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Midcentury Meets the Modern South at The Dewberry

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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The graciousness of Charleston's antebellum past is embodied in many of its most time-honored hotels. But the preservation of a more recent slice of history has earned The Dewberry a place among Charleston's creme de la creme.

The Mendel Rivers Federal Office Building, commissioned by President John F. Kennedy and completed by President Lyndon B. Johnson after his predecessor's death, caught the eye and imagination of former Georgia Tech quarterback John Dewberry. In 2008, he acquired the property, which had been abandoned by the government in 1999 after a beating by Hurricane Floyd. While most people saw a stark, brooding shell, he was inspired by its midcentury modern architecture and prime location on Meeting Street overlooking Marion Square.

Dewberry embarked on a detailed renovation intended to showcase the building's retro-style to best advantage, while blending in all the modern creature comforts demanded by discerning travelers. The overall result has a timeless quality, geometric, uncluttered and elegantly sleek. You can almost envision the place bustling with three-piece suits and polka-dot dresses of that long-ago era.

The myriad costly updates included salvaging the dilapidated marble flooring to create tabletops for the outdoor dining area, then replacing the floors with the best marble Dewberry's money could buy.

"Mr. Dewberry went to Vermont to source the marble, then shipped it to Italy to have it cut and polished," said Michael Burd, group sales manager. "He and his wife procured all the furnishings themselves, too, many of them midcentury Danish pieces. It was important, however, to preserve as much of the building's character as possible."

One such feature is an inset plaque in the lobby dedicating the building as a project of the Johnson administration. On an adjacent wall of cherry paneling - which replicates the original walls - is an 1861 brass map of Charleston, designed by local artist Peyton Avrett, whose grandmother was a longtime employee at the federal building.

The view overhead is striking, too, with chandeliers that appear be sprouting gold Palmetto fronds. Note the walls outside the entrance to the hotel's ballroom. That's not wallpaper you're looking at, but artist Thomas Swanston's hand-painted South Carolina whooping cranes with wings of pewter, silver and 22-carat gold.

Also on the ground floor is the "Living Room," the heart of the hotel's social scene. Filled with inviting sitting areas and anchored by an eye-riveting brass bar, the space was made more intimate by pulling in the walls and creating a wraparound porch area. Cocktails here are a must, considering you'll be served something handcrafted by nationally lauded mixologist Ryan Casey. His cocktail program is all the rage in Charleston and beyond. Dress in your best "Mad Men" ensemble and indulge in something classic, such as a Blue Moon or Old Fashioned.

Though Charleston is brimming with stellar dining, the Dewberry's on-site restaurant, Henrietta's, is a noteworthy addition to the lineup. The food is sublime and the vibe, a mix of Southern refinement and a little Parisian flair. When the weather is fine, outdoor tables make for a lovely dining experience. For a group, choose the Dewberry Tree table made from a 150-year-old water oak that once graced the property.

For those who've come to stay a while, the rooms shore up the first impressions of the hotel with streamlined designs, rich white linens, earth-tones with pings of gold accents, and an interesting botanical print that is a recurring theme throughout the property. Designed by Charleston artist Becca Barnett, it features six species of plants indigenous to South Carolina. If you tend to skip the provided lotions and other toiletries in other hotels, don't do it here. The Dewberry's custom fragrance is warm and lush - you'll be tempted to do a skin-sniff more than once. When you reserve a room, select your view: one side of the hotel overlooks the Arthur Ravenel Bridge and the other, the treetops and church spires around Marion Square.

For a distinctively Southern gift, browse the Garden & Gun gift shop next to the concierge desk. Called "Fieldshop," it is divided into two rooms, "Hunt" and "Gather," each showcasing fine trinkets and items of apparel. At your next party, be the giver of the most playful of South Carolina delicacies: a gorgeous box of premium, fair-trade chocolates, each hand-painted and shaped like the infamous Palmetto bug.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.