Beautiful back of the house view lit up at night with a pool

Cool Cave: Acqua e Pietra

A dreamy Italian grotto was created out of water and stone in this Wexford home

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photos submitted by Palatial Homes Design

For many transplants to the Lowcountry, there’s a certain romance to the classic cellar. We think back with fondness to those cozy enclaves of stone and wood, transported briefly back to a place where the water table was a little bit lower.

The low-lying nature of our adopted home may make such subterranean getaways impossible, but if you’re really clever, you can create your own. For proof, you need only look to this stunning Wexford grotto, created from old storage space during renovations four years ago.

“It was just a simple walk-out from the ground level, but we were thinking we wanted a wine cellar of some sort down there and some kind of grotto feel,” said owner Nancy Walsh. “And we wanted it to feel a little rustic, like my Italian grandfather’s basement.”

Stone cave with fireplace, rocking chairs and pond

With the memory of the gorgeous cellar where her grandfather amassed his wine collection, and informed by a mountain of inspirational photos from around the internet, Nancy and her husband, Joe, approached Mark Creamer of Palatial Homes Design.  

“Mark is so great with design, and his forethought was where the grotto and wine cellar really came from,” Walsh said. “It took on a life of its own.”

“It was pretty clear what they were looking for early on,” Creamer said. “They wanted to feel like they were walking downstairs into Tuscany.”

The first step was getting rid of the pavers around the pool deck, swapping out chiseled-edge stone that helped set the stage for dazzling stonework that truly delivered the Italian experience. 

Wine Cellar with wine and two wine glasses on the table

“Everywhere you look, we tried to get stone that mirrored the Tuscan countryside look,” said Creamer. “Then it was a matter of adding stone elements on the floors and the walls to create different layers of texture.”

The contrast between the polished granite on the floor, the irregularly cut stones that line the walls and the straight-cut stone and brick of the wine cellar add a subtle sense of generationalism, creating a history that informs the Italian countryside feeling. Adding to this is the interplay of stone and wood found throughout, from the exposed beams of the ceiling to the rich cabinetry of the outdoor kitchen and oaken racks in the wine cellar.

“All the wood beams are reclaimed oak barn wood imported from North Carolina,” said Creamer. “Everything was hand built in that area on-site. The craftsmanship all of our artisans brought to life was just incredible.”

These materials are compelling in their beauty and the way the subtle interplay between textures tells a story and creates an experience. And if you ask Creamer, that’s the most important element of any job.

“The biggest thing is how people experience it,” he said. “This goes into everything – the way we designed it, the way we executed it and the way we communicated that with the owners.”

Every step in that process created the stunning Tuscan grotto you see here that prompts fond memories and good times for the Walsh family.

“The whole project was so much fun to work on,” Walsh said. “We’re just now starting to really fill up the wine collection, but it’s been such a great place to have people over, open a bottle and just sit and unwind.”

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