Listening for the Melody
Like a composer turning a melody into a great symphony, professional designer and artist Michelle Woolley Sauter creates timeless, balanced, and thoughtful harmony.
The rhythmic clatter of the train’s twice-a-day runs and the peal of church bells has become the soundtrack of designer and artist Michelle Woolley Sauter’s life. In the historic Coburn Hutchinson House on East Richardson Avenue, just off Main Street, Sauter is seated at an elegantly rustic table. “It really isn’t a disturbance,” she says of the sounds. In fact, they are among the many things that attracted her and her husband, Brian, to Summerville. Relocating two and a half years ago from Raleigh, NC, the couple had always been drawn to the area. “We vacationed down here, and that’s how we discovered this incredible jewel,” she says of the renovated Historic Landmark building that is now home to One Coast Design. “When Brian had the opportunity to work with a company here, we took it.”
Returning the Charleston Single House residence to its original glory was not a project for the faint of heart. Researching and familiarizing themselves with their relatively rare, three window-style single house took time, patience, and a willingness to work with the Board of Architectural Review. Replacing sills and jacking up joists from the ground up, the couple worked to stay true to the house’s architectural integrity. Its original windows look out over Richardson Avenue, and original plaster was restored. Elements some would overlook were replaced. “We even returned the shutters to what would have been here originally—louvered on the upper levels to allow for airflow, and solid on the street level to ensure privacy.” Restoring and reusing the original materials whenever possible delivered a tribute to the home’s 1859 construction and a beautiful feather in Summerville’s historical cap.
With a ready-made clientele of Instagram followers tracking the renovation progress and a base of Houzz subscribers in pursuit of design services, One Coast Design hit the ground running. “We opened three weeks after we moved in, and we’ve yet to slow down.” As a designer, artist, color, and art consultant, Sauter checks all the boxes. Though her eye for scale, color, texture, and lighting make her one of the region’s most sought-after designers, Michelle Woolley Sauter’s greatest gift may be the one that sets her apart from the rest. “When the uniqueness of a place sings to us like a melody, then we will know, at last, what it means to be at home,” Paul Gruchow writes in his book of essays. Though he writes of outdoor places, the words are equally relevant to the spaces that house our everyday life. Sauter listens for that melody, and what she hears enables her to create a dynamic space reflecting its owner. Much like a composer, the designer takes a simple tune and adds the harmonies to make it a masterpiece.
Having drastically downsized when relocating here from North Carolina, Sauter understands the unique needs of those who find themselves moving to smaller, forever homes. “We arrived with far more furniture than the house could hold. In a profession often adhering to the “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy, Sauter prefers to think outside the box. “It is a challenge, but far more rewarding to integrate the client’s interests and what is important to them. Her spaces come together organically. She laughs, “In the process, they may discover they’re really in love with that cedar chest from London or the odd green sofa. I step into their world rather than trying to drag them into mine. In the end, the result has to belong to the client.”
While One Coast Design’s clients crisscross the country, local clients have quickly become her focus. From new builds to historical renovations, Sauter’s keen eye and endless energy are equally at home in the Lowcountry. “We love it here. We had many different locations we might have chosen, but here is where we wanted to put down roots.”
Sauter applies the same sense of color and balance to her artwork. Canvases of every size and subject reflect an extensive fine arts background. Large landscapes and abstracts splash color on the walls, while small, detailed pieces offer a glimpse of the artist’s range. Many are commissioned images she creates based solely on a feeling her client is looking to convey. Once again, Sauter’s ability to listen allows her to create images that tangibly capture what the client is often unable to put into words. Licensed by Swarovski, she designs and creates stunning original works in which she embeds hundreds of Swarovski crystals. As a Master Framer, Sauter’s skills ensure that each piece she creates wears a frame that is art in itself.
Summerville’s melody is sung by its freight trains and church bells. Michelle Woolley Sauter heard it and knew she was home. Along with their beautifully restored Coburn Hutchinson House on East Richardson, Sauter and her husband add a welcome new harmony to the historic melody that is uniquely Summerville.
By Susan Frampton