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On Top of the World

Posted On March 11, 2019

You can see forever from this perfectly positioned downtown condominium

By KATHERINE PETTIT  »  Photos by JAY BROWNE


Emily Tompkins didn’t have a bit of buyer’s remorse when she and husband Warren traded their expansive Forest Acres home for an 18th story condominium at The Heritage.  “I haven’t missed the landscaping and yard work at all, and I sure don’t miss taking care of a pool as we’ve had in earlier homes,” she explained from their crisp living room high above Senate Street.

Although the couple downsized quite a bit with this move, they also enjoy a getaway home in Sapphire, NC; lots of pieces made their way to the mountains.  Emily is retired and is an avid golfer.  Warren was Chief of Staff for Governor Carroll Campbell and is a lobbyist and political consultant.  Their children, Taylor and Jack, are grown and there are three grandchildren, all living in Columbia.  They originally planned to sell and build a smaller home, perhaps in the same Forest Acres area.  But a buyer stepped forward for their house and the move accelerated.  Serendipity drew them to The Heritage and they looked at three condominiums there before deciding.

“It was so much easier downsizing with the family living close by,” Emily said.  “We simply don’t need all those extra bedrooms and large family gathering areas.”  There’s still plenty of space and a wraparound balcony that looks over two sides of the Columbia skyline. The university, South Carolina State House and downtown are part of their daily scenery.  It’s an ever-changing vista that showcases a vibrant downtown lifestyle.

“It’s so easy to grab Uber or Lyft and get a short ride to a favorite restaurant, or a big party,” Emily said. “No worries about parking or having a glass of wine with dinner.”  Underground parking makes their cars secure and easily accessible, and 24-hour security offers peace of mind.

The entry to the building has been recently renovated and sparkles with classic elegance.  The doorman is always available, checking video security and assisting home owners and their guests.  Their door opens to an efficient foyer that leads to the kitchen, living area and a hall toward the bedrooms. Pam Plowden Rawson, ASID, of Pulliam Morris Interiors, has offered design assistance for years and she helped sort through furniture to combine with new pieces.  “Pam is great.  She understands our style and she’s also helping us with our mountain home,” Emily shared.  

Emily and Warren’s aesthetic leans toward new traditional design, which offers a classic, livable feel in lighter fabrics and colors. The living room is built around a fabric Emily loved.  She altered her pale green drapes from the Forest Acres home to fit the smaller space, and Pam used that color for accents against the cream chairs and sofa (also relocated and made new again with charming pillows).  Several pieces have simply been recovered to live again in a fresh new setting.  Paintings are everywhere.  “I usually choose art according to colors,” she explained. “Pam added pieces she found and we have a whole new look.”

Pam has worked with the couple through four homes.  “I know their style and preferences, and I also know their inventory for furniture and accessories,” she said.  “They respect my style and I’ve worked with them to upcycle pieces whenever possible.”

A painting by Douglas Williams portrays the countryside and evokes the varied Carolina landscape. A small photograph of Emily’s father as a child graces the table beside the sofa.

The living room expands into the dining area, anchored by a beautiful walnut hand-made table.  “It expands to 96 inches, so we can’t use all of the leaves, but we can expand enough for family and friends,” Emily said.  The chandelier was brought from the old house and offers a rustic touch that complements the antiqued mirrored wall, cut into squares, with rosettes. It’s centered with a mirror from the old house – a design element that expands the feel and elegance of the room.

For entertaining, a small bar area can be closed off, or opened for beverages and a plate of hors d’oeuvres.  “We removed the sink because it felt like wasted space with the kitchen so close,” she said. 

Indeed, the kitchen is steps away, open to the dining room and providing great flow for gatherings.  Pam designed the cabinetry, raising up the cabinets to provide a furniture feel and a larger space.  Emily’s fondness for ambient light keeps the room appealing and very functional.  “It’s a small area but very efficient and perfect for two or a large gathering,” Pam said.  The large farmhouse sink is a favorite.  Hardwood floors throughout connect the rooms and offset the light colors that vary from cream to smoky and taupe. Area rugs add a softening touch and all of them were brought from the old house and resized to fit the new spaces.   

The hall leads to the couple’s more private areas.  Much of the molding and wainscoting remained the same, enhanced by fresh paint and artwork.  Some remodeling, however, was required to suit the Tompkins’ lifestyle.  “We changed the hall bathroom to open into our master.  Warren and I have separate baths and closet areas,” she said.  Sliding doors open onto the capitol-facing view, and cool colors offer an inviting private retreat. 

A guest bathroom serves the guest bedroom as well as visitors. It, too, features the raised furniture look on the sink cabinetry. “The bathrooms were old and dark,” Pam said.  “I love it when changing colors and design elements make the room look completely different.  The guest bathroom now is a little gem.”

A small occasional table in the guest room awaits pick-up by the couple’s daughter.  “Some downsizing is going to the children,” Emily laughed.  Postcards from Sapphire Valley are framed as very personal art.

The third bedroom was turned into their private sanctuary.  His favorite chair on one side; hers on the other.  A grouping of art is anchored by Heather LaHaise’s portrait of Cookie, Emily’s beloved dog from years past.  “Warren had it done and gave it to me and I just sat down and cried,” she said.   

A side table features a camel sculpture.  “It’s really a very old inkwell that was in my grandparents’ home,” Emily said.  “I loved it as a child and it disappeared for years from a suspected theft, but a family friend found it in an antique store in Florida and we got it back.  I’ve always loved it.”  The glass inkwell is inside the camel, but to the best of her knowledge, it’s never been used for its original purpose.

Shelving houses their collection of books, as well as a grouping of watches which belonged to Warren’s grandfather.  One gets the sense that all is peace and quiet back here – personal and nostalgic.

For larger groups, there are common rooms downstairs which can be reserved for private gatherings.  “We held a party for Jack and Nora Kate before they got married and it worked beautifully,” Emily said.  The pool features an outdoor kitchen and bathroom and is adjacent to another area with comfy sofas, a piano and a bar.  Just enough landscaping on the patio offers Emily a plant fix should she need one.

It’s a different lifestyle from their first thirty-plus years together, but one that suits them well now that they’re empty-nesters.  Bright lights down below, a cozy retreat inside and a mountain getaway for summer months.  Just perfect.

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