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The Best of Both Worlds

Greek Revival meets Low Country vernacular in Spring Island, SC.

Project: Plantation House, Spring Island, SC

Architects: Historical Concepts, Peachtree City, GA; James L. Strickland, Aaron Daily, Chris Carrigan, project team

Interior Designers: Ruth Edwards Antiques and Interiors, Hilton Head Island, SC

Landscape Architect: Don Hooten, Decatur, GA

General Contractor: Pinckney Brothers, Inc., Hilton Head, SC

By Nicole V. Gagné

A successful marriage of architectural styles requires a deep understanding of each style and a high degree of confidence in the execution of the design. A Low Country Greek plantation house completed last year on Spring Island, SC, stands as a rare instance of success in this regard – a success attributable to the architects and planners of the Peachtree City, GA-based firm Historical Concepts.

Founded by James L. Strickland in 1982, Historical Concepts is a multi-discipline firm that utilizes traditional principles of architectural planning and design in new construction. With the creation of the clients' 5,561-sq.ft. house, the firm shows its signature skill of blending tradition and imagination. "One of the owners had grown up in Newnan, GA, a town with a lot of great old Greek Revival houses, and he would walk past these houses and think about how he would one day like to live in a similar house," says Aaron Daily, who led the design team for the project. "His wife, on the other hand, really fell in love with the architectural style of Spring Island, the Low Country coastal vernacular, which features a lot of porches, big openings and high ceilings."

Combining two styles that share some basic elements but are often articulated differently from one another was a challenge. Greek Revival is very symmetrical and formal, while the Low Country style tends to be just the opposite: asymmetrical and relatively informal. "We didn't want the house to have two completely different characters," says Daily, "but did want to create somewhat different feels to accommodate everybody's needs. Making a successful transition from formal to informal was perhaps the biggest challenge in designing this home."

The solution was as simple as it was inspired: different sides of the house were designed to express its varying styles. The front of the house is symmetrical, but the porches on the side and back break up the massing. When approaching the house from the rear, it is less formal, taking on more of the casual Low Country character.

The architectural elements also vary depending on their positioning. From the front, the residence is a textbook example of a grand Greek Revival home – meticulously symmetrical, with large windows, an elaborate door surround and a series of carefully placed columns. Yet even here, there are already quiet hints of the Low Country style, in the hand-crimped cooper roof, operable louvered shutters and pier foundation.

A pier foundation is a Low Country staple, intended to improve ventilation through and under a house; here it also served to ease the house's blend of styles without detracting from the formality of the front elevation. "This particular foundation is actually a sealed, conditioned crawlspace," says Daily. "We wanted the open-pier look of the Low Country vernacular, but we sealed it in to deal with the humidity of the coastal environment." The pervasive humidity of that region also informed the selection of materials throughout the exterior. "Everything on the exterior of the house was chosen to reduce maintenance," says Daily. Historical Concepts used either synthetic materials – such as cellular PVC for the trim, which does not expand and contract as much as wood does – or natural materials that are very resistant to decay and mildew, such as Ipe wood for the porch flooring.

The design of the house was also somewhat dictated by the existence of a guest house and garage that were already on the site. Given the existing structures and setback regulations, there was limited space remaining in which to place the house. Historical Concepts situated the house on one of the only locations available, a natural low spot on the site. "We were actually able to use that sunken spot to our advantage," says Daily, "by lowering the court in front of the house." The formality of the front façade called for proportions that would have put the home in conflict with local height restrictions. "By lowering the front court with an imperceptible slope, we were able to achieve both goals," says Daily. "We took what was a perceived negative and worked it to our advantage."

Accommodating the guest house and garage also brought up the issue of style. "The first design issue we had to deal with was how to design the site so that the existing structures, although secondary in stature, would still complement the new home and the overall compound," says Daily. Rather than try to match the existing style, Historical Concepts designed the main house separate from influences from the outbuildings. The firm then used complementary exterior paint colors to update and tie in the guest house and garage with the main house. The firm also collaborated with landscape architect Don Hooten of Decatur, GA, to slightly shield the outbuildings and focus attention on the house.

The house's initial impression of grandiosity is evoked not only by its elegant Greek Revival formality, but also by its "fictional" history. This impression was carefully worked into the house's design, with wings on either side that are suggestive of sympathetic additions that had been built onto the residence over the years. The back porch appears to have "originally" spanned the entirety of the rear façade, with portions filled in with either screening or glass as the requirements for the home changed over time. "That's very characteristic of how we approach the design – especially with a large home like this one," explains Daily. "Our goal is always to create a new house that looks like it's been there for a long time, and one of our strategies, which we call 'generational architecture,' is to create the look that the house might have been added to or modified over time, through the use of varying materials, varying scales and slight variations in style."

The generational-architecture strategy was also employed on the interior to enhance the blend of Greek Revival and Low Country styles. "As you move from the front of the house towards the rear, there are elements that tend to get a little less formal," Daily notes. The stair hall is formal, as is the great room in the back, but as one moves into the den or the hearth room and kitchen, the spaces are softened and more relaxed. It again steps down in formality from the kitchen to the mudroom.

The most interesting use of generational architecture is the story surrounding three chimneys that come from the great room and the screened porch on the side. In an original design, the flues came up right through the master bathroom and took up a lot of space, so Historical Concepts decided to split them to go around the shower in the master bathroom. "We incorporated some of the chimney," says Chris Carrigan, a member of Historical Concepts' design team, "again playing into the idea that the porch had been filled in to accommodate a large master bath, and therefore the shower had to be built around the existing brick." This also allowed Historical Concepts to keep the chimneys symmetrical along the front elevation.

Contemporary technology is integrated without compromising the house's traditional design features: There is an elevator, but it was incorporated in such a way that it is essentially concealed behind paneling. "The general contractor, Pinckney Brothers of Hilton Head, SC, is a family team of craftsman who are skilled at executing even the most challenging details," says Daily. "The carpenters did a spectacular job of cutting all the trim and working with the hinges to make them as invisible as possible."

Completed in 2006, the Spring Island residence satisfies not only the needs of the clients but also regional building restrictions, the physical limitations of the site and the character of pre-existing structures. It is also a rare happy marriage of Classical formality and vernacular informality.  

 

 

 
 

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