5 Classic Characteristics of Charleston's Historic Homes

Take a tour and browse the beautiful interior and exterior details from some of the country's oldest and best-preserved homes in Charleston, S.C.

With more than 2,800 historic buildings, Charleston, S.C. is one of America’s oldest and best-preserved cities. Founded in 1670 as an English colony named Charles Towne, the city’s peninsula features homes that range from pre-Revolutionary War and Antebellum to Gothic Revival, Italianate and Victorian that were added in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Although these architectural styles differ, one common thread of all Charleston’s historic homes is the strong desire to preserve the buildings that make this city so unique.

I saw so many beautiful interior and exterior details during my tour, but here are five of my favorites:

Wood Paneling

Interior walls covered in raised wood panels are a common feature in Charleston’s historic homes. In the years before plaster (and centuries before sheetrock), wood was a functional and decorative wall covering that helped to insulate interior rooms from cold seeping through the home’s stone or brick exterior. In this cozy living room, the home’s current owner meticulously stripped layer-after-layer of paint to restore the almost 300-year-old cypress panels to their original warm finish.

A “Hyphen”

Due to the very real possibility of fire, Charleston’s kitchens were housed separately from the main house. Thanks to advances in cooking in the early 1900′s (food could be prepared in a stove instead of over an open fire) many Charlestonians began to connect the detached kitchen to the main house with a room called a ”hyphen.” These connecting rooms provided additional living space and made cooking less of a chore. Many hyphens, like this one, still feature the old brick exterior wall and pathway that led to the former kitchen.

Haint Blue Paint

Another common feature of the city’s historic homes is blue paint on the ceilings of piazzas (Charleston’s term for covered side porches). Commonly called “haint blue,” this soft turquoise shade is thought to keep ghosts or malicious spirits from entering the home. Pictured above is the iconic shade on the Calhoun Mansion, the city’s largest private residence.

Hinged Shutters

Although we use shutters on the exteriors of our modern homes solely for decoration, Charleston’s early inhabitants put them to work. Paneled shutters were hinged so they could securely close to protect pricey glass windows from hurricanes.

Lush Gardens

Charleston’s subtropical climate means short, mild winters, hot, humid summers and plenty of year-round rainfall resulting in an ideal gardening environment. Peek through any gate in the historic district and you’ll be rewarded with the view of a stately home surrounded by either a formal or informal garden. Although the plot surrounding each home isn’t large, Charlestonians take pride in filling their yards with masses of blooming plants.

Step Inside Historic Homes of Charleston

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Georgian-Style Mansion

This 19th-century southern mansion once belonged to a Charleston, S.C. shipping merchant. The Georgian-style home shows influences from the classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, including these Greek-style columns that tower above the front portico.

Georgian-Style Mansion: Dual Stair Entry

The elegant front staircase in this Charleston, S.C. mansion was designed with tradition in mind. The heart-shaped dual stair offeres a regal welcome to all visitors.

Georgian-Style Mansion: Statue and Entryway

Just inside the entrance to this Charleston, S.C. mansion is this imposing statue that offers a visual keynote to the home's classical styling.

Georgian-Style Mansion: Entry Hall

From the floor to the ceiling, the welcoming entryway in this Charleston mansion is appointed in fine woodwork and elegantly refined touches.

Georgian-Style Mansion: Parlor

High ceilings on the first floor are a common characteristic of historic Charleston homes, as seen in this Georgian-style mansion that once belonged to a wealthy shipping merchant.

Georgian-Style Mansion: Parlor Furnishings

The parlor in this Charleston, S.C. mansion is furnished in a formal style and houses a collection of Eastern artwork including statues and pottery.

Georgian-Style Mansion: Twin Parlors

As exemplified in this elegant Georgian-Style home, twin parlors became popular in Charleston during the 19th century. Dual parlors such as these could be opened up to provide  space for large parties or closed off and used separately for more intimate gatherings.

Converted Carriage House

This charming Charleston, S.C. home was built as a carriage house for a neighboring building in the 1850s. The arched front door was originally designed for horse-drawn buggies to pass through.

Converted Carriage House: Dining Room

The traditional decor in this converted carriage house complements the home's timeless architectural details, including crown molding, wainscoting and stately fireplaces.

Converted Carriage House: Kitchen and Dining Area

In this beautifully renovated Charleston carriage house, the dining room and kitchen offer views of the small courtyard behind the home. The rear of the property also features a quaint guesthouse perfect for visitors.

Converted Carriage House: Master Bedroom

In this charming Charleston, S.C. carriage house, the cozy master bedroom's warm color palette offers a soft complement to the polished hardwood floors and hand-carved antique furniture.

Converted Carriage House: Master Bath

In this converted carriage house in Charleston, S.C., the master bathroom offers a stylistic change of pace from the rest of the home. The renovated and enlarged master bath is sleek and modern with above-counter sinks and a glass-enclosed shower.

Single-Style Home

This circa-1760 home, located on the prestigious waterfront area known as The Battery, was built in the single style, a compact architectural style that's unique to Charleston.

Single-Style Home: Front Porch

A common feature of Charleston's single-style homes is an orientation with the home's side facing the street to help ensure privacy. In this residence, the side door leads to a large porch overlooking a lush garden.

Single-Style Home: Living Room

In this historic Charleston, S.C. home, several of the building's original details are visible in the living room, including the exposed brick wall and the support beams in the ceiling.

Single-Style Home: Master Bedroom

In this historic Charleston, S.C. home, a muted color palette lends a calming feel to the master bedroom suite, which features a sitting area and a porch overlooking the yard.

Single-Style Home: Patio

In this historic Charleston, S.C. home, the poolside patio comes complete with a wet bar perfect for entertaining.

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