It’s no secret that Charleston is full of historic homes that are rich in beauty and charm. People from across the globe visit the Holy City to admire the stunning architecture and stylish details that are featured in many of our historic houses.
Our iconic historic homes are a source of pride for Charleston. If you’re planning a visit to the Holy City or searching for real estate in Charleston, you’ll no doubt run into the beautiful characteristics that set our historic homes apart from other styles:
Charleston’s semi-tropical climate is ideal for growing a lovely garden full of classic Southern plants, including azaleas, hydrangeas, crepe myrtles and pansies. But if you stroll through the narrow streets and tiny lots in historic downtown Charleston, you may notice that there isn’t much room for large gardens and secret courtyards.
This is one reason you’ll also see beautiful window boxes filled with stunning flowers beneath the windows of many historic homes in Charleston. With little space for gardens, locals installed the gorgeous window boxes that contribute to the city’s magnificent appearance.
Charleston’s window boxes may appear effortless, but there is more to creating this stunning display than some might think. The ideal window box will contain a mix of plants that are tall, mounded and cascading to achieve the most stunning display. Not only that, but new flowers are often planted for cool and hot weather seasons.
Haint Blue Porch Ceilings
The next time you find yourself on a Charleston porch, take a moment to look up at the porch ceiling. Many historic homes (such as the Calhoun Mansion) have porch ceilings painted various shades of blue, regardless of the color of the trim or shutters.
Haint blue porch ceilings are common in the South and are now becoming popular in the North as well. “Haint” is simply a variation of the word “haunt,” which refers to a restless spirit.
According to Gullah Geechee folklore, evil spirits can’t cross water. To keep revengeful spirits from entering their homes, the Gullah would paint their porches blue to confuse the spirits.
Today, many families have passed down the tradition and don’t think twice about painting their porch ceilings haint blue. In fact, it’s now become trendy in the South and beyond to add a splash of light blue to your home to give it a calming, coastal vibe.
No discussion of Charleston’s historic homes is complete without mentioning their iconic side piazzas. Unlike a front porch, piazzas are most often located on the side of the house and usually feature large columns that support the covered yet open area.
The term “piazza” is thought to have originated in a 17th century term that stems from the Italian word meaning “open space.” Although the term seems to have died out elsewhere, Charlestonians refuse to call them porches — because tradition!
While piazzas differ in detailing, most Charleston piazzas face south or west to allow in the cooling breeze from the sea. Many also include stairs leading down to the street or even doors that allow visitors onto the piazza and were meant to usher guests into the living room.
Hinged Wood Shutters
Today, many modern homes feature faux shutters that are purely for decoration rather than for any practical use. However, the shutters on many of Charleston’s historic homes are hinged and completely functional.
The wooden shutters on these historic homes were designed to allow the cool ocean breeze in while keeping bugs and the sun out. The hinges on the shutters allowed homeowners to lock their shutters tight against bad weather like hurricanes, protecting their glass windows from flying debris.
If a historic home is fortunate enough to have the space, some Charleston homes contain lush gardens with intricate designs that are simply breathtaking. Although most are private and can only be viewed from the street, visitors can see some of these private gardens during the city’s annual Festival of Houses and Gardens.
The Lowcountry’s rich soil and sunny, sub-tropical climate have long allowed gardens to flourish in Charleston. Today, the lush gardens add a great deal of charm and history to the city’s beautiful, historic homes.
In fact, many of the gardens are filled with plants that were first introduced to the area by English, French and Swedish botanists. Renowned European botanists Mark Catesby, Carolus Linnaeus and Andre Michaux introduced a few of the iconic plants that give the city its elegant charm, such as camellias, azaleas, tea olive and crepe myrtle.
Carriage Houses and Single Houses
There are two main types of historic homes that homebuyers are fascinated by: carriage houses and the famous Charleston single house.
A carriage house is a former stable that was built for the wealthy to house their horses. Although it seems strange to live in a place where horses once slept, the historic carriage houses in Charleston have been renovated into gorgeous structures that are full of charm.
If a carriage house isn’t for you, consider a Charleston single house. These homes can easily be identified by their tall, narrow structures; in fact, the width of the house is only one room —hence the name, “single house.”
Charleston’s single houses feature many of the characteristics that we’ve mentioned here, such as doors leading to piazzas and haint blue porch ceilings. Although their narrow structure may seem unappealing at first, their long and tall characteristics give homeowners plenty of space.
Charleston is a city that prides herself on understated beauty and elegance. From architecturally stunning piazzas to quaint carriage houses with window boxes in bloom, the city’s historic homes are a large part of what makes Charleston such a charming city to live, work and play.
The next time you’re visiting the Holy City, remember to take a closer look at the details of our historic homes. Merely describing these details is nothing like seeing their beauty in person!
Traci Magnus is a realtor for Dunes Properties located in Charleston, SC. She was born and raised on the Charleston coast and attended the College of Charleston before obtaining her real estate license. When she’s not working, you can find her spending time with her husband Glen and son Max or wandering the historic streets downtown.