Feature

Dream Living

A young Charleston family trades in suburban life for classic Southern-city living.

Like many people transitioning into the adult world, Melanie Kiernicki had a running list of what she ought to do as a young adult. Whether by way of television shows, movies, or books, or by the words of family, friends, and even strangers, society had made it clear to Melanie that there was an assumed path she was to take in order to achieve success. For many of the bullet points on her list, Melanie was completely on board; she excelled at her studies in high school and went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Wayne State University in Detroit before getting her Master’s Degree in Elementary Education at the College of Charleston.

Getting married was also easy; she had long been head over heels in love with her high school sweetheart, Kevin, and the pair couldn’t wait to tie the knot. Planning a family was thrilling: Melanie and Kevin often dreamed about a house full of children, excited at the prospect of becoming parents. They breezed through the phases of life together seamlessly, and eventually came upon the decision to settle down and find a home.

Melanie, ever practical, consulted the list of “shoulds” that she had collected over the years, using them as a guide to find the perfect first home for their family. They ended up with a large, newly constructed home in a highly regarded school district in the suburbs; a 2,400-square-foot house in a row of nearly identical structures. With four bedrooms, a two-car garage, large walk-in closets, and more space than they knew what to do with, the home was everything a typical suburban couple might desire for their dwelling place. In time, Melanie touched every corner of the home with her decorating talents, filling it with furniture, decor, books, and more. Their first daughter, Penelope, was the first to make use of one of the extra bedrooms, followed not too long after by their second daughter, Lucy. The arrival of each girl was joined by the influx of items that tend to come with new babies: toys, clothing, furniture, books, and baby gear galore. The Kiernicki family was surrounded by love, beauty, and precious memories, but also by an overwhelming amount of things. Soon Melanie began to feel the gentle tug of a long-held desire, and after a quick conversation with her husband, it became clear that he, too, felt pulled in the same direction. They knew exactly what they needed to do.

For years, Melanie and Kevin had held tightly to a dream: to one day move to Downtown Charleston. Of course, they thought, it would have to be later, after their kids were grown. It wouldn’t be sensible to move downtown with two toddlers, or even with two children in school, not knowing how the education options downtown compared to the award-winning school within walking distance of their current home. And the cost of living in a comparable place downtown had to be exorbitant, they figured, definitely not something they could afford while their daughters were still young. But then Melanie decided to homeschool her girls, negating the need to live in a good school district, and the couple began thinking about how much space they really needed. Slowly, their dream turned into an idea, which quickly turned into a plan. They decided to check out rentals downtown to get a feel for the market, and they immediately fell in love with a tiny two-bedroom apartment. They put in an application that day and put their home on the market a week later. Finally, yet much sooner than expected, their dream became a reality. The Kiernicki family moved downtown.

Now in their second apartment in Downtown Charleston, the Kiernickis are masters of downsizing. At 1,000-square-feet (including a decently sized porch), their one-bedroom, second-floor apartment in a historic home is a fraction of the size of their previous home, yet perfectly suited to the family of four, plus their dog and two cats. When it came time to move out of suburbia, Melanie and Kevin hand-selected only their most favorite possessions, selling and giving away well over half of their belongings. The result is a space filled only with items that bring the couple joy.

There’s the old typewriter that Kevin gave Melanie on their first Christmas together as a married couple in Charleston, and the vintage cuckoo clock from Melanie’s mother, one of the first pieces of decor they hung in Penelope’s first bedroom. There’s the antique radio in the kitchen, given to Melanie by her uncle before he passed away, and the ever-growing collection of musical instruments that feed Kevin’s constant obsession to learn something new. Even the utilitarian items are beautiful: gold flatware, blankets that are both gorgeous and cozy, and coffee mugs featuring the family’s initials. With an expert-level eye for design, Melanie quickly transformed the space into a home inspired by midcentury, rustic, and vintage aesthetics. Textures provide layers of depth to the décor—a leather couch marries well with a knitted chenille throw and fur pillows—while neutral tones lend classic elements of tranquility and peace to the apartment. Live plants abound, mingling with the natural light and tall ceilings to provide an airy, open feeling. Thoughtfully curated, the apartment shines with well-chosen simplicity.

The apartment’s small footprint requires some creativity on the part of Melanie, a task she handles with ease. The large walk-in closet in the master bedroom became a bedroom itself, shared by the couple’s two daughters. Melanie also decided to place the master bed in the center of her bedroom, setting up a screen behind it to establish a playroom-type space in the faux-hall the arrangement creates. Kevin’s instruments found a home above the dining table, doubling as decor, and every nook and cranny is utilized for storage space. With only one usable closet in the entire apartment, minimalism and creativity is key for creating a liveable space.

Finding her true passion in motherhood and curating beauty, Melanie traded in her public school teacher’s life for teaching her own children and running her own interior design business, The Penny and the Pearl. For now, the family enjoys the fruits of following their dream—walking to shops and restaurants, being close to the cultural offerings of the city, watching carriage horses pass by while on the open balcony, and listening to the hum of city life. With their adventurous, all-in spirits, it’s hard to say where the wind may take them next, but with Melanie at the design helm, one thing is certain—it is sure to be beautiful.

By Jana Riley