A new home build coupled with a renovation project on Johns Island creates a sprawling paradise
By ROB YOUNG » Photos by JIM SOMERSET
For Wayne Barfield and Merriman Dowdle, their property is picture-perfect – a tract of land ranging 30 or so acres on Abbapoola Creek on Johns Island. The panorama quickly comes into focus: beautiful, large oak trees, and brilliant views of the marshlands, vegetation and water. Now, too, the acreage can count the perfect companion, a newly built and modernized home, courtesy of Cinder Creek Construction, a premier home builder serving Charleston, the surrounding islands and areas.
“Cinder Creek really understood our concepts,” Dowdle says. “They were able to visualize the property, and to see and understand what we wanted to build and why we wanted to build it the way we did.”
Barfield is a retired forester of 40 years, while Dowdle is a physician’s assistant at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she also teaches. Married in 2003, the couple has lived in the Lowcountry for years. Most recently they lived on Isle of Palms prior to moving into their Johns Island home around Thanksgiving of last year. They actually made it a family affair, as the couple teamed with Cinder Creek, the business owned and operated by husband and wife Neal and Kara Crowell. The Crowells met in Columbia, and soon assumed several construction-affiliated positions in locales such as Palm Beach and Raleigh. The Crowells began Cinder Creek in 2008, the firm named for one of the most scenic estuaries on Kiawah Island.
"We were living on Kiawah at the time," Kara says, "and we would spend a lot of time there (at Cinder Creek). We were bouncing around names and throwing out everything under the sun. Neal actually mentioned it and I really liked it. I think we were actually sitting out there when we determined the name. For us it means something, because it's where we decided to make this leap."
Kara handles much of the client communications, coordinating scope, contractual obligations and payment to ensure the project's overall health. She also helps clients select accessories, such as cabinetry, plumbing, and other fixtures, all tailored to the clients' needs and budgets. Her role helps free up Neal for site visits. "He's on each job at least twice a day," Kara says.
Neal – a native Charlestonian – has worked in the construction business for more than two decades, helping clients build and move into the homes of their dreams. His experience serves him well. As a former Mid-Atlantic Regional Purchasing Director and a National Purchasing Director on the East Coast for a 40,000-plus unit home builder, Crowell's hard-won perspective regarding supply chain management generates cost savings for his clientele. Essentially, that means that Crowell's network of contacts and expertise allows him to offer competitive, fixed contracts on luxury custom homes, while many competitors generally offer cost-plus deals.
Cinder Creek provides several customized services, such as those related to design, build, renovation and remodeling, and real estate. The firm provides an extensive house design and drafting program for homes within South Carolina, including full architectural drawing sets and structural engineering for each designed project. Additionally, each stage of construction is well defined – from site clearing through final build.
Renovation and remodeling efforts may involve old homes or new ones, each job crafted to meet client expectations and budget. Plus, Kara is a licensed South Carolina real estate broker, helping clients find the right home site to buy.
Cinder Creek’s offerings were crucial in Barfield and Dowdle’s instance, as the project actually combines two of Cinder Creek's specialties: build, and renovation and remodeling. "The property had an 800- or 900-square-foot little house that was built in the early '90s, and we added about 1,900 square feet to the original home," Kara says.
That was the challenge for Cinder Creek – creating a smooth, natural transition between the addition and renovation. “It turned out to be a good decision to deal with Kara and Neal because of that aspect,” Barfield says. “When you get into a remodeling job, you have to build a house that looks like it’s been here a long time, and that it fits properly into the landscape. You have to build it so that the addition doesn’t look like an addition. The house we have now – when you look at it, you would not even know. It blends seamlessly.”
The four-bedroom, 2 ½ bathroom home is rustic, containing Australian cypress flooring and stained cypress walls. In fact, the home boasts several distinctive flourishes as well. For example, the cabinetry is custom – meticulously custom. "For the cabinets in the kitchen, our cabinet maker probably tried a half-dozen, if not more, color variations to find the right shade," Kara says. "We settled on blueish-gray cabinets that coordinated with Dowdle's china that she wanted to feature."
Collaboration was critical, particularly for Dowdle. For more than 20 years, she has collected pieces of antique blue willow china, and now she has more than 100 pieces on display in her home. Set in clear glass, the cabinetry was built as a separate piece of furniture rather than a continuation of the home's actual kitchen cupboard. "The cabinets are my baby," she says. "The color is phenomenal – just multiple layers of paints and glazes. It allows me to hang and sort of stagger the pieces, and to display the china all the way from the kitchen to the living room."
The entire process keyed on cooperation. "It was hands-on," says Kara, who attended each selection appointment with Dowdle. "I know she appreciated that," Kara says. "We would go to a tile showroom and Dowdle would tell me not to let her look at anything beyond her budget. It's very easy to spend a lot more than you intend. Regardless of your price, everyone has a budget in mind."
In a wise move, Dowdle and Barfield also built the home to accommodate older visitors as well as the couple as they age. An elevator rises from inside the garage on the ground floor to the top floor. The house also contains handicap accessible home modifications such as expanded doorways.
The home is clearly ripe for all visitors. Dowdle and Barfield maintained the original structure as an apartment, which features a full kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Guests can close a pair of glass French doors that lead to the main residence, and almost enjoy a private residence. “We kept it stocked so when company comes, they can feel like they have their own space,” Dowdle says.
But best still is the scenery, and the property’s natural surroundings on deep water. The home’s huge windows at the rear allow unobstructed views of Abbapoola Creek. “As soon as you come in, you're drawn straight to the water,” Kara says. “From the front doors, you have a clear line of sight. I just love the way the house is plotted on the lot. Whether you’re sitting in the great room or kitchen, it’s all very, very open.”
Adds Dowdle: “The windows and the sliding doors and the long screen porch allow us to bring the outdoors inside. We wanted that design, so in every room of the house you have a view of the beautiful landscape and water. Neal worked really hard on the window design to try and come up with something that would work well and allow that sort of access.”
The view, the home, the property – these are features that Barfield and Dowdle can hold fast into perpetuity. The same can be said of their relationship with Neal and Kara, the friendship built during the year-long planning phase and solidified during construction and ultimate unveiling. “They were entirely flexible and conscious of budget,” Barfield says. “They did what they said they were going to do, and they did it in a very thorough fashion. They were a pleasure to work with. Hands down, they’re just very caring and understanding people.”
Custom Builder: Cinder Creek Construction, 843-768-0784, cindercreek.net