice.) The foyer staircase invites visitors to the second floor, which holds an open book loft, Pat’s office (he also has an office at the university and still conducts research), and two more bedrooms for visiting family. More colorful paintings decorate the rooms where their grandchildren stay. One bathroom completes the second floor.

Turn left into the living room, opened to include the dining room (now television area) and on to the breakfast/dining table.  A mannequin in the corner of the living room is covered by watches and becomes sculpture. “I use time as an element quite often,” Judy said. A piece titled Blue Gatherer is in the corner, adorned by shells and time elements. A smaller painting dated 1898 hangs on the wall and was painted by Judy’s great aunt. Two cane chairs with blue cushions are family pieces brought from Japan in the 1940s and are flanked by art and furnishings gathered in a lifetime of exploring. A table and lamp are Clark Ellefson creations. Two pieces by her dear friend, the late Laura Spong are prominent.  Tall windows are everywhere. “I need lots of light and we have it now,” she said. Minimizing window treatment, they used window film for privacy on the bottom half of the windows while still having light. A tall glass door and large windows in the dining area open onto an intriguing terrace and garden vistas beyond.  

Around the corner is the kitchen, completely redone with a variety of built-in cabinets, textured doors and specialty lighting. The quartzite island has two stools and is a frequent meeting and talking spot for the couple. Who’s the cook? “Judy creates more elegant dishes, but if we want a simple, healthy meal, I usually do that,” Pat said.  

That 15-degree angle pops up again in the window, complete with a wide ledge for plant displays. Pat switches out plants about every two weeks for a mini gallery. A vertical cabinet holds a small stepladder.  Since the storage goes up to the ceiling, the ladder is a necessity for retrieval. The hardware and built-ins are softened by the light and texture of the backsplash blocks. Frequently, the appearance is almost waterlike.  

Back to the breakfast area and stairwell, then on to the master bedroom and bath. The ceilings are tall, matched by windows. “You’re supposed to keep the bedroom restful, so what do we do but place a bright, colorful painting, “Canoe” by Michael Krajewski, beside the bed,” Judy said. The master bath has 14-foot vaulted ceilings, with a magnificent ceiling fan and built-in storage. In fact, built-ins are everywhere; they make sense and the result is smooth and streamlined. Clutter is at a minimum.  Paintings and sculptures, some by friends and others by students or regional artists, are on beautiful display. 

A door in the master bath opens onto a large greenhouse, filled to the brim with plants. “You should have seen it in the winter,” Pat said. “You could barely move in there.”

The greenhouse also opens onto the back yard, what Judy calls “Pat’s world.” Her galleries are inside; his are outside.  “When you have this many plants it’s not a garden, it’s a plant gallery,” Pat said. First, the terrace, dotted with sculptural pieces, a table and chairs, invites peaceful contemplation. Step downs lead to the plants, which are reached by pathways of varying textures and materials. Some of the stones came from their old house. Others were fill-ins. Large boulders were put in place with the help of two, strong, law students. Some of the plants came with the house and were trimmed up to provide more gallery space along the back wall. What must be 100 bromeliads are positioned along the left. Japanese maples with their feathery bronze leaves are sprinkled around the home. A chair in the shadows was left in the yard and painted green to become Pat’s retreat for one. A waterfall adds gentle sounds.

What is the oldest plant there? A bromeliad from his mother, more than 50 years old. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to admire. Flanking one side of the “gallery” is Judy’s studio. The new detached garage serves as a backdrop for the terrace and base for the new art studio. Her creative space is up steep stairs to an area filled with light. The windows have a cathedral-like appearance and that’s not by accident. “I wanted this to be a spiritual place for Judy to work and the windows contribute to that,” Haigler said. The ceilings are tall, necessary to hang some of her larger works in progress. The light could be a mixed blessing, since she frequently works with textiles and they’re sensitive to light. Solar tinting has helped soften and protect what happens in the room. Judy’s still settling into her space. “I’m throwing away, yet displaying here, too,” she said. Haigler created a display ledge at the top of the stairs which have pieces artfully arranged. It’s a private sanctuary to creativity.

Downstairs and outside, the prior owner’s garden gate adds a nod to the house’s age. It’s not modern, but the metal welcomes visitors in and seems simply perfect. The new driveway has also become a terrace and is filled with more plants and sculptures. It flows seamlessly into the front where a tiny, attractive area causes neighbors to stop and admire the design and placement.

“You can tell that we have more than a touch of mid-century, plus an Asian vein running through the house and gardens,” Judy said. You can indeed. You can also feel and see the artist’s aesthetic and the analytical lawyer and masterful plant curator’s mind, plus the architect’s creativity and vision as they blend together. I smiled the entire time I was there.


Architect: Michael Haigler, michaelhaigler.com

Tile: Palmetto Tile, palmettotile.com