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Historic Charleston Foundation recognizes craftsmanship, building preservation projects

When Glenn Keyes first inspected the historic building, several structural supports were rotting, the mortar holding together the bricks was crumbling and the crawl space under the property was filled with several inches of pluff mud that built up during storms and tidal flooding. 

But that didn't deter Keyes, who is widely regarded as one of the most experienced architects in Charleston's historical district. 

Keyes' architectural firm and a host of contractors spent the past several years reconstructing the pink mansion at 5 East Battery, which is one of Charleston’s most prominent and eye-catching homes in the city. 

A team of workers under Keyes' direction restored the mantels and brick fireplaces in the structure, which formerly served as a bed and breakfast. They tore out newer additions to the home, such as several bathrooms, which were not part of the building's initial design. And they oversaw complex flood mitigation work to better protect the historic property from the rising tides and more powerful storms that are expected to affect Charleston in the future. 

before ground floor.jpg

The historic home at 5 East Battery in Charleston was recently renovated. This photo shows part of the home prior to the restoration. Glenn Keyes Architects/Provided

after ground floor.jpg

The restoration of 5 East Battery in Charleston recently won an award for the preservation work that was done at the property. This is a photo of part of the home after the work was completed. Glenn Keyes Architects/Provided

Like many historic properties in Charleston, Keyes said the building, which is now owned by Scott Bessent, needed a 100-year tuneup. But the size and scope of the project also presented more challenges than other buildings Keyes has helped to restore in Charleston over the past three decades. 

"That house was probably the most challenging project I worked on," said Keyes, who first opened his architectural firm in 1986. "The building needed everything, from top to bottom." 

All of that work resulted in the home being restored to its former glory, and it was recognized this month as part of the Historic Charleston Foundation's annual Charter Day Preservation Awards. 

The Charter Day Awards are meant to honor people and groups that help to protect Charleston’s historic architecture and advance the craftsmanship that allows that legacy to continue. The awards serve as a who's who of historic preservation in the city.  

Robbie Clair, a Charleston native, was another one of the award recipients this year. 

Clair was recognized for his carpentry work on historic properties downtown, where he has restored windows, staircases and mantel pieces. 

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before dining room.jpg

The historic home at 5 East Battery in Charleston was recently renovated. This photo shows part of the home prior to the restoration. Glenn Keyes Architects/Provided

after dining room.jpg

The restoration of 5 East Battery in Charleston recently won an award for the preservation work that was done at the property. This is a photo of part of the home after the work was completed. Glenn Keyes Architects/Provided

Reviving old structures wasn't always Clair's plan in life, he said. He learned the work organically when he was young. He helped his uncles in Anderson County with their construction business after high school. And he later worked for a friend in the 1990s traveling around to different job sites. 

For most of that time though, Clair saw construction and woodworking simply as a job. His real passion, he said, was art. 

In the decades that followed, Clair spent time studying Japanese ceramics in Tokyo, where he lived with his wife. And when he returned to Charleston in 2005, he worked as an apprentice glass blower for a time, selling the pieces of art he made on the side. 

A lot of the carpentry Clair works on now allows him to incorporate the same type of creativity and passion that he poured into those other pursuits, he said. 

"It wasn't my chosen progression to fall back into carpentry," he said. "But I have opportunities to be creative, which is what I seek in any job." 

Most recently, Clair said, he's done a lot of work reclaiming old floor joists from historic homes in Charleston and finding ways to reincorporate that aged wood back into other parts of the homes. 

That work is why the Historic Charleston Foundation chose to give Clair one of the Conservation Craftsmanship Awards this year. He and the other award winners are the reason that Charleston has been able to keep alive the historic buildings that make the city one of the biggest tourism attractions in the country. 

"It's the greatest honor to be recognized," Clair said, "because everybody who does construction works hard. We all work hard every day. You don't do it to be famous." 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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