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Southern Modern in Charleston: A Fresh Take on the Old South from Workstead

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Southern Modern in Charleston: A Fresh Take on the Old South from Workstead

January 22, 2018

For the past few years, Workstead design studio founders Robert Highsmith and his wife and partner Stefanie Brechbuehler have been working between Charleston, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York; one of their more involved projects was the Dewberry Hotel, a restoration of the Mendel Rivers Federal Building in Charleston.

“We started exploring the idea of what we call Southern modernism when we worked on the Dewberry,” Robert says. “Our latest project, the Workstead House, is the residential evolution of that concept.” In partnership with a New York City–based investor, the couple meticulously restored and reimagined the three-story, 5,600-square-foot Italianate Victorian row house, featuring work from local craftspeople and companies such as Charleston-based Urban Electric Co. “The end result is all-sensory experience of Southern modernism,” Robert says.

Join us for a tour.

Photography by Matthew Williams, courtesy of Workstead.

The exterior trim is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pitch Black. The sconce is the Rex Wall in hewn brass, designed by Michael Amato for Urban Electric.
Above: The exterior trim is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pitch Black. The sconce is the Rex Wall in hewn brass, designed by Michael Amato for Urban Electric.
The 1853 house is one of four brownstones built on Charleston’s historic Bee’s Row in the historic downtown Harleston Village neighborhood. “With their terracotta cast pediments, fences, and elaborate interior moldings they look more like mid-19th century New York and Boston houses,” Robert says.

Stefanie Brechbuehler and Robert Highsmith met at Rhode Island School of Design and founded Workstead in 2009 with their classmate Ryan Mahoney, who now heads up the Brooklyn studio (Stefanie and Robert work between Charleston and New York).
Above: Stefanie Brechbuehler and Robert Highsmith met at Rhode Island School of Design and founded Workstead in 2009 with their classmate Ryan Mahoney, who now heads up the Brooklyn studio (Stefanie and Robert work between Charleston and New York).

When Robert and Stefanie undertook the renovation, “the house was in terrible shape,” Robert says. “There had been a fire, and there was a huge amount of smoke damage. On the plus side, there were lots of salvageable materials—although we had to do quite a bit of restoration—including the original rope trim around the doorways, decorative corbels, and little transom windows above some of the doors. The floors are the original heart pine, which we refinished.” The interiors are painted a uniform shade of Farrow & Ball’s Savage Ground, a warm, yellow-based neutral.

 The Leather Mid Credenza and the Leather Round Mirror are from BDDW in NYC. The hallway is illuminated by a Kensington Pendant in hewn brass, designed by Michael Amato for Urban Electric Co.
Above: The Leather Mid Credenza and the Leather Round Mirror are from BDDW in NYC. The hallway is illuminated by a Kensington Pendant in hewn brass, designed by Michael Amato for Urban Electric Co.
The project “gave us the opportunity to work with some of our favorite Charleston makers, like Urban Electric Co., and to bring in pieces from our friends at BDDW and Sawkille in New York,” Robert says. “We’ve become good friends with Urban Electric founder, Dave Dawson; he’s a great human being. The company employs upward of 250 master craftspeople locally and their output is very impressive; there’s a lot of local pride involved. We wanted to create a timeless restoration/renovation, and working with Urban Electric was important because they curate a series of fixtures that speak to the time period but also to a more modern sensibility.”

In the living room, a pair of Moreno Chairs and a Moreno Sofa, both from Lawson-Fenning, are upholstered in Holland & Sherry velvet. The coffee table is a vintage 1970s cow horn tiled piece in the style of Carl Springer, found at an estate sale.
Above: In the living room, a pair of Moreno Chairs and a Moreno Sofa, both from Lawson-Fenning, are upholstered in Holland & Sherry velvet. The coffee table is a vintage 1970s cow horn tiled piece in the style of Carl Springer, found at an estate sale.
“The sideboard, which we found at a local Charleston antiques store, is a weird Art Deco/Mission mashup; it doesn’t know what it wants to be, which is why we love it,” Robert says. “The oil painting, by Franklin Tuttle, is from Alex Raskin Antiques in Savannah, Georgia. We think it’s a self-portrait because he’s wearing a smock and holding a brush. The silver tea set and other pieces are from Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston; this kind of silver is a very Southern thing. We were inspired by local designer Amelia Handegan, who uses it in her interiors.”
Above: “The sideboard, which we found at a local Charleston antiques store, is a weird Art Deco/Mission mashup; it doesn’t know what it wants to be, which is why we love it,” Robert says. “The oil painting, by Franklin Tuttle, is from Alex Raskin Antiques in Savannah, Georgia. We think it’s a self-portrait because he’s wearing a smock and holding a brush. The silver tea set and other pieces are from Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston; this kind of silver is a very Southern thing. We were inspired by local designer Amelia Handegan, who uses it in her interiors.”

