Whether you’re a Charleston native or a visitor, you’ve more than likely heard terms like “Charleston Single,” “Charleston Double,” “Carriage House,” or “Piazza,” to name a few. Or, you’ve seen the structures around and wondered why the homes downtown look the way they do, such as a door opening up to a piazza that leads you to the main entry into the house. Here’s some fun facts.
Charleston Single House: This style is the most common, found exclusively in Peninsular Charleston, and a distinct feature is that it is only one room wide with the narrow end of the house facing the street. Another feature are piazzas (“porches”) that stretch alongside the house on the first and second floors. When these were built in the 17-1800s, the piazza was built as a shaded place to get away in the hot summer months. The reason for this type of architecture is for ventilation purposes. In the days before air-conditioning, a one-room-wide house offered cross-ventilation and kept the house cooler. Another key feature is the front door. The front door is located on the porch from the street and does not take you straight into the house. The main entryway is usually centered on the side of the house, so the first door on the street gives you more privacy. Another feature that is often overlooked is the carriage house,. Here is another great, full description.
According to Jonathan Poston, author of the seminal The Buildings of Charleston, “the key to interpreting the single house is to look at the house, its outbuildings, and lot organization as an integrated domestic unit…. Simply put, the Charleston single house is defined as much by its dependencies and lot organization as it is by its structure.”
Charleston Double House: A double house faces the street at full-length. The main characteristic of this type of architecture is that there is a central entrance hallway running through the house. Living rooms, drawing rooms, and other living areas are usually on either side downstairs, and the bedrooms are upstairs. They also have piazzas like Single Houses.
Carriage House/Kitchen House: One thing that most of Charleston Homes, Single or Double, have in common are Carriage Houses. Architectural historians might refer to these as 18th and 19th century dependencies that were detached from the main house and used for all different functions other than an actual carriage house, such as kitchens, washhouses, stables, or servants’ quarters. Kitchens were the most common use. As I was recently told on a great walking tour around South of Broad (which I highly recommend), the primary reason for having a kitchen house that was separate from the rest of the house was to prevent fires. There was a time when fires were very common, and would easily jump from house to house. As a measure to try and help the problem, kitchens were detached from the main house. Once household activities started taking place under one roof, “hyphens,” or a connecting link between buildings, were built to join a freestanding kitchen to the main house.
Here are some great units that are currently for sale to give you an idea of what they look like:
Charleston Magazine did an interesting article on the Kitchen House here.