Traditional Building Portfolio



Resurrected Quarters

A dilapidated ca. 1820s outbuilding, once a kitchen house and slave quarters, is restored and renovated into two luxury apartments.

Project: Residence, Charleston, SC

Designer: William Bates Design, Charleston, SC; William Bates, principal designer

By Annabel Hsin

Just a couple of houses down from the historic Aiken-Rhett House in the Garden District of Charleston, SC, a derelict ca. 1820s outbuilding is restored and renovated into two luxury apartment suites by designer William Bates. The outbuilding, along with the two-and-a-half story masonry main house fronting Judith Street, was built for wealthy sea merchant John Robinson as a speculative venture. It had once housed the kitchen for the main house on the lower level while the upper level served as slave quarters. When five of Robinson's ships were captured and burned by the French in 1825, he sold this and other properties, including what is now known as the Aiken-Rhett House, to raise capital to meet his financial obligations.

In the fall of 2010, the current owners of the outbuilding approached Bates to reprogram the interior; the structure had been abandoned since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. "When I was commissioned to restore the outbuilding, it was in ruin," he says. "The four solid 18-in.-thick masonry walls had weathered earthquakes, hurricanes and typical time ravages fairly well but the timber portions were essentially gone. The clients asked us to reinvent the interior spaces to accommodate two rentable suites and to give it a sense of history where there had once been but was no longer."

It was decided that the outbuilding was to be restored to its 1820s appearance, so the first order of business was to clear out and sort through the debris that had collected in the interior throughout the years. Bates noted hearth fragments, a piece of a board-and-batten wall, four shutter dogs and portions of two windows from the original structure. These artifacts were used to replicate original details and to guide the design team through the restoration and final phases of the project.

"The excavation revealed two aspects about slave life in 1820s Charleston," says Bates. "The first was that the ground floor showed no signs of ever having had anything but a dirt floor. The second was that the lower part of the windows had no glazed sash, as evident in our one extant window and those on the outbuildings at Aiken-Rhett House, which were both constructed by John Robinson. The shutters closed over an open sash. The only glass was in the fixed transom window above the shutter. Slaves were in close contact with the elements even when the shutters were closed."

On the exterior, deteriorated stucco was removed and the exposed brick shell was cleaned, repointed and finished with lime stucco painted in coral. Beneath the foundation, a concrete beam was poured at grade level for structural support. New wood windows were replicated based on the excavated window portions and modern casement windows were designed to fit in the openings without altering the profile and general appearance. The shutters and one-piece Dutch doors were fabricated using examples from the Aiken-Rhett House outbuildings. The four recovered shutter dogs were restored and installed, and new ones were made to match originals. A standing-seam metal roof completes the exterior restoration.

The 1,600-sq.ft. two-story interior is subdivided into two apartment suites, each containing a kitchen and seating area, a bathroom and a bedroom. On the lower level, the apartment features a newly paved antique-brick floor and an original cooking fireplace, which was restored to working order and detailed with lime plaster. Using the piece of board-and-batten wall sample as guidance, the interior walls were covered with planks of horizontal pine. The kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities have simple wood-paneled doors, understated black granite countertops, chrome faucets and wrought-iron hardware – the latter was fabricated by Exton, PA-based Ball and Ball Hardware. The shower is tiled with Carrera marble.

"Originally, there had been an internal staircase for a single unit and no bathrooms," says Bates. "At some point, a door was added in the upper level to connect the kitchen to the main house. We used that opening to gain access to the second floor unit and re-appropriated the area where the internal stairs had been for modern bathrooms."

Compatible exterior stairs were built to the second-level entry, which opens to the kitchen and breakfast nook. A smaller version of the first floor fireplace was restored and the floors are hardwood throughout. Off the kitchen, a library leads to the bedroom and bath. The rest of the apartment is styled similarly as the lower level.

In addition to orchestrating the interior layout, Bates also decorated the interior and designed custom furniture pieces. "The furniture is a mix of antiques and updated styles reminiscent of ones that may have been moved out of the main house, as well as rustic pieces purpose-built for a cookhouse, all blended to create a fresh look," he says. The color palette was based on paint samples Bates had collected from old Charleston houses as research when he was restoring his own home. Salvaged wood from the attic beams was used to construct end tables placed throughout the two apartments and a table in the breakfast nook in the upper level apartment; the tables were fabricated by Charleston, SC-based Landrum Tables.

Additional key materials and manufacturers include Louisiana, MO-based Van Dyke's Restorers (hardware restoration); and Chicago, IL-based USG Corporation Headquarters (plaster). Local Charleston, SC-based manufacturers include Innercoastal Millworks (custom windows and doors); Michael Lauer (interior lime plaster); Four Corners Woodworking (antique woods); and Circa Lighting.

After standing empty for more than two decades, the outbuilding on Judith Street has been successfully renovated into two apartment suites with its historic integrity restored. "It was nice to be involved in returning this property to a slightly more accurate historical density," says Bates. "Today, many of the grand houses in Charleston are programmed for a couple that might have a few children. With the reprogramming of this building to include two suites, the main house and the cookhouse may have as many as 10 to 12 people occupying it at any one time, a bit closer to the density numbers it was built for originally."

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