A creative local duo have taken the reigns on life, following their dreams and building their own version of paradise, right in Summerville’s back yard.
What does paradise mean to you? For Jenna and Chris Pelayo, both born and raised in Hawaii, it is a familiar question, one they have contemplated since saying goodbye to the tropical islands they once called home. When they were 19 years old, the couple crossed the Pacific over to mainland America, and after being away for several years, their hearts began to ache for the oasis they left behind. They decided to take their dreams into their own hands, and are now the creators of their own personal paradise in a once-forgotten home in a small Southern town.
With the freedom to choose their destination, as well as fond memories held of past visits to Lake Tahoe, the couple left Hawaii for a year-long student exchange program in Nevada and began their new adventure. When the program was over and their introductory year in the continental United States was up, it was time for the couple to make another move: this time to buy their first home. The possibilities were endless, and the housing market in Arizona was on the rise at the time, so Arizona it was.
The move to Arizona brought two realizations along with it: the first was in the form of two investment properties that they remodeled, bringing to light their mutual love of “fixer-uppers.” Their second epiphany was not a surprising one: “Arizona just wasn’t for us,” Jenna says. “We are water babies!” More interested in creating a new home than returning to their old one, they began a country-wide search with a checklist of what they were looking for: old, historic homes, friendly people, no snow, and a close proximity to the ocean (amazing seafood was a must). With that kind of criteria, it became clear that they belonged in the south, and after visiting a couple of Southern states, Charleston won their hearts. The couple spent almost two full years searching all around the Lowcountry for the right home and the right job transfer for Chris. In what seemed like a Christmas miracle, the stars aligned and pointed the way to the house that would soon become their forever home.
A final job interview and a well-timed showing of the house is what gave the couple the kind of certainty that they were not expecting. Chris walked into a dilapidated building behind a shopping center in Summerville, just a short drive from Charleston, and was astonished at how perfect it seemed for the pair. Despite the structural damage around him—a preview of the difficulties that were sure to come—he immediately knew that he was inside of their future home. He put in an offer on the spot, even before calling Jenna to say, “This is our house. I just know this is the house we want.” And just like that, it was theirs. The fact that they put the offer in at that time, and not waiting until after the holidays is ultimately what gave them their home. They later found out that the house had recently become a hot-ticket item in the local real estate market; nearly every person who toured the building ended up making an offer on it. Despite winning the historic home jackpot, their journey was far from over. The house had been sitting vacant for ten years and was deemed “non-liveable” by the bank. Walls, wiring, floors, and doors were missing from all over, and a fair share of looters over the years had picked the house clean. They had three months of extreme renovations ahead of them that would get it to a condition that was even considered liveable.
Before the test of time took over, the house had a solid history behind it. It was built in the 1800s by Henry Alfred Jamison, who built it as a token of love for his wife, Emily. Within every aspect of the house, he paid incredible attention to the details, floor to ceiling. His use of heart pine flooring (wood from old, slow-growing pine trees, sought after for its natural high quality) that he harvested from the abundant pines of Middleton Plantation, was just one of many testaments to the fact that he spared no expense when it came to the love of his life. When the Jamison family’s time in the house had come and gone, the next generation of owners moved in. Near the turn of the twentieth century, one of Dorchester County’s first high-profile political figures, Sheriff Orin “Bossy” Limehouse acquired the house, where it stayed in the same family for over a hundred years.
The Pelayo family purchased the house in 2017, and it soon became clear that they had some sort of responsibility to pay homage to the generations who lived in the home before them, so they began to seek out information about the past residents of their future residence. The two new owners did not have to look far; soon after the house was deemed safe to live in, they discovered that the fourth-generation great grandson of the man who built the house was renting the home right next door. The distant relative gave them a better idea of what the house was like in its prime, when it sat on ten acres of land that has since been (mostly) turned into a large-scale housing development. By befriending the neighbor next door, the Pelayo duo gained more than a friendship: they now consider his family to be part of their own. Spending holidays together, and including them in the process of the renovations and restorations of their ancestor’s estate are just two small benefits of having a second family next door. Jenna and Chris want to return the home to being the authentic, antique treasure that it is, and they keep that in mind with every home improvement project. Whether it is by finding and using a left-behind broken chandelier in their chicken coop, or by using bricks that were salvaged from an old downtown Charleston road for the pathway leading up to the house, the pair have done what they can to have their home reflect the era in which it was created. The 1850s flooring, ceilings, mantles, and moulding are where they were originally intended to be by Henry Jamison himself, which is saying a lot for a building that was in shambles when the couple took ownership.
If it was not enough to restore one of Summerville’s oldest properties from an abandoned lot to an admired estate, the two have tackled most of the renovations themselves, only calling in the professionals when it was dangerous not to do so. Neither one of them had experience taking down a ceiling, but that did not stop them from learning how when it was time for the kitchen’s ceiling to go. They did the necessary research, watched enough how-to videos, and now the kitchen boasts the original beams and beadboard from when the house was first built, showcasing just a small part of their talent, hard work, and dedication. For so many years before it was the Pelayo’s home, it sat forgotten. Located outside of the confines of the town’s historic downtown area, the house was not officially recognized as part of Summerville’s Historic District until 2012, which also made the property eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. With the home both literally and figuratively on the map once more, these hard-working homeowners are sure to prevent it from falling off the map again. Offering events such as Goat Yoga (a fun exercise class that involves goats walking around while you stretch) and homemade goods such as hand-painted furniture, goats’ milk goodies, and honey products (made with the help of their backyard bees), together, using the help of the welcoming community around them, the Pelayo team is putting the once-ramshackled house back on the town’s radar.
While Jenna and Chris continue to work hard to bring the house back to its former glory, they are also able to customize their home to be exactly what they dreamed it could be. They are the creators of their own world, together redefining what paradise means to them: one DIY project at a time.
by Jessy Devereaux Mitcham