Home & Garden

A Dream Home Away from Home

A couple builds a coastal retreat the whole family can enjoy

Exterior of a home in Kiawah River

Photo: Katie Charlotte Lybrand

The Kiawah River home of Laura and Kurt Kenkel, designed by Clarke Design Group with Level Building Projects and interior details by Bliss Design Build

Laura and Kurt Kenkel of Charlotte, North Carolina, dreamed of having a waterfront home away from home. A house big enough for their grow-ing family but in a neighborhood that didn’t feel like an in-and-out summer vacation spot. Somewhere the couple could live for weeks at a time with their six-year-old pup, Emmett; take leisurely nature walks; foster new friendships; and tap into their affinity for outdoor activities. Charleston, South Carolina’s barrier islands caught their attention.

photo: Katie Charlotte Lybrand

They adore the area’s pristine environs and proximity to the historic city. “And the live oaks are just beautiful,” Kurt says. When they began their second-home search in 2020, they were hap-pily intrigued by a new development called Kiawah River, an easy ten-minute drive from the coast.

Driving through the burgeoning Johns Island community, the couple was struck by its impecca-bly preserved landscape. Its two thousand acres of pastoral waterfront property, including a working farm, are framed by the eponymous river and its offshoots and basins, offering endless views of the marsh and the river, and the waterfowl and wildlife that call them home. Plus, there was the bonus of the uniquely serene twenty miles of nature trails to explore with Emmett—paths that promised osprey sightings and marsh views teaming with redfish. “Kiawah River is a unique place that invites you to slow down and enjoy God’s creation at almost every turn,” Kurt says.

photo: Katie Charlotte Lybrand

A spacious lot overlooking the Great Oak Basin—one filled with their beloved live oaks—caught the couple’s eye, and within three months of their first visit, they decided to make it theirs. After finding a finished home designed by Clarke Design Group that they loved, the Kenkels worked with Level Building Projects to customize its floor plan and erect it on their lot. For interiors, they tapped Anna Burton of Charlotte’s Bliss Design Build, who had designed their primary home in the Queen City. “The furniture, the fabrics, the textures, the colors, the art and accessories—when nature surrounds you with such beauty, you can’t help but reflect it in your choices for the home,” Burton says of the coastal design. “But we still wanted to color outside of the lines a bit.”

Laura’s favorite part of their new neighborhood is the thoughtful inclusion of communal resort-style spaces, from a new dog park near their home to the waterfront Spring House, which houses a pool, gym, restaurant, and bar, and the recently opened Farm-stead Park, complete with a playground that they’ll introduce their granddaughter to this year. There’s even a community kayak rack. “We’ve been out on the kayaks a few times chasing the dolphins,” Kurt says. Laura says it’s been easy to meet and mingle with neighbors; recently, they hopped aboard the pickleball train, joining fellow residents for matches on the freshly debuted courts.

photo: Katie Charlotte Lybrand

One neighbor in particular has become a fast friend (“Heck, one time he even cut our grass,” Kurt says) and fishing buddy. Kurt picked up fishing as a hobby to enjoy the riches of their new backyard. With his neighbor or not, he often slips through his back fence to fish in the basin behind their home. “Red-fish are the primary catch, but there are also floun-der, trout, and blue crabs in there,” he says. So far he’s released all that he has caught, but an upcoming community seminar on how to fillet a fresh catch has piqued his interest, potentially opening the door to basin-to-table cooking.

“We haven’t even been in the house for a year yet, but we’ve spent the Fourth of July and this last Christ-mas and New Year’s here,” Kurt says, noting that their children, their granddaughter, and Laura’s mother joined them for the holiday. With the five-bedroom house properly filled out, their dream of a relaxing coastal home equipped to host the whole family was realized. “Anytime we can get the family together, it’s a great time for us,” Kurt says. The couple looks for-ward to extended stays, both alone and all together, for decades to come. “Every time I go down there, I say, ‘It’s just so beautiful here,’” Laura says.

Find your Kiawah River home at KiawahRiver.com