BEHRE COLUMN: Amherst Street rehab nets Carolopolis prize

While the exterior of 4 Amherst St. was restored to look like its original, late 19th century appearance, owner Brian Wildstein explains that the interior was renovated to provide a more modern, open feel. Buy this photo

Brian Wildstein and his wife, Megan Stifel, didn’t plan to live at 4 Amherst St. when they bought the decaying single house on Charleston’s East Side.

A full account of the 4 Amherst St. renovation (and the ongoing work at 6 Amherst next door) can be found online at www.palmettoandcannon.com



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But what a difference two years can make.

Particularly if they’re full of some isolated demolition, careful restoration and some clever, contemporary design.

Architect Julia Martin remembers well how the house looked as the couple began wielding their sledgehammers.

“It was a huge mess and in a part of town that wasn’t exactly the most popular,” she says. “It was among the worst I’ve seen, though the general structure of it was fairly plumb.”

Wildstein says Martin helped the couple figure out how to renovate the exterior to reflect something close to its original 1880s appearance and to appease the city’s Board of Architectural Review.

The house received a new metal roof, rebuilt brick piers, new paint, new shutters and new timbers where the old wood had rotted (or been chewed by termites).

The resulting transformation was one of several honored last week with a Carolopolis award from the Preservation Society of Charleston.

The Carolopolis judges largely don’t consider the work done inside. The society’s awards are designed more to reward people taking steps to preserve what can be seen from the public realm.

That’s fine, but the story inside is equally intriguing. While some walls were removed, the interior already had been chopped up as the house was converted into a duplex at some point.

“It came pre-gutted, unfortunately,” Martin says. The couple saved and reused what they could — in a very prominent way.

Very few of the first-floor’s floorboards were salvageable, but the few that were — even those charred in a fire — were used as paneling on the southern wall. The floor joists that termites had eaten on each end were recycled into treads for a sleek, modern interior stairway — one that didn’t exist when the building was a duplex.

The work, done by contractor Marc Engelke, also exposed the historic rafters upstairs and downstairs. The new duct work also is exposed, though it seems to disappear more than a large soffit would.

The only downside to the open plan is that it’s challenging to tuck closets into corners.

That’s one reason why Wildstein felt strongly about reusing the house’s original cistern as a wine cellar. A clear trap door on the kitchen floor leads to the small, brick-lined storage space.

Wildstein said they wanted to do right by the house on the exterior and make the interior more open and livable — but they also wanted to stay on a tight budget.

The tight budget might have helped prevent any unattractive bit of excess.

“Sometimes the coolest decisions are to keep it pretty simple,” Martin says. “Just spare and honest and lovely.”

Other Carolopolis winners include: 169 King St., Tucker Payne Antiques; 1 Magazine St., Joseph and Diane McGee; 304 President St., Stacy Rowley; and 108 Smith St., M, Paul Saylor.

Winners of the Pro-Merito Award (given to properties that already received a Carolopolis and since have undergone further restoration or sensitive renovation work): 39 Church St., Anthony and Ann Merck; 290 East Bay St., Harris Teeter; 94 Rutledge Ave., Patricia Altschul; 10 Judith St., David Elder and Monica Bohlen; and McLeod Plantation, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.

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