Destination 2017: Charleston

It’s cocktail hour in the Living Room at the Dewberry. The stylish lounge accounts for half of the windowed lobby of this hotel that encompasses most of a city block bordering Marion Square, the civic heart of downtown Charleston, S.C. Small groups congregate around the clean, angled lines of Danish modern tables, and lean back into teal and tangerine upholstered chairs. Black-clad waitresses emanate from the curving brass bar bearing small round trays, smoothly dipping down between mirrored columns illuminated by lamps topped with glass globes.

The Living Room attracts plenty of locals at happy hour, and even the staff at competing hotels in town encourage their guests to check it out. “It’s an incredible amenity for visitors to Charleston,” says Linn Lesesne, board chair of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And it really speaks to the interests of those of us who live here.”

That’s true, but not so long ago, it probably wouldn’t have been the case. In the Charleston defined by antebellum architecture and old-school Southern charm—the Charleston that for years has ranked high on various travel magazines’ “Best of…” lists and attracted travelers, particularly older ones, from around the country—the Living Room might not have been so welcome. Or, at the very least, it might not have been so popular.

But the Dewberry is one example of a new hybrid approach called Southern Modernism that has locals embracing change. As surely as liquor follows ice into a rocks glass, you can’t hang around the Living Room too long without thinking of the TV show Mad Men. The vibe is unmistakably, determinedly midcentury modern—in keeping with the building’s 1964 origins—but the design also exalts Southern materials and an ethos that appeal to a younger demographic: A table was created from a fallen local oak tree; décor flourishes and the pattern on the room keys were created by a local graphic designer who used local plants as her models. And the structure itself, which started its life as a federal building, has been meticulously restored to reveal in its modernist façade previously overlooked touches unique to its Lowcountry location: The exterior of locally familiar Flemish bonded brick with segmented arches and marble window surrounds recall the Federal and neoclassical styles for which Charleston is known.

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