Cane is having a moment. While design trends vary from decade to decade, this one seems to be timeless. In the last century, Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret became recognized for his cane-and-teak Chandigarh office chairs, and Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer created one of the most important designs of the era: the Cesca chair. Today, modern iterations are seen in collections from Urban Outfitters, IKEA, and Target.
But one design firm is taking this trend a step further. In Charleston, South Carolina, a 19th-century carriage house designed by Workstead features seriously dreamy cane built-ins, and we’re taking note. The three-bedroom home was built in the 1850s on Bee’s Row. The Victorian Italianate main house now functions as Workstead’s office.
“We took it down to the studs,” says Workstead partner Robert Highsmith. “It had gone through a 1990s renovation with fake stucco and a drop ceiling, a whole other visual language that didn’t really fit in a historic building. One of our goals for the project was to celebrate the original finishes, ultimately choosing very rich materials to counterpoint the original ones.”
Inside, the home features a prominent kitchen with a 14-foot-long island, painted black as to not compete with other elements in the house, such as the caning. “It creates an epic gathering place that divides the living and dining areas in a very elegant way,” says Highsmith.
In addition to the indigenous Low Country wood and reclaimed pine hardwood floors, the standout design decision is the cane cabinetry, which provides plenty of storage—perfect for the relatively small home—and visual interest. “We knew we needed some type of cabinetry and wanted to utilize a material found in the South and tropical climates,” he says.
Having previously installed a cane ceiling in Charleston’s Dewberry Hotel, the team fell in love with the idea of using it in the carriage house. The fine texture of cane really “stands up to the poetry” of the home and “really lives throughout the day,” says Highsmith. It’s almost like an art installation as it manipulates light and offers a glimpse into the rooms beyond.
The Workstead team was lucky to work with a manufacturer, purchasing cane in large sheets and stretching it to fit panels. “From a construction angle, it can be quite the process to work with the delicate material, but it’s definitely worth it once the final project is complete,” he says.
In the rest of the home, equally historic materials are used, as well as simplistic, modern furnishings: a mid-century sectional sits in the living room; custom leather sling chairs provide extra seating; and a cast concrete vase in the dining area makes the perfect vessel for seasonal arrangements.
“There’s not a ton of furniture in the house because we considered the cabinetry to really do the job of furniture,” he says. Clearly, the caning steals the spotlight, but the minimal styling further adds to this carriage house’s cozy and comfy feel.
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