BEHRE COLUMN: Small home inspired by grand architecture
One of Charleston’s most intriguing new residences is also one of its most hidden, but this tiny riff on a Palladian villa is still worthy of note — and praise.
Since its inception, much of Charleston’s finest architecture has been inspired by the work of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
Still, there have been relatively few Lowcountry buildings that have drawn such direct inspiration from one of his works.
The small house just off Ashley Avenue — and just south of the Septima P. Clark Parkway — is among them, taking its inspiration directly from the Villa Saraceno, one of the master’s earliest and simplest creations.
It was designed by George Holt and Andrew Gould of New World Byzantine along with the owner, Reid Burgess.
“We took the building, scaled down the elevation and had to think long and hard how to make it a two-story house,” Holt says.
Holt says the design challenge not only was to come up with something appealing that fit Burgess’ traditional taste but a livable design that would fit on just a 600-square-foot lot.
“Saraceno is a really large building,” he adds. This home is not.
The 870-square-foot house actually is the centerpiece of three planned townhomes; its western neighbor is under construction. The eastern house, whenever it’s built, will be the smallest.
Its first floor includes a main room, with 14-foot ceilings, a small kitchen space and flanking stairs on each side that lead up to two separate bedrooms. The second-floor ceilings are only 8 feet high.
The upstairs windows are on the northern (rear) facade, which faces the Crosstown. That makes the home look like one grand single-story from the main southern-facing facade.
Unlike Saraceno, the Burgess house has a hipped roof and no gable, though Gould recalls the gable by a few brick courses, including a dogtooth course where the bricks are set at a 45-degree angle.
The three main arches aren’t open, as they are in Saraceno, but include a set of doors that open and can create one large indoor-outdoor living space.
Holt says an important aspect of the design is its thick walls, a mix of reinforced concrete and steel, sprayfoam insulation and wood framing and plaster. It not only provides a lot of insulation, but muffles the round-the-clock noise from the Crosstown.
The house already has been featured in a New York Times’ lifestyle piece, and Holt is amused by those critical of the extent to which the design does — or doesn’t — follow Palladio.
“We weren’t trying to make any particular statement. We were just trying to make a pretty little house,” he says. “We weren’t trying to be bold or original. We just wanted something pretty, attractive and simple — and well-built.”
Holt says they refrained from adding any extra ornament. Even the lights above the right and left doorways are simple jelly jar wall fixtures.
The tightness of the design can be appreciated around back, where the house has a niche in its rear wall.
But this niche isn’t to provide a home for a statue — as in many Palladian designs.
Instead, it’s where the air conditioning unit is tucked away.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.