BEHRE COLUMN: Home color choices raise some eyebrows in historic Charleston

This house at Morris and Felix streets in Charleston is dubbed the Purple Rooster.

The Purple Rooster? The Green Hippopotamus? The Golden Kiwi?

These certainly aren’t your traditional-sounding home names in historic Charleston.

And the new homes with these cartoonish names aren’t very traditional-looking either, especially when it comes to their colors.

In fact, their vibrant shades of purple, green, yellow, etc. have caused some neighbors to see red.

A developer of college housing in Cannonborough and Elliottborough has pushed the envelope as far as what shades can win approval from the city’s architectural watchdogs.

Ironically, they’re bolder and more daring than most suburban homeowners’ associations would likely allow — this in a city often criticized as too strict over property rights.

Developer Richards Gregory loves bold colors. Asked why, he jokes, “It’s because I’m insane. That’s just what some of the neighbors think. ... I think they’re fantastic for the neighborhood.”

Anyone taken aback by the purple siding and lime-green shutters (on The Purple Rooster, at Felix and Morris streets), ought to see how Gregory really wanted it painted.

Dennis Dowd, Charleston’s City Architect, says the city did reign in Gregory’s paint scheme somewhat, particularly encouraging him to paint the foundation a darker, more earthy color. The city urged the trim be painted white instead of a beige color.

In fact, the purple color isn’t much different from the color of a corner store a block to the east. Dowd says choosing one bold color can be OK, but several can pose a problem.

“To me, there’s the opportunity for people to do something interesting in the body of the building or the trim, but not both,” he says.

Color is rarely argued about. Of the 108 proposed color changes the city received last year, only five were turned down.

Colors are reviewed on a case by case basis, Dowd says, and everything from the colors on neighboring buildlings to neighbors’ feelings to the style of architecture to historical colors can be factored in.

“We usually hear about these things from neighbors,” Dowd says. “We don’t ride around looking for them. We just don’t have the staff to do that.”

One reason the city doesn’t see more bold colors is that some property owners may think the tame approach is the only one. Gregory says it was difficult pushing the envelope on Morris and Felix streets.

“A lot of people come in thinking they’re going to have a difficult time with adventurous colors,” Dowd says, “so they come in with more muted approaches.”

Gregory says color — unlike architectural features that must follow certain rules and rhythms —is 100 percent subjective. He says children love bright colors but often turn against them as they grow up and conform to more staid, adult tastes.

“All of this is nothing more than opinion,” he says. “It’s my opinion, other people’s opinion and that’s it.

“There’s no right or wrong when it comes to colors.”

That subjectivity isn’t the only reason that preservationists often don’t fight over color.

“It’s such an ephemeral thing,” says Robert Gurley of the Preservation Society. “You paint all the time.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.