Sometimes the only way out is up
Photography by KRISTEN ALBO VIA SHAUNA KUCERA // ARRAY DESIGN
AFTER AN AFTERNOON OF BOATING around Isle of Hope or a trip to the marina for ice cream, for Elizabeth Witherington, there’s only one sight sweeter than the Lowcountry’s enticing marshes and big sky scenery: her family’s home, tucked between masses of palmetto trees, live oaks and the gently flowing river out back.
Purchased in 2019, the pristine 5-bedroom, 4-and-a-half-bathroom home, with its welcoming stairs and bays of windows, is a far cry from the one Elizabeth toured with her husband, Chris.
“It was so dark,” says Witherington of the home’s cramped, depressing interior. “I thought it was too far gone, which was sad, because of the perfect view.”
But, eager to secure a spot on the water just minutes from Elizabeth’s parents, the Witheringtons called in architect Shauna Kucera of Array Design for a second opinion. “She said, ‘I can see it. It’s very bright,’” Witherington recalls of her first consultation with Kucera. “I loved that she had a vision for the house.”
As with the best renovations, Kucera’s vision did away with all things unlovely, while highlighting the structure’s Lowcountry vernacular and view, ensuring the family’s requests for a light-flooded home, primary suite addition and new garage were accommodated with style.
But, before the transformation could begin, the Witheringtons were faced with a tall order from the city: Lift the house more than eight feet from the ground to meet flood zone requirements or raze the home and start anew.
The couple decided the only way out of this debacle was up.
Under the supervision of contractor, renovation expert and fellow Isle of Hope resident Kevin Norris (American Craftsman Renovations), Hercules House Movers set the house atop a stack of giant, Jenga-like blocks called cribbing, in preparation for a new foundation.
“We feel like we’re together.” — Elizabeth Witherington, homeower
“They lifted it in zones with a hydraulic system,” Norris explains. “Then we tied steel back into the original footings, built the foundation based on that footprint, set the house back down and finally tied everything back in.”
With the house now up to code — boasting improved views of the water, no less — Norris began the meticulous, yearlong renovation just as COVID-19 became a talking point amongst Savannahians.
Despite unexpected supply shortages and price increases, Norris kept the project on track and finished within his estimated timeline, thanks to a team of in-house carpenters and craftsmen. “He was so easy to work with and was very realistic. When other contractors estimated six months, Kevin said the project would realistically take one year,” Witherington says, “and it did, almost to the day.”
Just inside the front door, the staircase edged with custom display shelving and contemporary cable railing, in lieu of traditional balusters, and a plethora of windows encourage guests into the airy, vaulted living room.
A tabby fireplace and generous chef’s kitchen anchor the open-concept living area with bits of blue dancing across upholstery and landing on a feature wall and kitchen island.
Most impressive is the 10-foot dining table designed and constructed by Witherington’s father, who lives just a few streets away. Relegated to the porch at their previous home, the table was a must-have component of the design. “I told Chris, ‘I am not moving until we find a house this table fits inside,’” Witherington says, laughing.
For the couple’s children, Grady, 15, Davis, 13, and Gwyn, 9, weekends are spent roaming between the river, pool and firepit outside, plus interior spaces of their own — the Witheringtons turned the former dining room into a gaming room, hidden behind a pair of barn doors. “It’s their favorite spot in the house,” Witherington says.
Away from the noise of lively gaming matches, Chris and Elizabeth relax beneath the primary bedroom’s wood-clad vaulted ceiling. For optimal rejuvenation, the bathroom is outfitted with a soaking tub and walk-in shower covered in chic, polished green tiles from Garden State Tile.
Although each day ends in the couple’s primary suite, on golden summer nights, the Witheringtons are sure to be found catching up on their dock, accompanied by Smoke, the family’s black lab who lolls quietly beside their Adirondack chairs.
“We feel like we’re together,” Witherington says of the family-centered spaces Kucera and Norris created both inside and out. Family and friends (and a couple long-term guests) feel right at home in the serene setting, the happy benefactors of the family’s legendary hospitality, something Norris himself experienced throughout the project.
“Chris and Elizabeth are two of the nicest clients I’ve ever had,” says Norris, adding that, “I think this project will always have a special place in my heart. That’s a little slice of heaven out there. You couldn’t have a more perfect setup.”
Or a more perfect place to raise a family.
Owners: Chris and Elizabeth Witherington
Year built: 1979
Year purchased: 2019
Square footage: 4,052 square feet
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 5 beds, 4 1/2 baths
Time to complete renovation/remodel: One year
Architects/planners: Shauna Kucera, Array Design
Interior designer: Carla Reed
Contractor/builder: American Craftsman Renovations, Kevin Norris
House lifting: American Craftsman Renovations, Hercules House Movers
Tile/flooring: Garden State Tile, Acme Brick Tile & Stone
Paint/wallpaper: Sherwin Williams, Bay Isle Home, Jaydon, Greenery
Windows/doors: Coastal Sash & Door
Closets and pantry: Closet & Cabinet Experts
Special order lighting: Lowcountry Originals
Plumbing fixtures: Sandpiper Supply
Countertops: Counter Fitters
Landscape design: Bill Dempsey
Hardscape design: Nature’s Way
Electrician: Riverside Electric
Carpenter: American Craftsman Renovations
Plumber: Plumb Pro
Landscaper: Hester and Zipperer
HVAC: Southern Comfort
Furniture: Whelan’s, handcrafted dining room table
Appliances: Livingood’s Appliances & Bedding
Art: Bellamy Murphy, Nancy Solana, Ann Lutz
All details supplied by homeowners