An Old Charleston Row House Is Elegantly Modernized With a Southern Twist

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By Michele Koh Morollo
After a thoughtful revamp, this iconic home now boasts a “southern modernism” sense of style.

Robert Highsmith and his wife, Stefanie Brechbuehler—co-founders of the design studio Workstead—split their time between Brooklyn, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina. 

Last year, after repurposing the Mendel Rivers Federal Building in Charleston as the Dewberry Hotel, they began exploring a style they’ve since identified as "Southern modernism." Recently, their research and experimentation have culminated thanks to a meticulously restored 1853 Italianate Victorian row house, which they’ve named Workstead House. 

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This room houses a Lawson Fenning Moreno sofa and lounge chairs, an antique mosaic-horn coffee table, and Workstead Signal globe and sconce lights.

This room houses a Lawson Fenning Moreno sofa and lounge chairs, an antique mosaic-horn coffee table, and Workstead Signal globe and sconce lights.

A Lawson Fenning Rough dining table by Collection Particulaire and Milo Baughman caned chairs with BBDW fabric complete the look of this room.

A Lawson Fenning Rough dining table by Collection Particulaire and Milo Baughman caned chairs with BBDW fabric complete the look of this room.

In partnership with a New York City–based investor, Workstead House now serves as a pied-à-terre for its owner, and doubles up as an event space for Highsmith and Brechbuehler.

The exterior of the 1853 row houses.

The exterior of the 1853 row houses.

Art by Time Hussey.

Art by Time Hussey.

Built in 1853 by the acclaimed architect Sara Smith, the three-story, 5,655-square-foot property is one of four row houses located on Charleston’s iconic Bee’s Row.

The dining area is located in the drawing room on the first level.

The dining area is located in the drawing room on the first level.

This room feautres an Adrian Pearsall sofa, Workstead Sling Chairs, an antique British colonial mahogany bed that is used as a coffee table, Workstead Lodge Chandelier 3, and Jim Bindman floor lamps.

This room feautres an Adrian Pearsall sofa, Workstead Sling Chairs, an antique British colonial mahogany bed that is used as a coffee table, Workstead Lodge Chandelier 3, and Jim Bindman floor lamps.

During the Civil War, the house belonged to William C. Bee, who used the row houses as storage for goods smuggled through the Union blockade. 

Other past owners include builder and industrialist David Lopez Jr., the South Carolina general superintendent during the Civil War, as well as George Trenholm, the man rumored to have inspired the character of Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind

A BBDW leather credenza and round mirror, along with a chandelier by Urban Electric Kensington are located in the entry hall.

A BBDW leather credenza and round mirror, along with a chandelier by Urban Electric Kensington are located in the entry hall.

A vintage bamboo outdoor sofa, lounge chairs, and a coffee table sit together in the Veranda.

A vintage bamboo outdoor sofa, lounge chairs, and a coffee table sit together in the Veranda.

Resembling the brownstones built in Savannah, Boston, and New York during the mid-19th century, these historic row houses are known for their terracotta cast pediments and elaborate interior moldings. 

A Sawkilled bench in the entry hall.

A Sawkilled bench in the entry hall.

Shop Workstead
Workstead Orbit Sconce
Workstead Orbit Sconce
As a multidisciplinary design studio that’s based out of Brooklyn and Charleston, Workstead created the Orbit lighting series to act as functional works of sculpture.
Workstead Signal Sconce
Workstead Signal Sconce
The Signal Sconce features a hand sanded globe. The fixture is delicately mounted between two metal pins against a luminous canopy, creating a hieroglyphic composition. A pull chain holds a slender rod, giving the piece a jewel-like presence. Made in the USA, UL Listed.
Workstead Lodge Pendant Three
Workstead Lodge Pendant Three
The Lodge Collection utilizes a series of structural wooden frames to support a variety of straightforward lighting functions : chandelier, pendant, sconce. The play between wood and metal emphasizes the counterpoint between structure and network.
An antique desk, a Lawson Fenning Highland Wingback Chair, a Jim Bindman table lamp, a Workstead Lodge pendant, and art by Brandon Hinman can be found in the office.

An antique desk, a Lawson Fenning Highland Wingback Chair, a Jim Bindman table lamp, a Workstead Lodge pendant, and art by Brandon Hinman can be found in the office.

Workstead preserved and restored the building’s original floors, moldings, doors, windows, and stairs, and updated the interiors with stylish modern conveniences, while also respecting its historic bones. 

A Lawson Fenning cane bed, Selig night stands with fabric sling, an antique screen, and an antique barrel chair are in the master chambers.

A Lawson Fenning cane bed, Selig night stands with fabric sling, an antique screen, and an antique barrel chair are in the master chambers.

The guest bedroom on the third floor has a shaker style, tiger-maple canopy bed, Adrian Pearsall lounge chairs, and an antique shaving stand.

The guest bedroom on the third floor has a shaker style, tiger-maple canopy bed, Adrian Pearsall lounge chairs, and an antique shaving stand.

To bring their vision to life for the space, the dynamic duo worked with Gateway Park, Lawson Fenning, Farrow & Ball, Meador's, Urban Electric Co., Holland & Sherry, Croghan's, Moore & Giles, 2 Note Hudson, Tim Hussey, Jeff Holt, Melissa Sutton, Brandon Hinman, Artizom, Le Creuset, Sonos, and The Shelter Collection. 

A Workstead brass chandelier, a Signal pendant, and an Urban Electric Rex table lamp have been used in the master bathroom.

A Workstead brass chandelier, a Signal pendant, and an Urban Electric Rex table lamp have been used in the master bathroom.

A luxurious bathtub with marble walls.

A luxurious bathtub with marble walls.

Styled with a carefully curated selection of furniture and accessories that evoke the moody spirit of South Carolina’s Lowcountry—yet still infuse a good dose of modernity—Workstead House sets a new standard for historic home remodels. 

A compact Le Creuset kitchen.

A compact Le Creuset kitchen.

A wet bar with Lawson Fenning Orsini stools.

A wet bar with Lawson Fenning Orsini stools.

Workstead Sling Chairs.

Workstead Sling Chairs.

Here are the masterminds behind this renovation, Robert Highsmith and his wife, Stefanie Brechbuehler—co-founders of Workstead.   

Here are the masterminds behind this renovation, Robert Highsmith and his wife, Stefanie Brechbuehler—co-founders of Workstead.   

A look at the floor plan for the first floor.

A look at the floor plan for the first floor.

Here is the floor plan for the second floor.

Here is the floor plan for the second floor.

The third level's floor plan.

The third level's floor plan.

Project Credits: 

Builder: Gateway Park Enterprises 

Structural engineering: Rosen and Associates, Inc. 

Interior design: Workstead 

Cabinetry: Meadors