Splendor in the Grass


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Enchanted by the caress of nature’s palette and an aesthete’s eye, Sea Island welcomes the sublime and sensual style of renowned interior designer William R. Eubanks

How does a designer whose aesthetic is largely historic imagine the present? Quite beautifully, thank you, judging by the Sea Island, Georgia residence of Helen and Bill Penton. Immersed in a world of visual pleasure, the designer, William R. Eubanks, lives in a baronial home and admits he feels a special kinship with the 17th and 18th centuries. Eschewing period orthodoxy in a favor of timeless eclecticism, his signature remains that of historical luxe: rich fabrics, saturated colors, antique furnishings, art and the expertly acquired object.

For the Benton residence, however, the owners asked Eubanks ad his colleague, D. Mitchell Brown, to focus on geography rather than history. Sitting calmly on the edge of luminous salt marshes and surrounded by water, grasses and sedges on three sides, the house invited a design that mirrored the rhythmic grace of the landscape. At his clients’ behest, Eubanks took his inspiration from the landscape’s resolute sense of place and created what he describes as a “quiet, romantic, subtle background from which to enjoy the full beauty of the marsh.”

Indeed, the designer’s vision of the contemporary did not translate into a banal minimalist beach house. With Brown, Eubanks looked to the sensuous lines of mid-century moderne to provide the clients – who wanted to “clear the surfaces, eliminate the clutter” – with a design both serene and dramatic. The existing structure was opened up with new window walls to frame exterior views and integrate the natural beauty of the surroundings. Mirrored surfaces replicate the golden-green tonality of the outside environment. Working with a restrained palette inspired by the marsh, the designers intermingled natural tones of warm sage, wheat, taupe and ecru.

“With a subtle palette,” Eubanks explains, “detail is all that more important, and iterated shapes can make the whole cohesive, bring all elements together,”  The entry doors, which the designers characterize as having a “Frank Lloyd Wright attitude,” evolved from the squares and circles that punctuate the interior design. “Dissect the lamp over the dining room table,” Eubanks points out, “and you’ll find the shapes of the entrance doors.” On the staircase railing, the slender wrought iron balusters were polished, whereas the embedded “marbles” were left dark for contrast, a look that references 1920s moderne and the elongated sculptures of Giacometti.


“this house does not take itself too seriously”

Because the lines are simple, the designers took particular care with finishes and textures. Mirrored surfaces abound throughout, hinting at mid-century glam, but that look is tempered b natural materials such as parchment, ebony, stone, and wood. For the powder room, the designers found a rough-hewn stone console, which they had fitted for a sink. The carefully curated nautilus shell and mossy greenery, along with the sink and the wallpaper’s pebbly effect, are meant to suggest, Eubanks says, “the concept of a sandy beach.” This house, he insists, “does not take itself too seriously.”

In his early career, Eubanks worked primarily within a modernist lexicon. However, his first showroom was in Memphis a city “steeped in tradition” which encouraged the more traditionalist inclinations of his aesthetic. But working with Helen Benton, herself an artist (her paintings enhance the beauty of his house), was an opportunity to create something “new and edgy,” and the designers clearly had fun. The sinuous style channels Marlene Dietrich and furniture designer Karl Springer. The inspiration moves from “streamlined mid-century modern” through the 1970s – there’s even a shag rug! And yet the residence achieves a refined coherence. The home bears Eubanks’ signature in the functionality of the various intimate seating arrangements, the decorative objects placed comme il faut (for this house, they tend to be shells, rock crystals, and coral rather than 18th century porcelain figurines) and the sumptuous fabrics. And the elegant results confirm Eubanks’ command of place and time – both historical and contemporary.