Moving into a stunning new Charleston-area Sea Island neighborhood is one thing. It’s quite another to discover that the developer is your neighbor. That’s precisely what the residents of Kiawah River have found with the recent arrival of John Darby, president and CEO of the Beach Company—one of the 2,000-acre waterfront community’s owners. Darby and his wife, Georgia, could have picked anywhere to build a second residence. But after working with the Builders Guild, a team of respected Lowcountry professionals, to craft Kiawah River’s clean coastal vernacular—an intentional aesthetic designed to put the outdoors first—Darby couldn’t resist staking his claim on the pastoral riverfront property.
“The environment influenced every decision for the community, inside and out,” Darby says. “Nothing was to compete with our perennial neighbors—fish, birds, deer, and other bountiful wildlife—and the low and high tides, the change of seasons.”
And so it also was with the building of the Darby family’s home. While Kiawah River is geographically close to the historic city of Charleston, it’s a world apart—a country oasis just twenty minutes from down- town but seemingly light-years away, and its ambience reflects that. Here the sounds of car horns are traded for birdsong, traffic lights for ancient live oaks, and parking lots for tidal creeks teeming with great crabbing spots. Within the waterfront village surrounded by marsh flats, an on-site working farm, and a winding nature trail, the Darbys could spend time with their children and grandchildren and get away without going that far away.
The building process began pre-pandemic and, as it turned out, pre-grandchildren, a much-welcomed plot twist. With the news, the Darbys’ Kiawah River house evolved from Lowcountry escape to a family compound, a site where their expanding brood could gather and spend time together.
“Starr Sanford Design, an architecture and interiors firm specializing in coastal style, understood our desire to build a home that was modern yet relaxed, family friendly, elegant but simple, nestled in the oaks and palms, overlooking the Kiawah River,” Darby says.
Architect Julia Starr Sanford understood the assignment.
“When I worked with the original Kiawah River design team, we wanted something that felt very Southern and also very natural, and we wanted the palette to be pure enough that the landscape stood out,” Sanford says. To that end, Kiawah River homes are all white. “This allows the natural greenery and native landscape to take center stage, with definition emanating from shade and shadow instead of color.”
Shadow, of course, requires shade-giving objects, and that’s where Kiawah River excels. Unlike so many developments that clear-cut to make way for construction, Kiawah River has deliberately salvaged as many original trees as possible, including towering laurels and Spanish moss–covered live oaks. The Darbys took full advantage of the tree conservation effort. “We basically built them a tree house,” Sanford says.
“With every room gleaming with natural light, the home’s authentic materials and soothing colors offer mental and physical restoration and well-being,” Darby says. Large communal spaces with vaulted ceilings have plenty of room for little feet to explore. In the years since the project began, the family has increased its numbers to include two grandchildren, who, along with friends and family, all comfortably fit within the generous two-story space.
The home needed to allow for play and entertaining, but just as important, rest and relaxation. With the former in mind, Sanford included large areas for parties and gatherings including two living rooms, one upholstered with nearly all white furniture, the other designed as a more child-friendly den decorated in steel blue colors. In keeping with the agrihood’s focus on the land, she used only native materials, including paneled oak in the TV room and cypress on the porches to echo the exterior beauty.
To address the rest and relaxation element, Sanford built John and Georgia a mini home next door.
“They wanted the kids and the grandkids to have the run of the house, so their primary bedroom is detached from the main house,” Sanford explains. “They have a bedroom, a private den, and a balcony, which we angled to give them the best possible view looking down at the river.”
And that view is really what it’s all about for the Darbys and all of the other Kiawah River residents. People move here because they want to live outside. Before the first foundation was poured, Darby ensured that sharing this exceptional landscape’s wealth was central to every property element. And now the Darbys are passing along that priceless gift to their grandchildren, who, from their porch, are just steps away from a kayak paddle or a swim, either in the river or at the Spring House, a facility offering a pool, state of the art gym, locker rooms, and sauna. At Kiawah River, children can safely ride their bikes along twenty miles of trails, spotting great blue herons and roseate spoonbills in the distance. Or learn to cast a fishing rod before collecting eggs at the community’s one-hundred-acre working farm. Back home, the family can gather for dinner in the cool comfort of their window-lined dining room and relive the day’s discoveries. Here they can pass down the most sacred Lowcountry traditions together under one roof.
“Our family home expresses itself in whispers rather than a shout. It’s a place that provides an overall ease of use for relaxation, play, and sometimes a little work,” Darby says. “It’s home.”
Find your Kiawah River home at KiawahRiver.com