Easy Living: A South Carolina Indoor-Outdoor Home and Garden

This study in gracious Southern living is a fine example of how the Not So Big philosophy of better, not bigger, works in the garden.


Extending the presence of home into the outdoors allows porch dwellers to witness the elements without actual contact. On still summer evenings, any air movement, enjoyed from the back-and-forth rhythm of a rocking chair or porch swing, is refreshing.

Photo By Grey Crawford

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Down South, people just know how to live outdoors. To take advantage of the warm, humid climate, they create indoor-outdoor places where they can enjoy their family, their neighbors and their environment. Porches, screened rooms, arbors and formal gardens are among these spaces—attached to the house yet part of the landscape. These transitional places combine home with garden and can provide privacy or encourage sociability, depending on one’s mood.

Husband-and-wife designers Ken Troupe and Cally Heppner got the mood just right on their property in Beaufort, South Carolina. Sitting on their covered front porch on a sultry summer evening, the couple can stir up a breeze in their side-by-side rockers or on their hanging porch swing. From their perch four feet above the street, they can nestle back against the house or call out to a neighbor passing by; it’s a perfect vantage point that offers both prospect and refuge at the same time. The porch also acts as an outdoor entry vestibule where visitors might dust themselves off before knocking. Secluded and secure, it’s a special transitional space that makes occupants—whether inhabitants or visitors—feel comfortable.

Serene on the side

Another porch, this one screened, wraps the side and back of the house and opens on the formal side garden. Designed to extend an insect-free, indoor/outdoor living space into the landscape, this screened room adds a natural dimension to everyday life. The high-gabled roof and ganged window screens veil and soften the eastern morning light. Jutting out into the landscape like a dock over water, the screened porch—along with a pair of towering live oaks—breaks the side garden into two parts.

A formal garden, complete with circular brick fountain and semicircular matching path, occupies the side yard. A fountain of splashing water occupies the center of the brick pool. Traditional southern plantings such as boxwood trees, azaleas and dogwood trees soften the edges of this landscaped outdoor “room.”

Screening out the public

Because the house is located within yards of two public streets, privacy is a concern for Ken and Cally. A four-foot-high picket fence separates the sidewalk from the private yard. Dense plantings on each side of it add another layer of separation.

The owners carefully echoed details, colors and forms throughout their property to wonderful effect. The pickets in the fence are repeated in the railings that encircle both porches. A tall, carefully pruned pine tree creates privacy on the second-floor porch, playing up the contrast between the stark white building and the soft, green plantings that surround it. A decorative trellised gateway and another picket fence provide privacy for the back yard, and a brick wall and another fence along the side property line define and enclose a low-maintenance courtyard.

Open enclosures

Most people want some privacy without feeling that they’ve isolated themselves from their neighbors. Cally and Ken used “open enclosures” to screen but not separate themselves from view. Along the street edge, they erected a wooden post-and-beam structure on which vines grow, and they fastened trellis panels between columns to screen out the street. The couple left out some panels, creating windows into the garden.

Moving toward light

Cally and Ken used a long, linear trellis to create a hall-like enclosure and provide privacy to the side-yard garden. The structure’s roof makes a crosshatched shadow on the brick floor. A panel of wooden trellising also creates dappled light and air circulation in this “hallway.” At its terminus, the structure is open to the sky and to the street, allowing shafts of light to lead you forward to enjoy the plantings that mark the destination.

Excerpted with permission from Outside the Not So Big House by Julie Moir Messervy and Sarah Susanka (Taunton Press, 2006).