It sits on 9.8 acres of woods — mostly live oaks and magnolias cloaked with Spanish moss — salt marsh and tidal creek, with a 1.5-acre pond at the end of a long tree-lined road. The scene is like a nature preserve, and, indeed, much of the land was once conservancy-owned.
This is Baqache, or Shady Retreat. It’s a property in the Colleton River Plantation, a luxury gated community of 1,500 acres, about 700 residences and 500 feet of shoreline.
“What’s unusual is to have this big a lot in a gated community,” said Brock Rowley, the owner. “You get great privacy and quiet. Most lots are one to two acres, some are five, but they don’t have deep-water access for boating.” Water access isn’t unusual, but deep-water access is — with it you can still get your boat in and out at the lowest tide. “We’ve had boats in excess of 100 feet dock at the house,” he said.
The real estate market on Hilton Head Island is strong, with sales and prices higher this year than last year, said Ann Lilly, a broker associate at Charter One Realty.
Overall sales of single-family houses — driven mostly by retirement, second-home and investor buyers — are up nearly 21 percent, and in the high-end market over $1 million, they’re up about 9 percent, said Judy Collins, a real estate agent with Celia Dunn Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Comparing similar golf resorts and beach communities — like the Hamptons in New York, Palm Beach in Florida or Nantucket on Cape Cod — to the Lowcountry [South Carolina coastal areas including Hilton Head Island and Bluffton], you’re sure to find unprecedented luxury at an enticingly lower price,” she said.
Not all are luxury properties. Small condos are available from around $150,000 and single-family houses from $250,000, Lilly said. Nearby Bluffton has more land to develop and builders are developing new neighborhoods with houses from the low $200,000s, “something our millennial buyers seek today,” Collins added.
Anne Wilson, an agent with the Reed Team at Charter One Realty, said prices are continually going up in the Hilton Head area. “I’ve been down here for 20 years, and sales are always good,” she said. “We were the last to bubble out and the first to come back after the 2007-08 recession.”
The Rowley house’s interior evokes the splendor of a cathedral and the elegance of a museum. It measures 20,700 square feet. It has 10 gas-burning fireplaces, seven bathrooms, six kitchens, a library, a music room, a bar and tea rooms, maid quarters and one 3,500-square-foot master-bedroom suite with a dressing room and his-and-hers bathrooms and closets. The property is for sale for $9.95 million, down from $13.6 million when it originally hit the market four years ago. It’s appraised in the range of $15 million to $18 million, Rowley said.
The Rowleys collected art and furnishings, silver and lamps, china and glassware over decades of travel around the world. There’s a gold Baccarat chandelier that cost $100,000 when it was made in the 1930s; a mid-19th-century silver epergne bought from the estate of North Pole explorer Richard Byrd; and a pair of 20th-century hand-carved walnut Queen Anne-style chairs with ball-and-claw feet (value $3,000).
A 20-page furniture and accessories inventory, prepared by an antique appraiser, was compiled for estate-planning purposes. It adds $1.3 million to the property’s value; adding the art raises the value to more than $2 million.
Rowley and his wife, Elizabeth, are selling the house and contents because they plan to move to a retirement community. “We’re in our 80s,” he said. “We bought most of the art and furnishings for these rooms, and many pieces aren’t easily adaptable. The 24-by-14-foot silk oriental rugs will not easily fit elsewhere.” They hope the purchaser will buy much of the decor.
The architecture is European style. “We had a Frenchman here the other day who said he felt like he was in France,” Rowley said. The house is angular, and rooms vary in size and shape. “We have unusually wide hallways because if they were narrow you’d feel like you were in a tunnel. A large house needs higher ceilings, wider halls and larger doors.”
Rowley helped design and build the house. He studied architecture, then engineering. He was president of U.S. Steel’s American Bridge division, which he later bought in a leveraged buyout. Some of the company’s Washington-area jobs were the 14th Street Bridge, the Rayburn House Office Building and the Pentagon.
He pulled his vice president at American Bridge out of retirement and made him project manager for the house. “He was a stickler for detail and didn’t cut any corners,” Rowley said. The foundation is 4½ feet thick, “so you don’t have to worry about it going anyplace,” he said, a concern in this hurricane-prone region.
