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The Cottage Lovers Guide to Kiawah Island
Take in Southern architecture, coastal appeal and recreation for the whole family by the coast.
Written by Jessie Yount

Just south of Charleston, SC, Kiawah Island is a hidden gem on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Comprised of a 10-mile gated beach community, it includes parks, forests, markets and eateries to explore and enjoy. And for all of you cottage lovers, we’ve got you covered: learn a little bit about the history behind the designs and marvel at the finest Southern architecture in Kiawah.

The island was first inhabited by the Kiawah Indians in the late 1600s, giving the island its name. In 1770 the population dramatically changed: wealthy landowners built plantations and flourished from cotton production.

Later in 1950, the island was sold to C.C. Royal, a lumberman from Georgia. Included in his purchase was the Vanderhorst estate, which he planned to use for logging and timber to develop an oceanfront community on the island. In 1954, he established the first neighborhood of summer homes on the island and dubbed the street Eugenia, after his wife. Yet, with C.C.

Royal’s passing, his heirs sold the land to the Kuwaiti Investment Company in 1974. This sale was pivotal to the island’s development: shortly after the sale, the Kiawah Island Resort opened for tourists and vacationers. Real estate was put on the market to develop a residential community in Kiawah, too. Since 1994, development agreements with Kiawah Resort Associates and The Kiawah Island Golf Resort have allowed these two companies to continue expansion. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort is a particular highlight of the island, as it manages many properties including The Sanctuary Hotel, private home rentals, five premier golf course and eateries for every occasion.

But enough about development, we know you really want a peak at the timeless Southern architecture. You’ll find that the architecture in Kiawah is heavily influenced by the Plantation Era. One particular stand out is the Vanderhorst Mansion. In fact, the home was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The home of Arnoldus Vanderhorst II, Governor of South Carolina in the late 1700s, features Barbadoes influence with an arcaded brick foundation in Flemish bond. Windows on the second and third floor of the residence mirrored the spacing of the arches on the ground level, providing a pathway for wind to flow through the home and cool its inhabitants in the hot summer months. At the end of 20th century, the home was updated: the piazza was reconstructed, modern glass walls were installed and new pavilions were added to create space for new bathrooms, a kitchen and mechanical equipment.

The Vanderhorst Mansion is a stunning example of historic Southern architecture; its living areas were located above the first story to allow for better ventilation and to protect the home from high water, in the event of a flood. Photo Credit.
Architects Chris Schmitt and Glenn F. Keyes revived the Vanderhorst mansion at the end of the 20th century, updating its functionality and giving it new, modern curb appeal. Photo Credit.

Contemporary homes in Kiawah are built with similar goals in mind: homes are well designed to withstand the humid climate in the South with lofty ceilings and tall windows. Many houses feature porches, which add open-air appeal and a space for families to relax and socialize together. A quaint vacation spot, it’s truly loaded with Southern architecture at every corner.

And with its small population of roughly 1,600 and its world-class accommodations, you can enjoy a quiet, relaxing vacation in luxury and style. If you’d like to see more fabulous architecture or explore the accommodations and eateries that the island has to offer, browse the selection below and check out all of our favorite spots!

The Sanctuary Hotel

Managed by the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, this Forbes Five Star hotel sits on coast, capturing the view of the Atlantic Ocean for its guests to enjoy. The hotel boasts luxury in every room, with accommodations ranging from simple guest rooms to lavish suites with private balconies and hot tubs.

Inside of the suites, enjoy the coastal décor: landscape paintings, pineapple shaped lampstands, and upholstered floral furniture. Each room is well balanced with soft beachy hues, accents of gold and dark wood furniture. It’s a hotel for everyone: for leisure choose from an assortment of fine dining and casual eateries and for adventure partake in golf at the world-class Ocean Course, or choose a court to play tennis at the #1 Tennis Resort in the world.

The Sanctuary Hotel sits on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, capturing a view of the coast for its guests to enjoy. The hotel boasts 255 guest rooms and suites, including a Presidential Suite. Every room offers beautiful views and hand-crafted and or custom-made furniture for comfortable and leisurely accommodations. Photo provided by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
The Presidential Suite is a 3,000 sq ft room that features a foyer, study, dinning room, living area, and master bedroom with two walk-in closets, a bathroom and a balcony. The living area displays elegant upholstered furnishings and French doors that open up to a 40 sq. ft. balcony. Photo provided by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Premier and Private Homes

If you prefer the privacy of a home or plan to host a large gathering, consider the Premier and Private Homes available to rent on the island. A premier home offers a concierge, maid service, newspaper delivery and several other services to prepare for your stay in advance. Bedding and bath linens are provided, and offer the experience of plush comfort in your private home. Although private homes do not include these services, private homes are spread across the island, so you can choose the unique view and location you prefer. These private homes also allow the most space, so if you’re planning a large family reunion, a private home might be the way to go over a dozen hotel rooms.

