Designated as the first historic district in the United States by the Board of Architectural Review, Charleston has become the #1 City in the World, partly because of its unique, visual appeal. People travel far and wide; some come for the delectable, savory food, while others come in search of Southern culture. Particular features spotted are earthquake bolts, copper lanterns and hitching posts that hint at a bygone era. In the historic district, picturesque buildings and elegant houses have always added charm to the architectural composition of this city.
Here is a guide to the popular architectural styles found around Charleston.
Beginning in 1774 to approximately 1820, the Gregorian style featured rough-faced limestone trim, stone arches and granite pedestals flanking the front door. This elite style is symmetrically designed with decorative molding and cornice embellishing the entry and commonly has two story porches. Drayton Hall, located at 3380 Ashley River Road, was heavily influenced by a range of pattern books, which is often only seen when wealthy individuals wanted to direct construction of their estates. Drayton Hall has never been restored, making it a great opportunity to see original materials and architecture from the 18th century.
Growing out Italian Renaissance trends, Federal-style architecture became popular throughout colonies after the American Revolution, and was dominant until about 1820. These buildings are typically designed around a central floor plan, with heavy classical elements detailing the exterior. The elaborate, delicate and elongated details of elliptical fanlights above grand palladian windows and oval shaped rooms give Federal structures its distinctly classic look. Explore the Nathaniel Russell house, located at 51 Meeting, to take a peek inside a prime example of this antebellum trove filled with antiques, artifacts and historical heirlooms.
An organization established to provide aid for Irish immigrants, the Hibernian Society’s gathering spot, happens to be the quintessential model of Greek Revival architecture. Six massive Ionic columns support a pediment decorated with modillion style cornice and an arched window. Stepping inside Hibernian Hall, visitors are lead into a larger stair hall, centered by an open rotunda covered by a dome, held by three different style columns, all Greek influenced. Located at 105 Meeting Street, this 1840s stately establishment and its classic ornamentation are hard to not take notice of.
From 1840 to 1880, Gothic Revival architectural styles dominated, drawing its inspiration from the medieval era. Romantic and picturesque, castle-like towers, parapets and pointed arched windows are most identifiable on these structures. Elongated, vertical facades with steeply pitched roofs decorated by intricate vergeboard transport you to a different time. Gothic Revival in Charleston manifested itself in a variety of forms. From the Citadel to the Old City Jail, and the iconic French Huguenot Church at 136 Church Street, this architectural style continues to captivate in the Holy City.
Inspired by traditional Italian villas, the Italianate style was prominent from 1837 to 1900. Masonry, stone and stucco are typical facades found on this distinctive architectural style. Tall, slim arched windows are paired with decorated crowns and cornice elements. Often recognizable are square cupolas adorning the low pitched hip roofs. Wide overhanging, emphatic eaves supported by corbels are defining characteristics from this Romantic style. The Colonel John Algernon Sydney Ashe House located at 26 South Battery Street was constructed in 1853 and exudes sophisticated Italianate architecture.
Multiple gable rooflines, wrap-around porches, delicate spindlework trimmings and bay windows are all defining features of Queen Anne architecture. From 1880 to 1916, these asymmetrical yet interestingly elaborate and eccentric designs appeared in Charleston with textural variations, plans and tend to feature rich, bold paint colors. A stunning example of Queen Anne architecture is the Wilson-Sottile House, located at 11 College Street. Now owned by the College of Charleston, this house showcases the ornate and unique nature of Charleston architecture.
Charleston Single House
A unique and vernacular form of house, the Charleston Single house is not a singular style and can be made of any material. Taking into consideration limited space on the peninsula, these one room wide structures take up very little space. Typically, front facing piazzas – a double height porch – are added to the house as a means for more airflow. The oldest documented Charleston Single dates back to the 1730s but these recognizable houses can still be found on practically every street in Charleston.
The Riviera Theater, located at 130 Market Street, is a Charleston example of the iconic Art Deco Style that started in the 1920’s. Combining modernist styles with rich materials, Art Deco’s eclectic style was influenced by geometric forms of Cubism. Art Deco is not a singular style, but rather a collection of various styles that was in reaction against Art Nouveau in Europe. Featuring sleek modern materials of smooth-facing stone, Terracotta, steel, aluminum and glass, this style was seen as financially practical and endured throughout the Depression due to the simplicity of its design. After being purchased by Belmond Charleston Place in 1997, the Riviera Theater underwent a $4 million restoration that preserved 90 percent of its original interior.
Explore the rare and iconic architectural styles of Charleston’s private houses and gardens found in some of America’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Manicured lawns and glimmering gardens make for a botanical and visual wonderland. The 70th Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens will run from March 16 until April 22nd.