Even Michelle Jewell is surprised that she fell in love with the marshlands that back up to her home in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. The island, a 10-by-6-mile haven just south of Charleston, is quieter than its neighbors, Johns and Kiawah islands; covered in marshes, woods, and live oaks; and has long been a locals-only sort of place, with little development.
Jewell, who grew up on a farm in upstate South Carolina, and her husband, Ryan Amick, have been in the Charleston area for 15 years. Over time, they inched away from the city center—moving first to James Island, and now Wadmalaw—in search of a more peaceful location to live.
“I’m very used to quiet, open spaces and space to garden,” Jewell says. “I was feeling cramped on James Island and really wanted to get out in the country again.”
At the time, Jewell had been running a toy company, Fink Toys, for eight years, and was itching for a new direction. She turned to her heritage for inspiration.
“My dad’s aging, and he’s leaving [his] farm to me, so it was time to actually learn about farming,” she says, adding that in her 20s, she wanted to get as far away from the profession as possible. While running the toy company, though, Jewell traveled regularly and worked behind a computer screen. Over the years, she realized she “just missed being physical, being outside, and being in nature.”
In 2017, she decided to go back to school in the sustainable agriculture program at the College of Charleston. She began to poke around for real estate on Wadmalaw Island, where there would be room for a sprawling garden.
“I started looking just for fun, and it took 11 months until we found this house,” she says. It wasn’t an easy search—properties are hard to find because they don’t come up for sale very often, and the ones that do, Jewell says, are dilapidated. Additionally, much of the island is under land preserve to encourage conservation instead of overdevelopment. After seeing several options that weren’t the right fit despite substantial acreage, she and her real estate agent pulled up to a 2-acre plot with a two-story, cedar shake-sided home, flanked with live oaks and marshes. They both knew it was just right—and what they found inside offered further confirmation.
“We walked in and the couple who lived here before us had a small son, and they actually had one of my designs I designed for Crate & Barrel hanging up like you would a quilt,” Jewell says. It was the sign she and Amick were looking for; they made an offer in February 2018 and moved in that April.
Jewell was surprised to learn that the home had been built in the 1990s, as opposed to earlier in the 20th century. The couple who originally built the house had done so by hand, bringing in peg and groove floorboards, reclaimed moldings, and an extra-large front door. Deep windowsills have become homes for Jewell’s plants.
“It’s not a manufactured home and you can tell,” says Jewell. The original owners “were really thinking outside the box, and adding a lot of character when they were building it.”
Jewell and Amick bought the home from its second set of owners, who, Jewell says, had an eye for interiors and opened up spaces where the walls seemed to close things in. They also had a more beachy style than Jewell and Amick, who needed to bring in their own furnishings to visualize how to make each room theirs.
Their previous home, an ’80s contemporary, absorbed more rustic furnishings, but they’ve skewed modern in the Wadmalaw Island residence to make up for the country setting. Midcentury modern pieces from the ’60s and ’70s mingle with family heirlooms and newly bought items from the likes of Article, Urban Outfitters, and Ikea. Whimsical toys from Jewell’s time as an entrepreneur sit next to succulents; a clawfoot tub shares space with industrial sconces; a thrifted card catalogue rests to the side of a West Elm dining table and chairs.
While the interiors were turnkey (to their delight), the property is where they’ve made a serious effort, and where they spend most of their time.
“When you’re here you want to be outside,” she says, noting that they’ve tried to create seamless connections between indoors and out. “The yard was plain and overgrown. I have been spending the majority of my energy cutting that back and building gardens.” They’ve added raised beds for growing vegetables, a pollinator garden, fruit trees, and a chicken coop. A large screened-in porch allows for long evenings outside sans bug bites, and Jewell also constructed a 12-foot farm table for outdoor dining, as well as a fire pit and grilling area.
The area drains naturally when flooding takes place, one of the features of the property that Jewell finds profoundly moving: The land takes care of itself. She’s taken the initiative to learn about the birds that come through and the native plants that help prevent erosion.
“When we were originally looking, I had no interest in being on the water,” she says. “I’ve fallen in love with the marsh and all of the wildlife that it brings in. I’ve been really surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed that part of it.”