Tag Archives: Porches

Genealogy and the Charleston Single House

Sideways

There is something wonderful about opening what appears to be the front door of an early 19th century row house in Charleston, South Carolina — and finding yourself not inside, but outside on a gracious porch running the length of

Stucco front IMG_6329the home. The real front door is halfway down the porch. You have entered an historic Charleston “single house” — so called because these buildings are usually only a single room wide as they follow the porch back from the street.

Whiete pediment IMG_6353The house type developed in the late 18th century: a version of the French plantation house adapted to the street grid of long narrow lots and as a way to mitigate a humid climate — a form of “green building” more than two hundred years before the term was invented. It’s a very urbane approach: the porch doorway preserves privacy for the outdoor space while maintaining the street front. I toured several of these gems recently, while attending a symposium of the Custom Residential Architects Network, known as CRAN, where the presentations were about the influence of history on contemporary residential architecture.

The tour and the talks made me realize anew how richly suggestive the single house is for today. And Skip Gates’ current and very entertaining PBS program about genealogy called “Finding Your Roots” got me thinking about design DNA, so I started looking around and found some direct descendants — no saliva test required.

Genetics and Other Codes

It turns out that the Charleston single house forms the basis for part of the planning code at the iconic New Urbanist community of Seaside on the Florida Panhandle — written thirty years ago by influential planners and architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. In some Seaside neighborhoods this code permits a zero setback on one of the side yards, which allows part of the other yard to be developed as a covered outdoor space. “Natchez House” by Robert Orr Architects and shown here (photo courtesy VRBO — you can rent it!)Natchez house by Robert Orr Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 1.10.08 PM (2)is an especially fine example, with the front door opening to a stately columned porch, and a window over the front door preserving the facade across the upstairs porch as well. The so-called “Charleston Cottage” by architect

Charleston

Scott Merrill, also shown here, is another (photo courtesy The Seaside Research Portal). Nearby, in Rosemary Beach, another community planned by Duany and Plater-Zyberk, are more Charleston-style houses.

Designer Eric Moser even offers an updated version of the Charleston single house as a three bedroom, three and a half bath floor plan on his website. Eric Moser Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.55.53 AM (2)Both the living area and the master suite, which are on the second floor, open to the side porch, as do the two bedrooms and gallery on the ground floor (Eric also has two plans in our Katrina Cottage Collection).

Other Cousins, Other Outdoor Rooms

In Plan 900-6 by architect Greg Huddy of C3 Studio, LLC the porch is open to 900-6 the street but runs along the side of the house. The layout shows how the porch is truncated to let the house widen, which makes for greater interior900-6 planflexibility and a connection to the rear garage.

Historic one-story variations on the side porch entry idea have appeared in other areas of the country — the Alvarado adobe at Monterey, California of the early 

Alvarado-Hse-2441

1830s is one example. You can just see the door to the porch at the right edge of this photo (courtesy mtycounty.com). California adobes were also usually only one room wide with every room opening to the porch. Twentieth century ranch

8 early San Diego house planhouse popularizers like Cliff May adapted this idea for courtyard houses, where the front door opens to a covered walkway or gallery that connects the interior rooms, as shown in this vintage plan from the early 1930s by May.

San Francisco architect William Turnbull often found inspiration in vernacular traditions like the single house and one of the employee cottages he designed447-2 sea ranch cottage by turnbull for the Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast in the early 1980s is a much447-2 elevsimplified version — it’s Plan 447-2, shown here. The side porch is shortened but still acts as the entry and the house itself is stretched out while remaining447-2 planone room wide.  The side porch-as-entry is also a strong feature in architect Nick Lee’s design for a ranch house in Sonoma, California. In this house, Plan 888-2,

888-2 porchThe porch extends the entire length of the building. So we are almost back to

888-2 planwhere we started, except it’s a one story house and the porch is open at the front. Yet another interpretation of the side porch is this modern design byjensen architects street facadeJensen Architects, which puts both the porch and the adjacent interior on display as a seamless indoor-outdoor unit. Now Skip Gates would probably ask  Jensen Architectshis celebrity guest to “Turn the page.” But all I can says is that though resemblance to the Charleston single house may not be obvious, the roots are there — or maybe it’s just a great great grandchild on a sideways branch. 

Porches and the Primitive Hut

Dream Time

The idea of escape to a simpler more relaxing way of living is especially appealing right now. In my case that would mean lounging on a porch — like this

elegant screened version by In Situ Studio — my head buried in a good spy novel

(photos courtesy In Situ Studio). The Roman architect Vitruvius believed that all architecture began with the primitive hut, which I think you could say is in the DNA of most great porches. Later philosophers, like the former Jesuit priest Abbe Laugier in his Essay On Architecture of 1753, adopted this idea and visualized the first buildings as simple — but classical — lean-tos made from tree trunks. You can see the

roots — literally! — of the classical pediment in that triangle of twigs at the top. The big idea was that architecture evolved as a refinement of elemental nature, meaning that the tree is simply a column in its primitive state. Or, put another way — in the beginning there was a gazebo! (Remember that Jean-Jacques Rousseau is talking about man’s natural state at this time as well.) This elemental and romantic nature-based concept remains powerful — think of Henry David Thoreau’s back-to-nature shack on Walden Pond or the evolution of the camping tent  — especially among architects and designers and almost

anyone looking for rest or relaxation, as this wonderful recent example designed and built by Alan Brown on the Big Island of Hawaii — out of mostly recycled materials — shows. Note to Thoreau: Why build in the cold-climate east when you can enjoy balmy evenings with scents of  plumeria and ginger on the slopes of Mauna Kea?! (Photo courtesy Alan Brown)

Moscow architects Kerimov Prishin designed their Arbor 15 project as a

performance platform containing a dining area, fireplace, and sink. Panels in the slatted front unfold to reveal that everything is on stage. Curtains at the sides

reinforce the idea that the act of dining is itself a theatrical event — which seems

very logical when you think that conversation in the dining room is the subject of so many plays and film scripts (photos courtesy the architects via designboom). It’s the outdoor dining room as dacha…Chekov, anyone?

Perhaps the most extreme form of the porch as primitive hut is a unit at the famous Swedish Treehotel (another room was mentioned in an earlier post) in

the shape of a giant nest, as shown here — or is it a condorminium…(image courtesy Treehotel).

Though most porches are attached to houses, it’s also true that many rooms can grow up to become porches; it just takes a little education and the addition of a

folding window wall or two. Which is what happens in the kitchen of Plan 48-46,

shown here. The breakfast area opens up to turn the entire space into a dining porch. Trees and triangles have come a long way since Vitruvius.