Charleston, South Carolina, architects-turned-bakers Bill Bowick and David Bouffard have a seven-step commute between home and work. The couple are the proprietors of Sugar Bakeshop, a pocket-sized bakery in the city’s Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. Their house, a circa-1852 classic Charleston single—characterized by its long, slender profile perpendicular to the street—is nestled next door, with the bakery’s vine-covered edges brushing up against the entry.
Opening a bakery was a long-time dream of Bowick’s, who grew up around baked goods and worked in branding and design for retail spaces and restaurants. He and Bouffard met in New York City in July 2002, days before Bouffard’s birthday. “We actually met on the subway,” Bowick recalls. “I had my drawings, leaving from a meeting, and we struck up a conversation.” After some time, Bowick shared his idea with Bouffard, and as they contemplated the next stages of their lives, they decided to take a leap of faith.
“I’d always had my eye on Charleston,” says Bowick. “As architects, we thought it was a beautiful city and had a lot of potential. We were interested in going somewhere where we could really be involved in the community.” They also appreciated the city’s proximity to the beach, which they hoped would be a magnet for family. In 2003, they started, in earnest, to look for a house and a separate storefront to rent to realize their goal. During their search, they gravitated toward Cannonborough-Elliotborough for a variety of reasons, chief among them the opportunity to inhabit a live-work space.
“The zoning for the two main streets in that area—[Cannon and Spring Streets—was] limited business, so you could live and work just like a loft, and that was really appealing to us,” Bowick explains. They bought the house and circa-1947 shop, in the fall of 2003, knowing they’d have to completely overhaul both. “The shop was in such bad condition that it didn’t even have any value. The owners actually thought we were going to tear it down—it was in just awful condition.”
A small kink in the plan then arose: The couple had to put their plans on hold when Bouffard was offered an opportunity to work in London. They decided to rent their house out for a year, during which time Bowick tested recipes and worked remotely from London for a firm in New York. When they returned, in the fall of 2004, they began renovating the shop, which took much longer than expected. Three years later, they still hadn’t opened and were continuing to practice architecture.
They decided to squeeze in the rehab ahead of the bakery opening, which was set for that fall. “It’s always interesting to have a project with two architects. [Bouffard] always says he’s 30,000 feet looking down, and I’m right up into the smallest detail.”
The couple’s main objective was to open things up—way up. “When the family that lived here built the little shop next door, it blocked a lot of the light of the house,” says Bowick. “The inside, especially the dining room, was like a cave. There were windows, but there was no light.” Additionally, in the years leading up to selling, the family had renovated the house for college rentals.
Few original doors remained, and there were multiple layers of flooring, drop ceilings, and dropped soffits. In addition to removing walls, they also employed what Bowick calls “reductive intervention”: instead of installing a newly plastered ceiling, they exposed and white-washed pine beams; removed linoleum, carpet, and padding from the pine floors and refinished them; and exposed the chimney between the living room and kitchen, right down to the bricks.
“You can stand in the back living room and look all the way to the front windows in the house; it’s all open,” says Bowick.
As for the interiors, Bowick describes his taste as eclectic, while Bouffard’s skews more modern. “It’s ironic that we bought an old house, because David is a true modernist,” he says. Modern design is juxtaposed with history—both personal and architectural—throughout the home, as in the living room’s upright 1888 Steinway alongside vintage Cubic armchairs by Mario Bellini for Cassina.
The serene master bedroom is a place where the couple can retire and unwind after long days at the bakery. “A lot of times, people will tack on closet space and interrupt the original shell of the room,” Bowick says. “We decided that we would build a freestanding closet that would be the backdrop for the bed.” He adds that the layout of the room can still be sensed while “all the jumble of mess that comes with just living” is behind the wall. They also decided to make the entry to the master bathroom double-wide, to better take advantage of its wall of windows when the doors are open.
The railing the couple designed for the house’s central stairway is inspired by shutters found across Charleston and midcentury modern design. Like louvered windows, the slats actually move, and are used to control light instead of air.
“You can adjust it during the day to get the light to aim a different way into our living room, or onto the stairway, or for privacy,” says Bowick. “I’ve always been interested in dynamic architecture, and that’s something that’s right at the heart of our house that moves and you can interact with.”
Another important aspect they wanted to incorporate into the renovation was a large garden, particularly so that from wherever in the house someone may be standing, they have a connection to the outside.
“The back gardens are designed like a series of rooms, which is a Charleston thing,” Bowick explains. The side courtyard serves as a sun garden with a fountain, and the back deck has three large doors that open out from the living room to accommodate for overflowing parties. The back patio is used for grilling and sitting by the firepit.
The back gardens serve the additional purpose of visual respite for the bakery’s workers. “A lot of people in the food and beverage world will tell you that they work in spaces with few windows and terrible lighting,” says Bowick. “So we blew out the whole back of the shop and added a glass garage door that opens up into the side yard that our dining room looks out to.”
Another outdoor feature the couple designed is their shed, which was constructed in response to a new house built next door while they were in London. The shed breaks up the scale of a four-story blank wall that then faced toward them. Bowick calls the shed a “background folly piece,” and it sports a translucent back, sides, and roof. Natural light spills into it during the day, and there’s a light switch for the it in the house. Bowick says they use it for ambient light in the evenings, like a lantern.
In their 12th year of running the bakery, Bowick says they couldn’t have predicted how big the city’s food scene would become, but it’s been a “lovely surprise.” And while Bowick’s family had roots in Charleston—his father’s side hails from the city—he had no idea that the location of their house and bakery hit extremely close to home.
“I was talking to my grandfather, and he was really excited because his half-brother used to own a store just down the street, on the next block,” says Bowick. “It’s funny the way life comes full circle.”