One of Charleston's most eye-catching residential renovations also is one of its most tucked away - and that's explains a lot about why it could happen in the first place.
Those passing by 50 Murray Blvd. can look through the gate to see the historic district's first glass house.
Technically, it's a glass facade - an entire two-story wall that faces Murray and the Ashley River beyond - and is completely transparent except for a horizontal metal band between floors and the thinnest of lines where its eight glass panels meet.
Its creation is also a bit of a fluke.
The owners first bought the grand home next door at 52 Murray, one of the low battery's residential landmarks (and one built in 1913 by C. Bissell Jenkins, who led the project that created Murray Boulevard).
Before they could start renovations, they realized they could buy the smaller property next door, a flag-shape lot that once was part of the 52 Murray property and whose small home had been created from the grand home's former garage.
It's natural to wonder if architect Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House (now a museum property run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in New Canaan, Conn.) served as an inspiration, but architect E.E. Fava says neither he nor the owner have visited there.
And Fava says they didn't have it in mind either as they began discussing what to do.
"They wanted to open it back up and take advantage of the view," he says. "It wasn't trying to be fussy or copy anything."
Fava says the south facade of the building had been altered and wasn't historic, which helped with demolishing it and replacing it with the glass addition.
The design won approval from the city's Board of Architectural Review without much objection at all. City architect Dennis Dowd says that's primarily because "it is set so far back from the street and marginally visible. There was no opposition from any neighbors."
Fava says the design wouldn't have happened if the home had been sited as close to Murray as its neighbors, and he thinks of it sort of like an orangerie, a traditional greenhouse structure built to shelter citrus trees. These often were found near grand homes, including some in the Lowcountry, during the 18th and 19th centuries.
In a sense, the architecture carries on one important Charleston tradition: a blurring of public and private and interior and exterior spaces, most widely found in and around the piazzas of the classic Charleston single house.
The home's first floor is a dense dark marble known as deep blue, and the mottled stone also extends outside to form a small patio space.
And while the home connects directly to the street, its masonry walls along the side do shield it somewhat from its neighbors, so it could be argued it also respects the city's tradition of "Northside Manners," of not having big or many windows looking onto the neighbor's piazza.
(Philip Johnson didn't have to worry about such manners; his Glass House was built on a large enough lot that it can barely be seen from the road or neighboring homes).
Fava says the structural window wall is expected to weather the next hurricane without a problem: Its glass panels are about an inch thick and meet impact codes. A 42-inch overhang helps shield the windows from the sun and bird offerings without affecting the views.
The rear of the home was left more or less intact, and the garden space will be redesigned as restoration of the main house proceeds.
Standing inside, it's a joy to watch joggers, cyclists, cars and boats steadily stream by, sort of like an enormous screen featuring a webcam feed from one of Charleston's most scenic spots.
But, of course, the views flow both ways, and one wonders if that might get old one day. Even the kitchen area and master bedroom can be seen from the street.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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