The story behind Charleston single house architecture | Features

House Design

Paul Douxsaint, the home’s original owner, earned his money as a merchant of people, regularly importing Africans to the British colony. The people he purchased likely made each brick comprising the house. Other enslaved people worked on the rice plantations, helping to make Charleston the richest of the colonies.

The history of civil rights and the Black experience is everywhere in Charleston

Small gestured to a brick column next to a heavy black door, explaining to the tourists how she knows the stones are local: The clay here has iron in it, leaving the red brick peppered with black dots.

The street-facing door opens not to the home’s interior, but a two-story porch. The “piazza,” as it’s better known, runs the length of the house.

Piazzas — an appropriation of the Italian word meaning “open square” — hints at Charleston’s sweltering summers. The porches were traditionally constructed to face south or west. They’d catch prevailing winds from the Cooper and Ashley rivers sandwiching the peninsula, said Ralph Muldrow, an architectural history professor at the College of Charleston.

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A long and narrow open courtyard and piazza are visible next to a Charleston single house. These are key attributes of this style of architecture.

In the summertime, when the sun is highest, south-facing piazzas help shade the home’s windows, protecting it from the heat, he said. The opposite happened in the winter, warming up the house.

“Instead of heating or cooling the whole house, which we think is the only thing you can do, you would try to just position yourself where the breeze comes through,” Muldrow explained.

Windows are noticeably absent from the wall opposite the piazza side; Typically, there are only one or two pairs per floor. The concept is colloquially referred to as “northside manners,” as entire families often slept on the porches in the summertime, desperate to cool down.

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Large windows and storm shutters are visible on the front and sides of a Charleston single house on Feb. 2, 2024. The large windows and shutters were used for better ventilation.

“They wanted a little privacy,” Muldrow said.

Small pointed out a curved iron fixture at the bottom corner of each window shutter. These “shutter dogs” offer another clue about Charleston — its windy, coastal climate. The hardware not only can be turned up or down to open and close the shutters, but it ensures the covers stay in place even amid strong gusts.