Sunshine and Storage in the South

It seems that in the southeastern U.S., clients like to bloom where they’re planted. 

“Our typical clients these days are homeowners who are planning to be in their homes for the long haul,” says designer and builder Richard Ryder, owner of Raleigh, NC-based Clearcut Construction. “They love their neighborhoods and have no plans of leaving, so making it what they want is most important.”

This has also been the experience of Sara Lee, CKBD, ASID, owner of SISU Home Designs in Salisbury, NC. “My clients are typically either families or couples who have the means and desire to improve their current homes, specifically in the kitchen and bathrooms.”

Just because they’re happy to stay right where they are, however, doesn’t mean southeastern clients are stuck in a traditional rut, or that they are myopic in their approach to design. “My typical client is savvy to the importance of design, and they are willing to hire me for my expertise,” says Vero Beach, FL designer and business owner Patricia Davis Brown, ASID, NCIDQ, CMKBD. 

Ryder agrees, noting that his clients “are well educated about the types of materials available, as well as budgets and lead times. They have collected inspiration and style direction – even before contacting me.” He adds, “So it’s a nice collaborative process for me to listen and learn about their needs and wishes.”

Sara Lee, CKBD, ASID has started to see more requests for wallpaper or bolder colors from clients.
— Photo: MB Productions (Michael Blevins)


Southeastern design tastes can be somewhat difficult to pin down, due in large part to the diversity of the region. “It’s really hard to say what the driving design styles are, especially in the Triangle (here meaning] Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill),” muses Ryder. “We live in such a culturally rich area with a variety of personalities, and with that comes a variety of styles.”

Lee also takes note of the wide range of tastes in North Carolina. “It’s an eclectic mix of traditional and modern,” she says. “Many consider the style of the home and play on that with the materials they choose.”

For Davis Brown, who lives and works along Florida’s coast, “Clients are looking for transitional styles, and in a lot of projects a fusion of sophisticated coastal.” Additionally, due to the fact that many of her high-end projects boast a water view, “bringing the outside inside is desirable, and I play off of that… Design styles in the southeast along Florida’s coast feature large windows with natural light coming in. The open kitchen concept is in almost every project I do, and if it’s a remodel they are asking for it in the new design. Simplistic lines and open grains balanced well together.”

Davis Brown designs with an eye toward maximizing light in all things. “Lots of decorative lighting is being used over the island, sconces on columns and at decorative mirrors in the baths. Each room has a layered lighting design, giving the user control over their lighting scenes.”

Richard Ryder of Clearcut Construction caters to his clients’ desire for simplicity and abundant storage in his designs.
— Photo: Bob Fortner Photography

A desire for open-concept spaces and brightness is fairly consistent across the board – Ryder notes that a large portion of Clearcut’s projects involve “opening up walls, removing the peninsula and putting in a large, oversized island. Nine times out of 10, we are addressing the 90s trend of the angled island as well.” 

Like much of the U.S., the white kitchen is still king in the southeast, though more daring touches are not uncommon. “I have seen more use of color, wallpaper and monochromatic color schemes, as well as textural touches using warm woods,” says Lee. “I have seen a desire for a ‘low country’ look as well – typically whites with wood combinations, inset cabinet construction, oversized hoods and integrated appliances.”

“White and open are dominating still, with small touches of warmth and strong pops of color in small doses,” Ryder says. “In almost every project, whether modern, farmhouse or transitional, they also want some element of nature, whether that be wood beams, stained shelves, etc.”

Regardless of style, what seems to remain consistent for southeastern clients is a need for organization and life-simplifying features. “An underlying theme…is the desire for some simplicity and organization,” says Ryder.

For Lee’s clients, custom cabinetry is the name of the game. “[Clients] are looking for ways to improve the layout and function of the spaces, as well as updating style.” ▪

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