Ben Towill and Kate Dougherty had lived in New York City for ten years when they decided they were ready for a change. So, Towill, a chef and restaurateur, and Dougherty, an interior and set designer, decided to move down to Charleston, South Carolina. The move changed their lives in more ways than one: They built a house, got engaged, and started cooking and entertaining at home for the first time in years. Read on to learn more about how their new city has transformed their entertaining style for good.
How did you decide to move from New York to Charleston?
Kate: I think it was a definite need for change. We had been there ten years, together for four of them, and I think we were both ready to just do something different and be at a slower pace. Now when we go back I really appreciate it, but it got to be a bit too much.
Ben: It was absolutely fantastic, but we have to know when to look for a new adventure. And that’s what we’ve come to Charleston for, for the next chapter and the next adventure.
It seems like everyone right now is buzzing about the food scene in Charleston – what are you loving about the food and dining here? What sets it apart?
Kate: Charleston is most known for it’s restaurants in the lower peninsula / historic district – great to visit when you’re here for a weekend, but not the best for repeating – on the wallet or figure! We are loving how the upper peninsula has become more vibrant and diverse. You can have spicy incredible lamb dumplings at Xaio Bao Biscuit or delicious fried chicken and fresh salad at Leon’s – all happening the further you go up King Street.
Ben: This was not the case just a few years ago… now we can walk to dinner from our place – Nothing better.
When did you really start to feel like Charleston locals?
Kate: When we started doing morning surfs or bike rides to the beach.
Ben: I may think I’m local, but will never sound like one.
How did you go about building your home in Charleston?
Kate: Our physical home was a benchmark in Charleston. A year ago, Ben was planning to ride his bike across the country for a food charity, and on his training ride he found this house that was for sale in our favorite neighborhood. Literally, the for-sale sign had gone up that day. We hadn’t even planned on buying a house, we’d rented our whole adult lives, but we decided to just go for it. He was going away for two months for this ride, and it was the day he left that we closed on the house. I joined him a month later in Colorado on the bikes, we finished the ride together, came back in August, and gutted the entire house. I do interior design, but I always wanted to be working on the bigger picture, designing before the drywall and be really renovating from the inside out. So, instead of getting a contractor, I took architectural drafting classes and built it while I was in school. It was a lot of work, but the process is so worth it, everyone should try it!
What’s your favorite part of your home?
Ben: The kitchen. If you look at the space you spend the most time in, it’s almost always the kitchen. That’s pretty much the case in everyone’s home, and it’s no different with us. In New York City, our kitchen was the size of a cupboard, so we designed our Charleston home with entertaining in mind. It has a big open kitchen and there’s nothing better than having friends over to cook, drink and dance together. We’ve made some pretty good memories in the kitchen… Even before it was really a kitchen! After we came back from the bike trip, the house was torn down to the studs, it didn’t even feel like our home. We immediately started clearing up the building site and ended up getting engaged in the place that is now our kitchen. So, that spot will forever be a very happy place in our home.
Now that you have a home with space for gathering, what’s your entertaining style?
Ben: Well, usually we invite lots of people over and we have a general idea for the food. Night-of, Kate goes upstairs and gets ready and leaves me with a list of things to do. Then, she comes down looking absolutely beautiful and steps into the kitchen looking like the effortless host. She’s always glamorous and I’m always a sweaty mess.
Kate: Well he’s the chef! It takes him 20 minutes to do what would take me hours to cook!
Ben: I always cook way too much because I’m used to big restaurants and catering for events. So we’ll have like 6 people over and I’ll cook for 40. Leftovers for days.
How do you go about planning a menu for a party?
Ben: I love to try things I’ve read or learned about on our travels. My choices are depending on the guests, I suppose. I do love making meals that require guests to interact… like Vietnamese summer rolls or Indian curry with naan, chutney and yogurt.
How did you meet the community of great people you have here in Charleston?
Ben: What’s happening in Charleston is that an amazing, vibrant creative community is contributing a great deal to a place that already had a interesting heritage of it’s own. The people we met down here in Charleston are what have made this whole transition such an incredible experience. Creative people will always find each other because they share common interests, and the creative community here, whether it be food, design, art, or people restoring their homes in a thoughtful way, is so supportive.
Kate: Agreed. Also there are a lot of people that moved here from all over the country. When you’re living in New York City, everyone thinks there is no life outside of the city, but there is. Charleston has an unbelievable creative community and we’re excited to be a part of it. The people of Charleston are very passionate about their city and active in helping their community; it’s so refreshing. We have met some lifelong friends, and I couldn’t be happier.