I have some heavy "stuff" coming up in the next couple of weeks, so I've decided to fill in blog posts with replays of some of the outtakes from my current work-in-progress. This post and the next deal with the kinds of houses one can still find in Beaufort, SC.
"Let me tell you about a typical Beaufort house. The house itself
stands on a large lot, frequently has a formal garden, and is oriented to take
full advantage of the prevailing southwesterly breezes. The planter families
indulged their taste for expensive luxuries by building elaborate mansions, and
there were always rivalries to see who could have the most Italian marble and
mahogany woodwork installed. Their houses are likely to have very high
ceilings, gilded cornices, wainscoting, ceiling medallions, and suspended
crystal chandeliers -- anything that helps make the rooms feel light and airy. You'll see why that is desirable once we get
into the summer months, by the way. Oh, and all of the main rooms have
fireplaces for heating during the winter, which creates a whole cluster of
chimneys on the roof. Sometimes they,
too, are so decorative that they almost look like spires.
Susan sighed. "I suppose for us Northerners, it is really
impossible to understand what that pre-war life must have been like. I can't even figure out the living
arrangements. There are too many rooms,
or not enough, or something. There
aren't enough bedrooms for a normal house. And there's no kitchen, just a
dining room, along with two or three identical sitting rooms."
"Ah, now you're talking about Southern architecture. The design probably started out as a simple
plantation house, with a central hall, two rooms up and two rooms down. The extensions to the back came later. Most of
them have a central hallway, upstairs and down, and the house itself is
T-shaped, with the crosspiece in the back. In a house like this, there are two
bedrooms upstairs at the front of the house, corresponding to the parlors
below. Then, across the back, and above
the rear rooms, there's a sleeping porch.
A whole family may sleep out there in the summer months."
"I've seen some beautiful houses already. And some of them just seem to sparkle. I haven't been able to figure out what they
are made of."
Well, because of the heat and humidity for a great part of the year,
it's best to have thick walls. So
builders prefer stone, which we don't have a lot of, or brick, which can be
made by the field hands inn the off season, or better yet, tabby."
"Tabby? What's that?"
"It's a mixture of sand, crushed oyster shells, lime, and
water. Poured into forms, it hardens
into an almost indestructible building material. Depending on how many oyster shells are in
the mix, it can glisten in the sunlight. It's a bit like building a house out
of a beach."
"I've also notice the wide porches."
"Most of our houses have a two-story piazza, frequently extending
partially around three sides of the house. The side piazzas have stuccoed piers
or arches, left open for ventilation. There may, however, be a formal porch at the front entrance.
Those are usually supported by Greek columns, with Ionic capitals on the first
level and Corinthian capitals on the
second story. Most of the houses have an understory that is used by the staff
for storage. And the raised elevation
is also a benefit when storms blow in and the tide comes in too far. Many
houses have two elegant sets of stairs leading up to the main entrance and the
main living areas."
"I've noticed that, too. Why do they need two sets of
"Hoop skirts." Reverend Peck smiled and waited for her to
"What? I can see why the stairs might need to be wider than usual,
but . . . ."
"Picture a Southern belle in full hoops going up the steps, with
a gentleman following behind her. Her
ankles are likely to be on display as the hoop swings."
"Oh, for heaven's sakes!
You mean they had lady's stairs and gentleman's stairs?"
"That's exactly what I mean.
Southern through and through."