Cottage by the coast

Home + Garden

July 31, 2023

A Charlotte couple embraces Lowcountry living with a functional and stylish cottage in Bluffton, South Carolina, that can grow with their family.  

by Cathy Martin  |  photographs by Mary Britton Senseney

Mark and Shelley McLean made frequent trips to Palmetto Bluff, the 20,000-acre Lowcountry community in Bluffton, South Carolina, as a nearby getaway from their busy lives in Charlotte. During the pandemic, they decided to put down roots.  

“Palmetto Bluff is a special place for us,” Shelley says. “We love the natural beauty, the thoughtful design of the community, the vast array of amenities, the ability to build community with the other residents and its proximity to several other quaint southern towns.” The upscale residential community along the May River — with 32 miles of riverfront, lush maritime forests and salt marshes — is a short drive from Savannah, Ga., and Beaufort, S.C. “Mark is also from Florence, S.C., so being in the Lowcountry feels like home for him.”

Working with Hansen Architects in Savannah, and Pinckney Brothers, a custom homebuilder in Hilton Head, the couple chose a waterfront lot to develop a phased home plan where, eventually, multiple generations of family can comfortably gather as they progressively spend more time there.

“We both still work full time and are not ready to care for another full home,” Shelley says. “We wanted to design a home that was simple to live in today, and allowed for us to grow into as our family grows.”

Once plans were in place for the initial phase of construction, a cozy-but-elegant cottage with a spacious carriage house above a three-car garage, the couple brought in their trusted Charlotte designer, West Trade Interiors. Eight years ago, the mother-daughter duo of Hadley Quisenberry and Lisa Britt led the design of their Charlotte home in the Montibello neighborhood. “They know our preferences, taste and style,” Shelley says. “The West Trade team possesses a keen eye for aesthetics, color schemes, furniture arrangement and overall space utilization. Their expertise and experience in interior design enabled them to create a home that truly reflects who we are and how we envisioned living in the space.”

“They are traditional and love color,” Hadley Quisenberry says. “He’s from the South. She was raised in Pittsburgh but has lovingly adopted all southern ways.” 

Color abounds in the living room, where an oversized pink ottoman doubles as a coffee table and a pair of blue armchairs flank a floral-patterned sofa. The room adjoins the galley kitchen, which eventually will become a scullery in the next phase of construction. “It’s petite, but it’s just cozy,” Quisenberry says. The custom cabinets are painted a soft green-gray, and the butcher-block countertops add warmth to the space. A Scumacher wallpaper with a floral motif adds a traditional feel that ties into the rest of the home’s decor, Quisenberry adds.  

The sunroom overlooking the water serves as the dining room, where a whitewashed table for four can be extended to accommodate guests. Yellow-striped club chairs perform double-duty, as reading chairs for curling up with a book or as host and hostess seats at the table. A stained wood ceiling — Mark’s idea — warms the bright, sunny space. 

Given the area’s temperate climate, the couple spend lots of time outdoors when staying at the home. The porch, with a view of the river, is a natural extension of the living space. “We made the front porch a true living area, which they can use most of the year,” Quisenberry says.

“The long-term plan for our home is to enjoy the cottage and the simple living while we both continue working full-time,” Shelley says. “When we slow down and want to spend more time in the Lowcountry, we will consider phase two,” which will include a larger kitchen, a casual dining area, more bedrooms and a wraparound porch. 

“Our children are grown, with the youngest in college,” Shelley adds. “We were ready to spend time out of Charlotte knowing we will never move away from our Charlotte community. Having our special place in the Lowcountry to share with our family and friends is the perfect balance to our lifestyle.”  SP


Architect: Erik Puljung with Hansen Architects, Savannah, Ga.

Builder: Heyward Pinckney with Pinckney Brothers, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Interior Design: West Trade Interiors, Charlotte

Cabinetry: AWD, Savannah

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