Sunday, May 10, 2009

notes from Charleston

Charleston is the original shabby chic (read: not the tacky kind). its flower boxes and immaculately manicured medians beautify the streets while it's unpolished and underthought elements add sparks of reality and grit. But there needs to be both for the style to succeed: crumbling next to neatly painted, hanging utility lines against crisp stucco, or the remnant long-shadowed staircase in an otherwise well-used and uncluttered alley.

the following is a sampling of what I noticed about Charleston and the ways it succeeds from a design and pedestrian perspective. As always, there are lessons here for Anacostia and anyplace else with an open mind.

the Simple Pleasures

in DC we are pretty used to seeing iron stars as the end bolts to rowhouse support beams. voilĂ : the no-frills version.

the classic entry urn. pretty much always adds a splash of class.

window bars? nope. window fleur-de-lis. creative security.

a roofdeck fit for kings. royal purple, but not sure how I feel about it being completely shaded

ahh, the oft-forgotten house number. As evidenced here, with a little intention and creativity, they can add to the house rather than detract.

so great. and ten thousand times more welcoming and attractive than a backlit box

sample paint colors and bikeability

a brand-new garage with timeless lines

we aren't the only neighborhood under renovation, it seems. black windows, white trim, and light paint is one of my favorite palettes.

the Blooms

Charleston is a city unafraid of flowers*, where wisteria curiously creeps around every corner and almost every window is coupled with an overflowing basket of pure bloom.

(*and shutters, the accidental star of this post. I'm a fan of unadorned modernism, but there's something completely graceful about functional shutters.)

the worn out (from watering) wall under the flower boxes is totally worth it

a place of quiet repose, ...palmetto palms reflected in the windows. Imagine this scene without the bench, the flowers, or the shuters

the Grit

when did it become common to build the exit stairs indoors? this way is much less sugarcoated

the staircase building directly abuts a small two-story alley boutique. Very different scales, yet their juxtaposition isn't jarring.

why bother painting an unintentionally rusticated wall?

here the stairwell gets all the light on an otherwise windowless expanse...

...with incredible character. Are ruins only attractive when surrounded by the pristine?

in most of the city, the utility lines are above ground. I am usually in support of undergrounding when possible, but here again is an example of a workable mix of gritty and good-looking.

like in Lawrence, some lines take the path of alleys

the Steeples

one of Charleston's nicknames is the Holy City due both to the prominence and diversity of church steeples atop the city's otherwise low skyline, as well as the city's history of religious tolerance during the nation's infancy.

South Carolina's state tree: the Palmetto Palm

as cities and neighborhoods change, congregations evolve and often move. In DC, where churches are often exempt from Historic Preservation standards, it's important that the buildings are still valued and preserved.

the Porches

like Anacostia, almost every house in Charleston has a porch.

the iron second-story porch with a New Orleans / Old Europe feel

even some of the new infill houses take this model

The more prevalent kind, however, is the side porch. This allows the house to be closer to the street, and affords porch-sitters a little more privacy than out front:

both houses have two-level porches, but the one on the right has a secure entry to the ground-floor porch via a real front door.

the exterior door to the porch makes it feel more like an outdoor room than a part of the public street

..a sort of escape. I love ferns on porches

the Street

a typical residential street. narrow, but wide enough for any use

streetname embedded in the sidewalk - from a time when the walker's perspective was as important as the driver's

the "rustic + pristine = awesome" formula isn't the only diversity necessary for a visually interesting place. Building and paving material diversity is also key, as evidenced by the mix of stone, brick, and asphalt

a perfectly manicured median (this is actually a photo from Anacostia ... not. Inspiration!)

an untrained rosemary hedge fills the space between sidewalk and house

This isn't the Disneyland version of walkable, front porched America. It's adored for being the real thing. As with most of the country's best pedestrian neighborhoods with the most charming houses and shops, Charleston isn't a cheap place to call home - which is why restoring that same walkability and real-life charm to existing neighborhoods holds so much promise. The ingredients are already here.

photos by DG-rad


mrb said...

thank you for taking the time to notice all the small beautiful details that so many of us miss. glad you liked liked Charleston.

Hannah said...

hehe just saw Berlin's last night.
about to throw up from all the pastel polos, boat shoes, and seersucker suits. but other than that, chucktown is great. ;)

David said...

great imagery. I am actually going to Charleston this weekend and am, very excited.

bikearlington said...

Beautiful pictures David. You have a real gift to blend visual and words as a means to articulate vision.

DC Debutante said...