The octagonal yellow tearoom is encased in glass and mirror walls and topped with a leaded glass ceiling saved from a now demolished New York City hotel built in the late 1800s.
“The mirrors make the room seem larger than it really is, and you feel like you’re sitting outside,” Elizabeth Rowley said. Beyond the window, dozens of ibises rested on a bare-limbed tree like floating white orbs.
Yellow damask-upholstered chairs, a love seat, a chaise longue and yellow drapes and marble floor create a soft glow. Side tables with green and white marble surfaces were once the tops of 19th-century Italian columns rescued from an old municipal building.
Pocket doors leading into the red-walled library are 4½ inches thick and 12 feet high. The ceiling is 35 feet high, and the room is 42 by 22 feet. Stepping into the library is akin to walking into a church. The Colleton River can be seen out the window at the room’s end.
The ceiling is decorated with hand-carved wooden trusses. A walnut, mahogany and iron pulpit (value $10,000) stands in one corner. “I brought it from Ripley, England, in Yorkshire,” Brock Rowley said. “They were tearing the church down, and I took it home. It was taller, but we cut four feet off to fit here. The fireplace wood surround was carved right outside under our oak tree.” The hardwood-floor design is identical to the Louvre floor in Paris.
The long gallery hallway is flanked on one side by a glass wall of doors opening onto a patio facing the river. A moonlit sky comes to mind, as well as musical sounds. “This is where we hold our black-tie New Year’s Eve parties,” Elizabeth Rowley said. “We tent the outside for the musicians and entertain 140 guests.”
On display is the first-place winner of a 1960 Parisian antique exhibition — an 18th-century French walnut buffet deux corps with two doors over two doors (valued at $95,000); and a pair of 18th-century handmade walnut-and-ivory chairs with spaded feet (valued at $18,000).
The dining room feels like the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery. Birds alight on cherry-blossom branches on the silk wallpaper hand-painted in China. The fireplace mantel is a sculpture of birds, insects and flowers.
Brock Rowley’s office is paneled in wormy chestnut milled from an old barn in Tennessee 30 years ago. His desk is angled to offer a sight line through a kitchen window to the fountain, rose bushes and Meyer lemon trees in the garden.
The music room is legendary. It was lifted from a room in the Hungarian Embassy in Paris before that building was torn down and rebuilt. “We took the room apart, brought the components back, reassembled them in a warehouse and fit them into the space here,” Rowley said. The solid French oak paneling with gold-leaf trim was hand-carved in 1830.
Among the room’s art pieces are an early-19th-century walnut three-section breakfront secretary with four top and bottom doors (value $24,500); a pair of 20th-century crystal and gold-washed-brass lamps (value $2,400); and pair of 1800s paintings with two World War II bullet holes in the canvas (value $450,000).
A pool house, potting shed and three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot guesthouse adorn the property. “The guesthouse is far away from the main house so our visitors can do what they want,” Rowley said. “We give them golf carts to go back and forth.”
Plantation residents are automatically members of the Colleton River Plantation Club. The property owner’s association fee is $18,000 per year, plus a one-time initiation fee of $15,000. Amenities include two 18-hole golf courses, two clubhouses, a tennis center with six courts, a swim center with a junior Olympic pool, a fitness center and the deep-water dock. Cottages on club property are available for accommodations for members’ guests.
“I marvel that as large as the house and many of the rooms are, it’s still comfortable for just two people,” Elizabeth Rowley said.
“We’ve made it cozy and intimate,” her husband added. “But someone has to want to live here in the first place. It’s not like in New York or Miami where everything sells. It’s not a house for everybody.”
The 20,700-square-foot single-family estate, including guesthouse, is on a 9.8-acre lot and is for sale at $9,950,000. It adjoins a 2.2-acre lot that is also available for purchase. Most of the rooms can be reconfigured for other uses, such as for bedrooms. The values of antiques and art are approximate.
The listing agents are Richard Reed and Anne Wilson, 843-815-0055 or charteronerealty.com .