This 5,600 sq ft premier home boasts 6 bedrooms and 6.5 baths. Other features include a state-of-the-art kitchen, spacious living areas with ample light and a pool deck out back to enjoy the warm weather. Photo credit.
Take a dip in the swimming pool, and dry off on the pool deck, which is fully furnished with chairs and tables. On a cooler day, make use of the jacuzzi or covered seating area. Bonus: the pool deck overlooks the beautiful Osprey Point Golf Course. Photo credit.
This second story room contains built-in bunk beds with individual lights and USB charging ports. Simple and spacious, the patterned valance and yellow pillows add a fun pop of color to the neutral space. Photo credit.

Rent a Home: A Stay by the Water

A private rental home provides the perfect space to spend time with your family and enjoy fun in the sun in your own backyard. This home is located right on the Kiawah River and offers a private deck so that you can fish, kayak, and water-ski. It totals 5,000 sq ft with 5 bedrooms and 5 baths, providing space for the whole family and more. Inside of the teal exterior, the home is decorated in brown and off-white furniture and fabric for an elegant coastal appeal. The home also includes a movie theater and pool for family fun.

Beneath the shady cover of large and looming trees stands an island home with vibrant teal paint and crisp white trim. Photo credit.
Beneath the shady cover of large and looming trees stands an island home with vibrant teal paint and crisp white trim. Photo credit.
The family room is luminous and airy, with tall glass windows letting in sunshine. The living space is furnished with off-white and tan fabrics to enhance its coastal appeal, while dark wood furniture adds contrast to the otherwise light color palette. Photo credit.

The Atlantic Room

Feast at Kiawah’s Premier seafood restaurant, The Atlantic Room, located at The Ocean Course Clubhouse. Diners are seasonally planned with the freshest ingredients available: start off with a salad or side with fresh vegetables and fruits and for your main meal choose between fish, steak or the Seafood Stew for a taste of a bit of everything. Finish off your meal with gourmet desserts and wines and let your meal settle on the veranda, where you can take in the view of Atlantic Ocean.

This spacious and elegant restaurant overlooks the world-class Ocean Course and the Atlantic Ocean. Photo provided by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Loggerhead Grill

This pool isn’t just a great place to take a dip; you can dine at the Loggerhead Grill, The Sanctuary Hotel’s casual oceanfront café. Let your kids play in the pool as you indulge in gourmet sandwiches, burgers, salads or wraps. The grill offers a great mix of light delights and more filling meals: opt for the butter lettuce and crab salad for a lean option or if you’ve worked up an appetite choose among various cheeseburgers or tacos. Add a deliciously refreshing drink to top the meal off, like one of their Poolside Favorites, or a tropical nectar or liquor.

Although the pool is only available for hotel guests to use, the Loggerhead Grill is a casual poolside eatery open to the public, offering a friendly and inviting atmosphere for all. Photo provided by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Although the pool is only available for hotel guests to use, the Loggerhead Grill is a casual poolside eatery open to the public, offering a friendly and inviting atmosphere for all. Photo provided by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Jasmine Porch

Luxury and charm balance well in this Southern style kitchen so that you can enjoy a great meal in style. The architecture mimics Charleston, with brick walls and oak-plank floors. Another marvel of The Sanctuary Hotel, the Jasmine Porch was named “Best Down Home Cookery” by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report. With breakfast, lunch and diner menus available, the Jasmine Porch offers a wide selection of seafood, house-made charcuterie and other low-country cuisine specials.

Authentic brick walls and oak-plank floors are accompanied by wood furnishing, wicker chairs, and a neutral Southern color palette. Photo by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Freshfields Village

A mixture of shopping and home décor boutiques, diners, and service establishments provides endless entertainment in a relaxed and open atmosphere. The outdoor village captures Kiawah’s cozy and hospitable Southern charm with courtyard patios and lowcountry architecture. Take a bike ride in the warm weather, browse numerous shops for that perfect blouse or treat your kids to ice cream. The village also hosts various local events, like weekly yoga in the park and Jazz nights. These events are welcome to everyone, and offer a great way to soak up Kiawah’s Southern appeal before it’s time to head home.

The coffee shop Java Java is a local favorite, and it’s only a bike ride away. Photo from Freshfields village Instagram.