Restoring a piazza, and more, at 43 Meeting Street
The circa 1798 house at 43 Meeting St. originally had a piazza — like almost every other Charleston single house.
But it disappeared decades ago, bit by bit.
Initially, a slice of its first floor was removed, apparently to create more room for a car to park between the home and the neighboring house to the south.
That probably compromised its structural integrity, as the second floor was left precariously cantilevered over the first.
Not long afterward, the entire piazza was removed, and the door to the main house was ripped out and tacked onto a small brick-and-stucco foyer addition that became the new entrance.
When Kristopher King looked at the property as a possible project for an Australian couple looking to invest in Charleston, he realized he had a rare opportunity on his hands.
A year later, the job is done: The piazza is back.
King, who has a preservation management company, helped guide the restoration work along with architect Glenn Keyes and contractor Jim Rhode.
It didn’t take long for them to discover not only the holes in the house that originally supported the piazza’s joists but also the remnants of the brick piers that made up its foundation.
Old photographs provided a guide, and King says the reconstruction is historically accurate except perhaps for one feature: the piazza’s entrance on Meeting Street.
Since there was little surviving evidence of how that looked, Keyes designed a relatively understated door and surround. There are no ornate brackets or fancy carvings here.
King says that front door design approach fits the rest of the property. While the home might look grand today, it was rather simple for its time. One only needs to contrast 43 Meeting with the house Nathaniel Russell built a few doors north just a decade later.
Charleston’s piazzas not only offer elegant outdoor living space, but they also help shield the main house from the elements. In this case, King notes the piazza also converts what was an odd-looking skinny house into one with more handsome proportions.
Because the house sits closer to Meeting Street than its southern neighbors, the piazza offers even better breezes and views.
And its restoration has the added advantage of giving pedestrians a better glimpse of architect W.G. Clark’s previous addition to the surviving kitchen house.
Clark added a series of windows, framed in wood painted Charleston Green, as a sort of a glassed-in piazza to the rear brick building. It’s modern, but its detailing is sensitive to the far older buildings nearby.
Honoring a legend
The 43 Meeting property was converted from two units into one large single-family home — one of King’s and Keyes’ greatest challenges was improving the interior flow — and its spacious garden also is being replanted.
The home was owned most recently by the late and legendary Charleston preservationist Elizabeth Young, who mentored King when he worked with the Historic Charleston Foundation.
He jokes that when the work began, he thought, “We have to do it right or she’s going to haunt me.”
But King says the house teaches another lesson: treat a house gently to preserve your investment. In the case of 43 Meeting, it was fortunate that most modern necessities such as a kitchen and bathrooms, could be fit into a later addition joining the historic house with its kitchen building.
“The Youngs were the classic old Charleston stewards. They didn’t spit-shine the thing, but they didn’t do thing anything wrong,” he says. “I think buyers will become more savvy to authenticity in the future. Is it original? Is it authentic or is it a replica?”
Or, in the case of this new piazza, is it an authentic replica that looks great?
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.