Urban Oasis

07 May 2024

The Lowcountry landscape inspires a Wagener Terrace whole-house remodel

By Emily Shiffer

Photos by Jim Somerset

Rachel Levkowicz has always been drawn to Charleston’s water–a place she has sought solace and wellness through years of yoga. After growing up in New Orleans, she studied biology at College of Charleston, where her interest in nature and wildlife developed. An ornithology class with labs at local landmarks like Magnolia Plantation developed her love for Charleston’s landscapes and she was captivated with the Lowcountry and deep connection to nature. 

After graduating in 2005, she settled on Folly Beach before she bought her first home on James Island. In 2016, she shifted her sights to a move closer to downtown Charleston–and set her sights on the Wagener Terrace neighborhood, which she calls “urban suburban.” 

“You get all of the cool parts of living downtown Charleston, but with parking and more room between neighbors. It’s not crawling with tourists,” says Levkowicz, who loved the close access to Hampton Park, a space she now enjoys with her husband Sean and English cocker spaniel puppy, Gordy.

After deciding she was open to a full remodel, the perfect home came on the market–a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom 1950s brick cottage that sat on a double lot that backed up to the marsh. Levkowicz made an offer above the asking price, sight unseen. 

“It was dilapidated, but with strong bones,” says Levkowicz. “I knew this was my house, and I was comfortable with a full-on gut renovation.”

She worked with Matt O’Hara of Solid Renovations to open up the boxy, compartmentalized house. One room that stumped her was an oddly-shaped fourth bedroom that was located off the kitchen. She decided to remove it completely, taking down the walls to create more open, flowing space that has become a dining nook.

“I did a lot of reconfiguring and decided to move the kitchen off the living room, and I took the dining room to the back of the house,” says Levkowicz. 

The previous kitchen became an open space with a bar, which has turned out to be her favorite room.

“It has French doors. I have dance parties in that room and do yoga there,” she says. “I sit at the table and have coffee, look out on the marsh, do my daily meditation and The New York Times mini crossword.” 

Levkowicz moved into it in the spring of 2017. With two ground floor bedrooms, she uses one as a home office. 

She sourced interior décor from local stores including Celadon, Posh Provisions and the Mt. Pleasant Mall. Her art is an eclectic mix of local and New Orleans artists, including paintings by Julia Deckman; photographs by John Duckworth and Lew Brown Photography; African American folk art by P-nut; woven wall art by Erin Barrett, paintings by Rebecca Dew, drawings by Leighton Webb and Freya Cool; reclaimed woodwork by Mike Moyer and ceramics by Criag McMillan. 

“I am generally drawn to a somewhat neutral palette and adding pops of color with rugs, art, and pillows,” says Levkowicz. “I like to balance cool and warm tones. There is stainless steel in the kitchen, which I paired with old wooden shelves. I like modern meets earthy–texture. I like to bring the outside in.”

She converted a two-room upstairs attic area into her primary bedroom suite.

“I felt comfortable living in a quirky attic space because of my days at the College of Charleston living on Beaufain Street,” Levkowicz said. “It’s a nod to days living in old Charleston homes.”

The previous owners had used the two rooms in the attic as bedrooms with a bathroom in the middle; Levkowicz converted one room near the stairs into an open sitting area/nook space, suitable for yoga and meditation with an open cable railing that overlooks the living room below. She created her cozy private primary bedroom on the other side.

“The footprint and walls stayed the same, but I ripped up the carpets and underlying tile floor and put in hardwood,” Levkowicz said.

The upstairs bathroom was totally gutted and renovated with new tile, cedarwood on the exterior walls leading to the primary bedroom to add texture, and a unique custom euro glass shower door that built on a perfect angle to fit flush with the slanted attic wall.

“It gets hot upstairs, but the key is a new air conditioning system and we spray foamed all the attic crawl space,” Levkowicz said. “As a 5’6 tall woman, I live up there just fine but the future vision is to add a dormer so there will be a little more head room up there for 6'1 my husband.”

Designing and landscaping her yards, both front and back, became another major project. For her front yard, she worked with Chip Chesnutt of Other Side of the River and landscape designer Sheila Wertimer to create a welcoming walkway and brick patio. Her backyard was curated alongside Joel Dodd of Artisan Landscape Services. Filled with native plants (like palmetto trees, purple love grass and Muhly grass) and outdoor furniture from Teak & Table, it’s her backyard oasis.

Another addition to the backyard was a pool. While most are at least 12 feet wide, she knew she wanted something more narrow. Another detail she grew to embrace: a black-bottom pool. 

“I wanted a long rectangular pool to frame the view of the marsh,” says Levkowicz. 

Her decision on which interior finish to choose for the pool was discussed with Aquatica Pools & Spas Sales Director Ben Prillaman, who informed her that black bottom pools were more rare and they absorb sunlight, creating warmer water.

“It feels more fitting to the landscape,” says Levkowicz.  

She completed her unique 11-foot wide, 34-foot long black-bottom pool in the spring of 2023. With massive stepping stones and a large deck, she hosts yoga sessions and her best friends poolside. There is a stone patio with a gas fire pit, and down by the marsh is another natural fire pit—which her husband prefers—with a sitting area to soak up nights by the glistening water that has always restored her. She plans to add a pool house/mother-in-law suite in the backyard.

“My home is my sanctuary. I sit and appreciate both the inside and outside of my house, feeling so much gratitude for making my dreams become a reality. I take it all in,” says Levkowicz.  

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