Tour the Charleston, South Carolina, Home of One Nouveau-Traditionalist


The Charleston apartment of designer Matthew Bees reflects his love of formal interiors. But in his desire to make a room a “menagerie of furniture and art,” he employs bold colors, a variety of textures, and impetuous decor choices that are apt to catch visitors off guard. A zebra rug on the living room floor is one notable example. The flamboyant Louis Philippe bed crown in the primary bedroom is another, as is a statue of the Greek god Narcissus, which reminded him of his father. “Before he took a plunge, [Narcissus] was a hunter,” Bees says. “My father was an avid sportsman, and rather handsome. Every time I see an image of Narcissus with his deer cloak I can’t help but think of [him].”

Bees lives in an old shopkeeper’s apartment above a store on historic King Street, where he sourced some of the handsome mahogany pieces and antiques that grace his seven rooms. He chose the Southern city as the headquarters for his design business as well because, as he says, “I reached a point, around my 27th birthday, where I realized I needed to leave Alabama and learn. But I didn’t want to take the usual tack and move to New York. Charleston offered me the continued education I was yearning for, but kept me in the South.”

He describes his aesthetic as “meaningful and layered.” A serious collection of English antiques—from the chest of drawers in the bedroom to the secretary in the living room—illustrates that point. But Bees likes to play with extremes too. Dark spaces, such as the foyer, open onto airy areas like the living room, which has three windows that allow the sunlight to make every color pop. In particular, Bees loves the color green. It’s in the saturated Philip Jeffries grasscloth in the primary bedroom and the bed linens. “I’m a nature boy,” the decorator says. “Green just feels good to me.” Also of note is the use of sunshine hues seen in both the kitchen and on the living room sofa. “I’m a Gemini and apparently we love yellows,” Bees says.

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The antique seating option not only shines bright, but also comes with an interesting backstory. “I traded one of my Alabama clients this sofa for another one that I had,” Bees says. “Funny enough, it was from her grandparents’ home in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. So I sort of brought it home.” Its bright velvet upholstery is from Schumacher. From its perch overlooking the entire room, an unusual John Rosselli for Visual Comfort beaded chandelier reigns supreme. “The long glass rods give to pyramid fixtures from the early part of the 20th century,” Bees says. Elsewhere, framed drawings on the walls depict homes of architectural significance as well as engravings of the University of Virginia.

Although Bees has created many interiors in places such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, he chooses differently for himself than he does for his clients. “Many things mean so much to me, but I [tell] my clients not to be married to anything,” he says. “So I guess I don’t practice what I preach. But even though my designs lean toward [formality], there’s still a softness. I never want anyone to enter a space I designed and say, ‘Oh Matthew Bees designed this. . . .’ I always hope to achieve a good balance that is simply in good taste.”

The radiant birds-and-blossoms blue wallpaper brings the natural world into the dining room with a flourish. The pattern is called Brighton Pavilion and was designed by Miles Redd for Schumacher. The glass table is from Fritz Porter. The vintage chairs were purchased at Clutter in Savannah, Georgia. The cushion fabric is from Brunschwig & Fils. Antiques dealer Christopher Kellogg found the chandelier, which was purchased at Wynsum, an antiques and interiors showroom on King Street in Charleston. The drapery is a Schumacher silk called Cameo and the trim is from Lee Jofa. The Drapery Makery in Alabama made both the drapes and the window shade. “The China was inherited from my paternal grandmother,” Bees says. “The green glasses are by William Yeoward.” He found the vintage bust of the Greek goddess Athena at Yellow House antiques in Mobile, Alabama. The huge painting, Lox and Rose, is by Nashville artist Amanda Norman.

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