Leila & Buff's Beautiful Beach Abode

Leila & Buff's Beautiful Beach Abode

Evita Smith
Aug 2, 2012

Name: Leila & Buff Ross, Jack and Barlow (and Etta, Coulee and Nitty Gritty Urban Kitty)
Location: Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Size: Approximately 2,300 square feet
Years lived in: 3.5 years

Buff Ross grew up a block off the beach on a little slice of paradise just north of the Charleston Harbor, called Sullivan's Island. He and his wife, Leila, were living elsewhere in the Charleston area when his mother, a potter and teacher, passed away six years ago. They answered the island call, choosing to make his childhood home their family home.

Leila and Buff took a couple of years to make the transition into the house and in that time, they made some upgrades. No major structural changes were needed, so they focused their efforts on insulation, central heating/air and the two bathrooms; both needing a serious facelift. The master suite upstairs had a kitchenette which needed to be removed, giving the couple added space for a relaxation area of their own. The house escaped major damage during Hurricane Hugo, but it did require repairs in the living room. During the repairs, the beadboard walls were replaced with drywall. Leila was quick to bring back the beadboard to be more in keeping with the period feel of the house.

The Sappho ferry pocket windows and doors may my favorite elements in the house, but it's the amazing outdoor space that pulls at my heart strings. It's not a beach house without a porch, and this house has porch to spare! The wraparound screened-in porch section is an inviting place to spend most of the day and evening when the weather allows, and that's a large portion of the year in the Lowcountry. The large 'sculpture' hanging from the porch rafters is the interior of an old folding kayak, also known as a Klepper canoe. It belonged to Buff's mother and was in pieces when they moved into the house. He felt it would be a fun tribute to reincarnate it as a decorative feature for the house. It ended up looking something like skeleton after Leila painted it white and Buff put a saw blade in for the teeth. It is reminiscent of the Right whale skeleton that has been at the Charleston Museum for decades.

Leila says the house has an incredible energy, and I think that could be an understatement. The moment I walked through the front gate I felt an immense sense of 'home'. It's a wonderful feeling.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: I'd consider my style to be eclectic, soulful and strongly emotional. The objects in our house tell our life story, and we're adding to that all the time.

Inspiration: I'm inspired daily, so that's a tough one. Nature and natural history objects like bones, insects, etc. inspire me. Design magazines, blogs and sites like Pinterest give me great ideas (I rarely follow through with them, but they give me great ideas)! My style changes daily — like my mood. One second I'm into ethnic textiles, and the next, I'm in a Mid-Century modern phase, and then I'll swing into having a love for unique antiques and old Southern family heirlooms. Domino Magazine used to be my monthly design porn mag until it folded. Now, sites like Pinterest, Etsy and random blogs like "My Favorite and My Best" are really fun.

Favorite Element: The house itself has an incredible energy; people say it all the time when they walk in. It's like your blood pressure goes down a few notches. More specifically, some of my favorite elements include the doors and pocket windows that came from the old Sappho ferry boat that used to run from the peninsula of Charleston to Mt. Pleasant in the 1890's. They're so unique looking and even sit at a slight slant, like the hull of a boat. I also adore being surrounded by so many dear friends' pieces of artwork, which we have in every room.

Biggest Challenge: The limited space for all of our collections and the lack of wall space for more wonderful art that I plan to collect as long as I can. And… keeping things as clean as I'd like.

What Friends Say: A good friend once said to me that our home felt and looked like "such a happy place" and I'll never forget her saying that. It warmed the cockles of my heart. :)

Biggest Embarrassment: The ridiculous amounts of dog and cat hair and dust that abounds! Animals in the home is a must for us, so I wouldn't trade the dog/cat hair tumbleweeds for the world.

Proudest DIY: I'm in the process of making a relatively large paper collage piece that will eventually go over our bed. So, if and when I complete it, THAT will be my proudest DIY project.

Biggest Indulgence: The teal lacquered dresser and the Beni-Ourain rug in our bedroom that is so shaggy and plush that it's a ton of fun to walk/sit/play on.

Best Advice: Allow your unique objects (your favorite books, artwork, accessories, pieces of furniture, etc.) tell your story and BE DIFFERENT. Break free from the typical and do something completely unexpected — all your own.

Dream Sources: 1st Dibs, OneKingsLane, eBay, local antique and junk shops, local interior design shops.

Resources of Note:


    • Benjamin Moore's Lo-VOC "White Dove"
    • Benjamin Moore's "Surf Blue"


    • Some family pieces from Louisiana, some Ebay pieces that were reupholstered.


    • I spent countless hours searching at local lighting stores (because I'd much rather support a great local business whenever I can), junk shops, antique stores, then finally online, for "sculptural lighting", and I found some winners. The coconut red chandelier was from Wisteria and the chrome pair in the hall were from Candelabra in Mt. Pleasant. They're by Jonathan Adler. The groovy grass/reed one in our bedroom was on 1st Dibs — I made the seller a low ball offer and he took it.


    • A lot of found objects displayed as "art", as well as a lot of shells and natural history things and lovely dead stuff, which are all over our home.


    • As mentioned above, so much of our artwork came from friends whom I'm inspired by, as well as pieces or photos we've created ourselves. It's what makes Buff and I really happy. We like to be amazed by mind-blowing work as much as we possibly can. Take the sculpture/installation in our downstairs bathroom created by our friend Jonathan Brilliant, out of coffee stirrers. It makes going to the bathroom so much more fun when you have something like that to look up at.


    • Ebay, One Kings Lane, sea grass rugs from Natural Area Rugs online, and some were given to me by family members.

Thanks, Leila and Buff! I'd also like to thank Kathie for getting us together. I know we'll be seeing more from you!

(Images: Evita Smith)

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