Island Folly: A Party on St. Simons

The mood is magic at a dinner party hosted in a rustic potting shed with an extravagant table and twilight views of the marsh
With philodendron-leaf place mats, candlesticks shaped like palm trees, and plates with garden motifs, the table reflects the lush natural setting.

Midsummer’s eve has long been a time for savoring the season’s bounty while celebrating the longest day of the year. For St. Simons Island, Georgia, residents Judy and Jack Powell, the date also happened to coincide with the completion of their new guesthouse and potting shed. “I thought it would be fun to mark the occasion by inviting guests over for drinks on the porch and then surprise them by serving dinner in the shed,” Judy said.

A garden folly as well as a functional structure, the Powells’ shed looks inviting from the start. “When you drive up to the property, it resembles a carriage house,” says architect John Shackelford, whose inspiration for the design came from early Coastal Georgia architecture. Like a carriage house, the shed has an aligned pair of wide openings equipped with strap-hinge doors and windows with wrought-iron grates. Walls of reclaimed local brick, thickly slathered mortar, and tabby hark back to the handmade materials coastal settlers used for their houses and dependencies. Only the skylight hints of modern design.

For this breezy guesthouse in St. Simons Island, Georgia, architect John Shackelford combined West Indian elements such as a deep veranda with lattice columns and vernacular Coastal Georgia style.
“The garden is always an invitation to come and enjoy. It asks nothing of us but time to contemplate the beauty that is all around us in this world. It represents someone’s editing of nature, so that what is left is a refinement of the gardener’s choosing, a singular vision which the visitor is invited to share.” — Linda Heagy, Party Co-Host

Neither architect nor client envisioned the shed as an entertaining destination, but its location steps away from the guesthouse kitchen, view of the marsh, and cross-ventilation make it ideal for the purpose. It was Judy’s co-host, Linda Heagy, who came up with the idea of serving the dinner there.

“With long sunsets and breezy evenings, the sea islands are ideal for dining outdoors,” observes Linda, who frequently hosts parties on her wide porch in neighboring Sea Island. “When you set a table outdoors, it’s pleasing to make it unexpectedly elegant, with silver, crystal, and china, but also to echo your natural surroundings.”

Built of reclaimed brick, the potting shed, which adjoins the guesthouse, resembles the ruins of an antique carriage house.
Arrangement of white hydrangeas and snapdragons, lotus, Belles of Ireland, and curly willow branches.
Old baskets, terra-cotta pots, tabby walls encrusted with crushed shell, and the wood top of a vintage architect’s desk add character.

The magical midsummer table setting began with place mats of philodendron leaves cut from the garden and laid directly on the wood surface of an old worktable. Their natural color contrasts with the shimmering bronze-doré trunks of palm tree-shaped candlesticks. Chargers and plates with pink-and-green borders of flowers and foliage echo the colors and shapes of informally massed arrangements of hydrangea, lotus, and snapdragons.

A swing on the veranda invites guests to linger and enjoy views of the marsh
A swing on the veranda invites guests to linger and enjoy views of the marsh.

“Combining indoor luxuries with a touch of the rustic and the gifts of nature is one of the best presents you can give your guests,” says Judy, whose plans for her shed have expanded beyond nursing houseplants and overwintering orchids. “There really isn’t any better dinner music than the sounds of swimming dolphins and the wind in the oaks.”

Written and photographed by Susan Sully

For more inspiration from Susan Sully, check out her book Southern Hospitality at Home: The Art of Gracious Living (Rizzoli New York, 2019).

Southern Hospitality at Home by Susan Sully