What is a Charleston Style Home?
Charleston style homes are most often distinguished by a long, open-air side porch, called a piazza (pee-AZ-ah), which typically runs the entire length of the house, and is accessible via multiple doorways leading to the interior of the home. This design has a specific function that relates to Charleston’s geography. Historic Charleston is situated on a peninsula between the Ashley & Cooper, two rivers which locals like to say combine to form the Atlantic Ocean. The downtown Charleston home’s inclusion of the piazza element is intended to invite the cooler air arriving across the water from the south and west, and to create a cross-breeze effect which ventilates the home’s interior. Charleston is well-known for it’s sweltering summer heat and humidity, and life is much more enjoyable outside on these days, so adding a south-facing double or triple piazza to the house actually increased the living space. Like much of Charleston’s architecture, the piazza idea was a British import from equally balmy Caribbean Islands like Barbados, where many of Charleston’s early settlers came from.
The majority of these Charleston style homes are referred to locally as “Charleston Singles“, which refers to the fact that, when viewed from the street, these homes appear to be only one room wide. The Charleston Single typically has a narrow facade facing the street, while the longest side of the home runs perpendicular to it. This design was necessitated by the town’s 1680 layout, called the “Grand Modell of Charles Towne“, in which many interior lots were arranged to be long and narrow in order to make the best use of the land. Areas bordering the historic walled-city we’re later designed in a similar fashion by the Colleton and Maczyk’s, as well as other families who were deeded the large surrounding lots on the Charleston neck.
Other unique features to the Charleston Single include the front door which mainly serves as a privacy screen between the street and the first floor porch, and the side garden which can often be seen on Charleston Single lots in the space adjoining the side piazza. Lot plans were developed to provide an “Alley or Passage in common” for all of the living and working spaces. The passage typically ran immediately along the piazza-side of the house. Some attribute the spacing of houses and the design of the Charleston Single to also reflect on lessons learned from a disastrous fire that wiped out a lot of historic Charleston real estate in 1740.
Downtown Charleston Neighorhoods
Some of the better known Charleston neighborhoods where the Charleston Single dominates the streetscape include South of Broad, Harleston Village, Ansonborough, Maczyk-Wraggborough, Cannonborough-Elliotborough, and the French Quarter.
More on Charleston Style & The Southern Vernacular
See also, The Classic Southern Bungalow and the Freedman’s Cottages,
Charleston Style Homes For Sale
See if you can pick out good examples of a Charleston Single in the list below.
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