Singled Out

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the Charleston Single House in describing some of the issues that I am having decorating my living room. It occurred to me that other than giving you a picture of the floor plan of my house, I gave very little explanation of the Charleston Single House as an architectural type. The Charleston Single House is characterized by being only a single room wide with identical floor plans stacked on top of each other. In the photo above of 90 Church Street, the three windows on the front of the house are one room – the front room on either the first or second story most likely being the parlor room.

Here is a front elevation of our Charleston Single House. The single house can be identified as being one room wide, as seen here, with south-facing double or triple height piazza, and attached privacy door. Oh and why piazza you ask? It’s Charleston. We call them piazzas … but yes, it is like a porch. As I mentioned yesterday, this housing type developed in Charleston in the 18th century as a way to combat the heat of the Carolina Lowcountry. By building a structure that is only one room wide, and has windows or doors on at least two sides of each room, the inhabitants were able to take advantage of the cross ventilation it provided. In addition, by adding a double or triple height piazza, the living space was increased on days and nights when it was just too hot to be inside.

Look familiar? This is a photo of Arlington House in Barbados. Built in the late 1600s by a prosperous Speightstown merchant, this is the precursor to the Charleston Single House. The majority of Charleston’s early settlers were originally British, and came to the Carolina Lowcountry by way of the Caribbean. After living for a time in the heat of the Caribbean, Charleston’s new arrivals were keen on putting their newfound knowledge about architecture in the tropics to good use. Thus, the Charleston Single House was born.

An additional perk of the Single House is that you never enter the house directly from the street. Instead, you open the privacy door – which is the door seen to the right in this elevation of 94 Church Street above, and find yourself on the piazza. It is only then that you can enter the house. The privacy door provides the homeowner the ability to grant someone the privilege of entrance into their home – almost like an architectural doorman.

As seen in the three pictures of Single Houses above, all on Church Street, the Single House comes in many different shapes and sizes. The first two Single Houses shown above were built by men of means for the purpose of their own home, whereas this one above was built by a man of means as an income property – a rental. Some Single Houses are brick, others stucco, others wood – some are three and four stories, others are two. Some were meant to house offices or shops downstairs, and others were simply residences. The importance of rooms within these homes were dictated by architectural details on cornices and mantels – but that is another post all together!

For more information on Charleston Single Houses, pick of a copy of Jonathan Poston’s The Buildings of Charleston. Or, for a comparison of architecture in many early American cities, I highly recommend Town House by Bernard Herman. It makes a very chic coffee table book – and is also extremely informative.

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