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Mid-Century & Modern

Posted On May 4, 2022

Hints of the past; updated for now and later

By Katherine Pettit » Photos Jay Browne

The outside of this house built in the 50s retains its original look – with notable updates.  The inside is a complete transformation.

“We have no regrets – none at all,” said John and Emma Morris from their thoroughly modern dining room, renovated from an old back porch and reconfigured to match the couple’s lifestyle and wish list.

John’s grandmother originally built the house which is close to Five Points in the Wales Garden area. She was the first woman to be licensed for commercial real estate in South Carolina.  Through the years, it was updated, and many family members lived in the modest home, including John, his brother and mother after the death of their father. Eventually, it was used as rental property and when John and Emma decided to return to Columbia to live, the property had deteriorated, and repair was going to be very expensive.  They met with architect Michael Haigler and decided to spend the money renovating the house to become their retirement home.

“The house had tremendous potential, but also had many requirements needed to make it work for the Morrises,” Michael said.  “Not only did they want to enclose former porches and update everything, but they wanted it to be a thoughtful renovation which fit their needs and wants now, and work well to allow them to age in place.”

Four projects accomplished all that and more:  core remodel for openness and light; kitchen remodel and addition; update to the bedroom wing; and renovation of the detached garage/apartment.  It was a massive undertaking.

The outside renovation was relatively minor.  The “Miami Stone,” which is cast concrete and stained in pink and grey, remained in place while the geometric entry porch columns were matched with similar designs on the entry rails.  New landscaping refreshed the look and much of the front yard was reworked for minimal grass and upkeep.  An old crepe myrtle, planted by an aunt, flourishes as the centerpiece, with two sitting areas.  The driveway remains the same physically, and allows parking in the back.

It doesn’t prepare the visitor for the interior.

The front door opens into the living area, with a comfortable seating area and large, original windows facing the front. The ceiling is painted a very light blue. The room is open to the completely reimagined dining area, now with high ceilings, very modern möibus-shaped lights and a large triangular table, which was built by Steve Moore of MooreCraft Cabinets.  It accomplishes the same goal as a round table in terms of letting dinner guests face their companions, yet provides a cozy corner for the couple to enjoy intimate dining.  The surface allows projects to spread out and there’s plenty of room for mingling. The lights were discovered by John and ordered, along with all of the other lighting, by Tracie McGahee at the Lite House. Moses Arroyo was the electrician who quietly and diligently made everything electrical work as it should.

The room also contains cabinets and floating shelves.  Matthew Flake at Peerless Custom Cabinets was responsible for all the cabinets, doors and floating shelves throughout the home.  The lights are striking and the clerestory windows add still more natural light.  

“We wanted the house filled with light,” Emma said. John pointed out the living area fireplace, an original that shares a chimney with the kitchen fireplace.  The “Miami Stone” is replicated around the fireplace – another original element left intact. A painting of Shem Creek in Charleston hangs over the mantel.  The hearth is made of broken tile, which is also present outside at the entry, and which was very popular years ago. Large openings provide flow and the original hardwood floors in the living room were refinished.  Because the dining area was fashioned from an outdoor porch, tile was chosen for definition and ease of maintenance.

The furniture is mostly new except for a few family pieces and that’s true throughout the home.  New Pieces were purchased from Marty Rae's of Lexington. “One of John’s aunts owned furniture stores in Fairfax and Allendale, South Carolina,” Emma said.  “The aunt knew owner George Carson’s mother who started the business, and the two were friendly competitors.  She is a big believer in American-made furniture and introduced us to George.  The quality is worth the cost and all the Marty-Rae folks were wonderful.”

The art and other home pieces were collected from travels and living in other places. Emma was originally from Alabama but the couple met at Emory University.  They lived in Charleston, where Emma taught at Ashley Hall, and then lived in Atlanta but with so much of John’s family in the midlands, it made sense to return.

The house is a mixture of new and vintage, collectibles and treasures, photographs of faraway places, and beloved sweet grass baskets – all curated beautifully by Guy Sullivan at Avanti Interior Design. “He made use of some of the items we brought with us and helped us find new things that stretched us, but still felt like us,” Emma said.

To the left of the living area is the kitchen, one of John’s favorite rooms in the house. “Everyone gathered in the kitchen and so we closed in the small front patio, eliminated a door and turned that space into a sitting area,” he said. It was one of many renovations imaginatively realized by Michael. The couple used granite throughout the house, including bathrooms, the bar, in John’s study, and in the upstairs apartment. In the kitchen, the granite countertop on the island has rich veins and John liked one piece so much they turned it into the backsplash behind the stove.  To keep the pattern from being too much, the other countertops tone down the look a bit.  There are no outlets visible from the backsplash around the perimeter of the room.  It keeps the look very clean, and appliances can be plugged in via outlets under the upper cabinets. Three colors of gray fill the room. A laundry, mudroom and a small office area are off the back. The hardwood floors are new but match the older floors beautifully and keep continuity in play.

To the right of the living area is Emma’s office, made from a small bedroom.  A large window looks out onto the front and brings in more natural light.  She is partially retired, but still does consulting and mentoring at the university Technology Incubator and the Moore School of Business.  Over the years, she created five high-tech start-ups, then sold them.  Her degree, however, is in French, which helps explain her love of all things French.  



There is a full bathroom and luxury walk-in shower and the tilework is so very smart and appealing.  “Vicki Wills at Palmetto Tile did all of our fabulous tile throughout the house,” Emma said.  Across the hall is a gallery of John’s photography.  It is stunning.

The primary bedroom is at the back, with Emma’s favorite photo (St. Jean Bay, in St. Barths), over the bed. St. Barths is a favorite vacation and sailing destination for the couple. There are two closets – and another bathroom, with a large, freestanding soaker tub.

Back to the dining area, a door opens out to the new porch and terrace, cool and inviting. Michael created quite a retreat.  “The terrace features a fountain and splayed layout of garden walls to provide privacy from the rear parking area and detached garage apartment,” he said.  It’s an interesting concept and provides a bit of openness in the midst of desired privacy.

The final renovation occurred in the garage and upstairs apartment.  “I am a professor at Point University and teach Bible, and I need a good-sized office for my books, as well as a video area since my teaching is online,” John said.  The inside stairway was moved outdoors, opening up the office and the apartment. There is a closet and bathroom so the room could become a bedroom if needed.  A separate outside storage room hides garden tools and other stuff.

Up the outdoor stairs is a small apartment with bedroom, bath, simple kitchen and seating area.  When John’s grandmother lived in the main house, the apartment was rented and the renters assisted her with small jobs.   An outdoor narrow porch provides a great seating area.  “When my brother came to visit, he sat out here every evening,” Emma shared.

The entire lot was re-landscaped with further attention to drainage. The back area was covered with a permeable slag surface to help with site drainage, according to Michael, and is devoted to owner and guest parking.

Everywhere, the design includes attention given to changing needs as the couple ages.  How does John feel about the massive renovation?  “I didn’t want to live in the house in the condition it was in and so much needed to be updated, he said, thoughtfully.  “If I look, I see hints of what the house was but it is so much better suited to us now.  It’s our perfect home.” 

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