4003.0 Sq. ft., Exterior Dimension
3619.0 Sq. Ft., Interior Living Space
An Urban Legend
Starting with my first visit to the original Charles Town area of Charleston, SC, I’ve been smitten with the indigenous style of vernacular architecture referred to as the Charleston Single House.
On my first walking tour of Charleston, I was ushered through the old town area by my friend, Richard, who was reputed to be a doyen of Charleston history. During the walk, I asked Richard of the origin of the Single House, so called because, typically, the houses were only a single room wide. Richard responded authoritatively that in colonial Charles Town, property taxes were accessed by the frontage of the owner’s structure facing the street; the wider the street frontage, the higher the tax rate. Thus the origin of the design, according to Richard.
Neat, I thought, another example of the long, historical battle of the average citizen creatively finding methods to avoid having to pay onerous taxes. It certainly sounded plausible to me that the Single House design was developed to beat the tax man!
Over the years, this little tidbit of historical trivia parlayed to me by Richard became an often cited architectural antidote when I participated in the professional pastime in playing informational one-upsmanship with peers.
In 1984, I was commissioned to design my first house based on the Single House style genre. In my ensuing research into the style’s origins, I quickly discovered that Richard’s explanation of the origin of the Single House design came about as a tax dodge was completely wrong. For all those previous years, I had been perpetrating an architectural urban legend, a design story equivalent to “alligators in the storm sewers of New York City.”
From its settlement in 1670 to 1783, Charleston’s development was almost entirely English, perhaps explaining why Charleston is not a “typical” Southern city, from either a social or architectural standpoint. Despite the fact that Charleston’s early architecture is highly English in flavor, there were certain local conditions that influenced its design. My immediate fascination with the numerous tall, slender houses with many-tiered piazzas – all seemingly too close for comfort, was in admiration of an ingenious design that created a comfortable and habitable environment during the hot and humid summers. The sea breezes could easily waft through the house, and the expansive piazzas gave open, shaded living areas away from the heat of the day.
The Single House had a long run in Charleston architectural history, from a 1733 Georgian influence design to a Gothic design built in 1857, showing the versatility of the style genre in adapting to current style fashion.
You enter the first floor piazza (porch) through an arched portal that directs you to the formal entrance of the “Ashleigh Court.” The piazza extends into a broad, open deck area that wraps around to the rear of the house. The Foyer opens to a formal Dining Room to the left and to a formal Parlor on the right. Gracing the Foyer is a wide, open-balustrade stair case that ascends three stories. During the day, natural light descends the open stairwell from a ridge skylight above and in the evenings, a pendant, hurricane globed chandelier adds golden ambiance to the warm wood of the wainscot walls and stairs.
The Parlor is anchored with an Adams-style wooden fireplace surround accented with sgraffito tile and enhanced with a paneled over-mantel. Flanking both sides to the fireplace is floor-to-ceiling shelving for collectables and books, setting on low cabinetry that doubles as window seats and a four-window walk-in bay is the Parlor’s eyes to the world on the street in front. A cove-and-frieze moulding combination crowns the 10-foot high walls of the Parlor and an open floor plan allows for the seating of 8 to 10 guests.
The Dining Room walls are detailed with a paneled, painted wainscot and chair rail. Tall, true-muntin windows are topped with cornices and draped with elegant, double-pleated side panels with braided ties and a dropped, ovate ceiling coffer is back-lighted and centered with a Federal-style ceiling escutcheon and chandelier. 8 to 10 seated diners can easily be accommodated.
From the Dining Room, a cased portal opens into a hallway that takes you past a powder room, laundry and other service areas into the Kitchen. The Kitchen is appointed with an up-scaled, commercial-type kitchen package with custom, raised panel wooden cabinetry and stone counter tops. Service features of the Kitchen are a spacious pantry, a large center island and an abundance of counter top space. Adjacent to the Kitchen is a many-windowed Morning Room giving full view of the outside, private courtyard. Double French doors open onto the read deck.
As you ascend the stairs to the second floor, to you left is the Library, commodious in size and featuring a wooden Federal-style fireplace surround and over-mantel. Floor-to-ceiling book cases extend the full height of the 9-foot high walls and will accommodate upwards to 1,000 books, and paneled walls and beamed ceiling offer the intimacy of detail suitable for such space. French doors open onto the second floor piazza and a 4-window walk-in bay floods the area with natural light during the day.
The reminder of the second floor is taken up by the Master Bedroom suite. Entering through double doors from the second floor foyer, you arrive in a large sleeping chamber. The sleeping chamber is accented with a back-lighted ceiling coffer and has a painted, corner fireplace for late night ambiance. Double French doors exit to the second floor piazza.
Walking through an expansive closet with over 80 feet of double-tiered hang space, you enter into a spacious bath suite with ample natural light, featuring a spa tub, water closet, double sinks and dressing vanity and an over-sized shower. Marble floors, spa tub platform and vanity top add rich color and texture to the area. Double French doors access a private piazza overlooking the lower courtyard.
The third floor contains three more large bed rooms and two full baths. Multiple pairs of French doors give easy access to the third floor piazza. Each bedroom has over ten linear feet of closets and the lucky inhabitant of the rear bedroom has access to a private viewing deck.
Bill Garnett © 2004
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