In the living room, lighting by Workstead includes a Signal Wall Sconce and a Signal Globe pendant. Many of the pieces throughout the project are vintage, including the marble-topped side table positioned between the Lawson-Fenning chairs. “We wanted that tension between old/new and high/low,” Robert says. “We have an appreciation for the sculptural qualities of vintage furniture.”
Above: In the living room, lighting by Workstead includes a Signal Wall Sconce and a Signal Globe pendant. Many of the pieces throughout the project are vintage, including the marble-topped side table positioned between the Lawson-Fenning chairs. “We wanted that tension between old/new and high/low,” Robert says. “We have an appreciation for the sculptural qualities of vintage furniture.”
In the dining room, a custom built-in glass vitrine, modeled after an English breakfront cabinet, affords a view into the kitchen. A Workstead Signal Globe Pendant hovers over the dining table.
Above: In the dining room, a custom built-in glass vitrine, modeled after an English breakfront cabinet, affords a view into the kitchen. A Workstead Signal Globe Pendant hovers over the dining table.

“We thought of the kitchen as a series of elements,” Robert says. “The circular island has a lot going on; there’s a concealed dishwasher with a curved front, a pullout shelf, and a bar sink. The sea pearl marble top has a carved indentation that functions as a built-in fruit and vegetable bowl.”
Above: “We thought of the kitchen as a series of elements,” Robert says. “The circular island has a lot going on; there’s a concealed dishwasher with a curved front, a pullout shelf, and a bar sink. The sea pearl marble top has a carved indentation that functions as a built-in fruit and vegetable bowl.”
A Lacanche range is tucked into a marble-tiled niche. A Blackline cutting board from Josh Vogel is propped in the corner.
Above: A Lacanche range is tucked into a marble-tiled niche. A Blackline cutting board from Josh Vogel is propped in the corner.

The screened-in porch opens to the rear of the house and is outfitted with a vintage rattan porch furniture set; the walls are Clunch by Farrow & Ball. The 56-inch Black Industrial Ceiling Fan is from Emerson, and the Harford Pendant in black with hewn brass accents and opal glass globe was designed by Steven Gambrel for Urban Electric.
Above: The screened-in porch opens to the rear of the house and is outfitted with a vintage rattan porch furniture set; the walls are Clunch by Farrow & Ball. The 56-inch Black Industrial Ceiling Fan is from Emerson, and the Harford Pendant in black with hewn brass accents and opal glass globe was designed by Steven Gambrel for Urban Electric.
A Scoop Sconce from Urban Electric with a gold cinch pleat shade illuminates the second-floor landing (the fixture is also available with a more modern scoop shade).
Above: A Scoop Sconce from Urban Electric with a gold cinch pleat shade illuminates the second-floor landing (the fixture is also available with a more modern scoop shade).
Glimpsed through the doorway on the second-floor landing is a low-key sitting room. A Senate Bench from Hudson Valley–based Sawkille is tucked in a niche next to the stairway to the third floor.
Above: Glimpsed through the doorway on the second-floor landing is a low-key sitting room. A Senate Bench from Hudson Valley–based Sawkille is tucked in a niche next to the stairway to the third floor.
A Workstead Lodge Pendant hangs above a vintage desk in the second-floor study; the Campaign Folding Chair is from BDDW. “The framed charcoal drawing series of a branch is by our friend Brandon Hinman,” Robert says.
Above: A Workstead Lodge Pendant hangs above a vintage desk in the second-floor study; the Campaign Folding Chair is from BDDW. “The framed charcoal drawing series of a branch is by our friend Brandon Hinman,” Robert says.
In the master bedroom, the bed is sited in front of a gilded folding screen found in a Savannah antiques shop; “It reflects light in an otherwise dark space,” Robert says. “The Glastonbury chair is from a church in England; we found it years ago in an antiques shop in the Hudson, and the bedside lighting is vintage.” The Yves Hang fixture in hewn brass with polished brass accents and white pot glass was designed by Michael Amato for Urban Electric.
Above: In the master bedroom, the bed is sited in front of a gilded folding screen found in a Savannah antiques shop; “It reflects light in an otherwise dark space,” Robert says. “The Glastonbury chair is from a church in England; we found it years ago in an antiques shop in the Hudson, and the bedside lighting is vintage.” The Yves Hang fixture in hewn brass with polished brass accents and white pot glass was designed by Michael Amato for Urban Electric.
In the master bedroom, a Helios Table Lamp by Workstead sits atop a vintage Robsjohn-Gibbings dresser. The seascape photo is by Charleston-based photographer Jeff Holt.
Above: In the master bedroom, a Helios Table Lamp by Workstead sits atop a vintage Robsjohn-Gibbings dresser. The seascape photo is by Charleston-based photographer Jeff Holt.
The master bath is painted in Studio Green from Farrow & Ball. The unlacquered brass fittings are from Waterworks, and the Elwick Tub is from Victoria & Albert.
Above: The master bath is painted in Studio Green from Farrow & Ball. The unlacquered brass fittings are from Waterworks, and the Elwick Tub is from Victoria & Albert.
“Reflected in the custom mirror is a painting by Charleston artist Tim Hussey,” Robert says. “Each vanity sits in front of the divided light window; the light is amazing, and the view is of palm trees and live oak.” The Rex Table Lamp in hewn brass is from Urban Electric.
Above: “Reflected in the custom mirror is a painting by Charleston artist Tim Hussey,” Robert says. “Each vanity sits in front of the divided light window; the light is amazing, and the view is of palm trees and live oak.” The Rex Table Lamp in hewn brass is from Urban Electric.
See more from Workstead:

Product summary  

Lounge Seating

Moreno Chair

$1,850.00 USD from Lawson Fenning
Sofas & Couches

Moreno Sofa

$3,650.00 USD from Lawson Fenning

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