Denise Petersen loves hosting and mermaids, and Camens Architectural Group combined both passions in this idyllic colonial Kiawah home
BY ROB YOUNG
Denise Petersen knows how to throw a party. To celebrate a birthday milestone, she gathered her guests for a four-day affair, regaling all with an opening dinner at the Sanctuary on Kiawah, followed by canoeing, kayaking and skeet shooting expeditions, a Southern barbecue, and a boat and band cruise on the Charleston Harbor. “What can I say?” she shrugs. “I like to celebrate. I like to share and put smiles on people’s faces.”
And for the host’s, who many folks know as “Miss Denise,” main attraction? It’s likely her remarkable Kiawah Island home, a respite for friends, family and mermaids. Yes, mermaids.
“During one of my birthdays, I had a party and my cousin who lives in South Carolina thought it would be an interesting theme to give me a mermaid, and it caught on like wildfire,” she says. “All my friends started bringing me mermaids, and they’re all beautiful, all unique.”
It seems fitting that Denise christened her home “Casa della Sirena.” Rough translation: House of the Mermaid, an apt tribute to the Camens Architectural Group designed residence. “She really knew what she wanted, and she got it,” says Marc Camens, Principal Architect. “The end product really turned out beautiful.”
Miss Denise maintains a home in the Boston area, and formerly lived on Isle of Palms for 10 years. “I was just looking for a little more privacy and a friend of mine recommended Kiawah,” she says. She simply felt more comfortable there, drawing parallels from her Boston residence to her new house on Kiawah. “Where I lived in Boston, it was an upscale, sought-after area, and I got the same feeling on Kiawah,” she says. “There are no sidewalks where I live in Boston, just like Kiawah. No streetlights, either. We don’t have the same wildlife, but there was a fair amount of nature near Boston too.”
Miss Denise even brought a similar design aesthetic to Kiawah, which once more reflected her other home. “The house I have in Boston is very heavily wooded with crowns, wainscots and the like,” she says. “That’s what I wanted to bring to Kiawah – a very, old, traditional, Colonial style home, and pairing that style with old Charleston home styles.”
As he enjoys doing with most of his clients, Camens visited Massachusetts to see how Miss Denise lived, and to best understand the elements she wanted to bring down south. “I like to understand where people live, and most of the time I go to their home. I’ve had a couple of clients who wanted their homes as the benchmark for their new projects or beachfront homes. They didn’t want anything less,” Camens explains. “There were some really neat things in Denise’s home, and she had a good grasp on it. She understood architecture and was involved in all the details.”
Camens began the conversation by asking what style of home interested Denise. “I told him I visited the Caribbean; I love everything about the Caribbean,” she recalls. “I described the layout of the house I stay in, and he took down my description of the property and added his own vision.
“Marc just dialed me in so fast. And that’s what he really does: dial into people and feel them out very well,” Miss Denise continues. “He mentioned that many clients may go back and forth deciding on a design ten to twelve times. We may have reached six times, if that many. He just got it, and it was only minor tweaking after the first run through. He listens when you talk, even down to the most minute details.”
So substantial was the pairing between Miss Denise and Camens, that she plans on using Camens’ firm to help partially renovate her home in Boston. “He’s really honed in on it. He knows me so well that we’re always on the same page, and I wouldn’t go with any other architect,” the homeowner says. “He’s very personable, very friendly and open to suggestions.”
The house is really set up for entertaining, one of Miss Denise’s passions. “I am an entertainer,” she says playfully. She loves to host, cook and spend time in the pool with guests. “In the evenings we can sit in the game room and watch movies, or bike all around the island and beach.”
For instance, on Christmas Eve, Miss Denise prepares seven varieties of fish for her adult children, relatives and guests. A mural rests behind her stove, depicting a colorful bounty of fruits, cheeses, bread and wine. Annamarie Zoltan Kis crafted the ceramic tile centerpiece in her shop, Novelty Tiles in Raleigh. Miss Denise actually designed the mural by pulling bits and pieces of other murals in her studio, then adding her three children’s names and birth years into the artwork. “I surprised them with that personal touch and now we enjoy making everything from homemade pasta to hot cinnamon rolls in this culinary haven,” she says. “Much of the lower part is embossed and feels as if you can reach out and eat a bread roll with some cheese and wine.”
Then outdoors, Miss Denise also designed what she refers to as her “secret garden,” working with Matt Wilson of Three Oaks Contractors in Charleston. “I had so much fun putting the landscape together and selecting the flowers,” she recalls. “We also placed a Buddha statue in the back of the house facing the beach to bring a Zen state of mind.”
And about the beach: the style of the 4-bedroom, oceanfront home is stately and decorous, which seems to fit the sea and the sun, and the home’s overarching theme. Consider the three-story staircase, featuring a clerestory lightwell at its top. “The staircase was an incredible feature and I knew how we needed to build it,” Camens says. “A dear friend and structural engineer named Larry Jeffords built the staircase in Plattsburgh, New York and Buffington Homes erected it on site. Everything opens up in the stairwell, capturing the light and ocean and allowing everybody to come out and interact in the circulation zone.
“I think in general it fits the ocean. It’s not overwhelming,” Camens continues. “If you’re looking at it from the pool, it’s beautiful. Or from the front, there’s so much elegance. There’s a formality to the hous,e but it softens some too. It’s really the perfect meld of her formal style and oceanfront or beachside South Carolina living.”
But perhaps the crowing features of this sea-and-sun splashed residence are the 15 mermaids placed throughout the home, including a six-foot tall creation named Lorelei, which rests in the foyer. Another copper and brass figurine acts as a weathervane on top of the home. “It’s almost like a landmark,” Miss Denise says. “If you see the mermaid, you’ll know where you are.”