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Lap siding and wrapped porches give a traditional home its vernacular feel.

Project: Residence, Habersham, Beaufort, SC

Architects: Moser Design Group, Inc., Beaufort, SC; Eric Moser, principal

General Contractor: Bowden Development in association with Gooding Contractors, Inc., Beaufort, SC; Brad Bowden and Lance Gooding, owners

By Nicole V. Gagné

By the waters of the Broad River, just a few minutes drive from historic Beaufort, SC, sits the New Urbanist community of Habersham. An original town planned by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ) of Miami, FL, Habersham is a collaborative effort, drawing upon the planning principles of small Southern towns throughout the region and combining the vision of DPZ with the talents of multiple architectural and design firms. Moser Design Group (MDG) was an essential contributor to Habersham, and Eric Moser, MDG’s firm principal, brought to this undertaking his expertise both as a member of the New Urban Guild and the Congress for the New Urbanism and as a veteran designer of more than 800 homes, small and grand, throughout the Southeast region over the past 17 years – many of which can be found in and around Beaufort, MDG’s home base.

Habersham was master-planned by DPZ in 1997. "We participated in the charrette process for the planning," Moser recalls, "and the experience was quite unique in that, during the planning charrette, we also had a simultaneous architectural charrette to establish the architectural language and character of Habersham. Our primary goal, of course, was to create a real place, one that feels as though it has been there for many, many years, but which at the same time responds to current market needs and to our living patterns of the 21st century."

By bringing together MDG with Norcross, GA-based Stephen Fuller, Inc., and the multi-discipline place-making firm Historical Concepts of Peachtree City, GA, DPZ was able to endow Habersham with a vitality and variety comparable to its older neighbors. "One of the things that is very critical in order to gain an authentic neighborhood is the idea of many hands," explains Moser. "DPZ was the master planner for the neighborhoods – they were completely responsible. But no single architectural group can actually do a neighborhood and pull off an authentic reality, no matter what – it’s simply impossible. Together, however, we were able to establish and hold onto an authentic architecture that was based very closely on our local architecture: the vernacular of Beaufort, Charleston, and Savannah and the Low Country in general – which varies quite a bit, although there is a heavy dose of Greek Revival- and Federal-style houses.

"Because Habersham is a rural village, the architecture tends toward the vernacular end of the Classical-to-vernacular spectrum, with lap siding and metal roofs. Porches are another very significant feature, because they address the climatic character of the region, but they’re also outdoor spaces that are the connection to the neighborhood. The most characteristic materials of this area were tabby, brick and wood – which would be pine and cypress. Most of our buildings actually utilize some manmade, cementitious siding materials and other fiberglass composites and synthetic materials, all of which actually hold up quite well – actually better than the available woods – to our environment."

Moser’s emphasis on porches reflects the underlying intention with Habersham – to evoke and re-create not only the appearance but also the lifestyle of an earlier time. "Everything is concentrated around a town center," he says. "Habersham is a pedestrian-friendly place, where people can walk to take care of their daily needs. And of course, we have just a splendid variety of natural resources and parks in very close proximity to essentially every house; every building here is within a quarter mile – a five-minute walk – of parks and to our water’s edge."

The result is another New Urbanist success story, and Moser is justly proud that Habersham "has been very, very well received. We have a tremendous number of people coming through all the time. It took a while at first to build enough, and to get enough synergy to begin telling the story of Habersham, if you will. That process took three years or so, until we had enough variety and enough buildings up so people could really understand the neighborhood. Now that we’ve passed that threshold, the market acceptance has just been phenomenal."

MDG has designed a large percentage of the 235 houses in the community that have been finished to date, and one home that typifies the vision of the town is the large cottage that is designated simply as the firm’s Project TNH-C-19C-1. "This particular house," Moser notes, "is relatively large – 2,499 sq.ft., plus an engaged ‘granny flat,’ a little apartment above the garage; the outbuilding is another 350 sq.ft. It has a full two-story wraparound porch, but with very simple massing – which is very typical of traditional Beaufort architecture: a simple, one-room-deep, two-story mass. And much like the transition of architecture over the course of time, this house illustrates how buildings tended to grow. On the lane side we have a one-story addition that is a master bedroom and master bathroom, which serves to define the rear, private courtyard, or outdoor room. The front porch is all about the public realm, whereas the courtyard is the private sanctuary, where you still have your connection to the outside and to the growth of the house to the neighborhood."

The cottage’s interior design likewise represents a seamless joining of traditional-design principles with contemporary methods and techniques. "The house is quite open in nature," Moser insists. "We’re talking about a 2,500-sq.ft. main house, but it actually feels more like 3,000 sq.ft., because of how the spaces open to each other and flow together. And that is one of the 21st-century aspects – to be a little less compartmentalized. The rooms are very well defined, yet they open up to each other and allow significant communication. We used a lot of wood inside the house – we certainly have Sheetrock, but we minimize that and come back to more traditional materials like wood walls. They’re not terribly fancy, there isn’t a lot of panel work; again, this house falls at the vernacular end of the spectrum. So we have squared chamfered columns on the outside, very simple detailing, and when we go inside we carry that same attitude, and have very simple detailing."

So typical of Habersham was this large cottage that it initially served as one of the town’s model homes. Today it’s occupied by Greg and Lynn Jester, who relocated to Habersham specifically for the old-time values this community has revived. "We came from a neighborhood where there were fifty homes, and I knew maybe two of the neighbors," says Lynn. "You didn’t have time to stroll in the area or take a walk up to the cafe and have a cup of coffee and pick up your mail. That just wasn’t heard of. Here, the idea is that it is a walkable community. When I describe Habersham to people, I say it reminds me of Mayberry [NC]! Our house is like one of those old-fashioned homes in Charleston and Savannah: an old design, with the wainscoting, the coffered ceilings and the pine floors. The house looks old, but it lives new, which is wonderful."

Moser says that, in his practice with MDG, "Our sole concentration as a firm is working within traditional and New Urbanist neighborhoods – new urbanism and old urbanism!" That focus has also led to Moser’s involvement with the Gulf Coast recovery effort, designing houses for communities that were devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These efforts, like the large cottage and so many other Moser-designed homes in Habersham, are two facets of a single commitment: "It’s so critical to us to make sure that people have the opportunity to hold onto their heritage."  

 

 

 
 

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