Regional Architecture: Charleston Single House

Regional Architecture: Charleston Single House

Colleen Quinn
Jul 15, 2011

One of the most enjoyable elements of traveling for me is discovering the differences in building styles that help make homes in various regions so unique. This past week I traveled down to Charleston, South Carolina for a short break, and was delighted to find a feast for the eyes in terms of homes and architecture. Walking the streets of the historic district showcased a wide variety of home styles, the most delightful of which (to me anyway) was the so-called Charleston single house.

Designed to capture as much breeze as possible on the hot and humid summer days, these lovely homes showcase cooling methods in the days long before air conditioning. Charleston single houses are narrow and deep; only one room wide on the side that faces the street, they are focused on the verandas that span the longer side of the house. Known as "piazzas" in Charleston, these lovely porches provide ample outdoor living space and much needed cross-ventilation to help cool air circulate through the house. The piazzas also help to shade the windows of the house from the afternoon sun, again keeping temperatures inside more livable.

To me, the most interesting element of the Charleston single house is that the front door opens not into the house itself, but onto the ground floor piazza. Once on the piazza, there is a true front door into the interior of the house. I have been told that tradition holds if the door to the piazza is open, the family is home to callers, but am not sure how that plays out in our more modern days. I was delighted to see how whimsical some of these front doors were; since the floor of the piazza slopes out from the house for drainage, some of the front door surrounds are equally tilted though the doors themselves are hung plumb and level.

Images: Colleen Quinn

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