Charleston Interior Architecture - Homes and Buildings

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Charleston Interior Architecture - Historic Downtown Charleston South Carolina


The interiors architecture of Homes and Buildings in Downtown Charleston


    As in any relationship, the fascination with Charleston comes at first with its alluring exteriors, but is made more lasting and complete with an appreciation of its inner beauty. Not only are there exquisite staircases, chandeliers, window boxes, mantels, doors, floors and fireplaces, but these grand ballrooms, foyers, hallways, kitchens, and sleeping chambers offer a timeless glimpse of the way so many generations have lived.

An excellent pantheon of Charleston's past is exhibited inside City Hall Council Chambers on
Broad Street, where the1801 Adamesque style building was remodeled during the Victorian period to include an elegant two-story inner chamber featuring a polychrome-paneled ceiling set above iron balconies, chandeliers, hardwood wall paneling, and council's original black walnut desks. Lining the walls is a famous collection of original portraits and busts, most notably, artist John Trumbull's famous oil of George Washington commissioned by the city after the first presidential visit to Charleston in 1791. Other fine portraits include revolutionary war hero Marquis de Lafayette, who visited Charleston in 1825; Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, painted from life as the general prepared for the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861; a stunning 1842 scene of the Firemasters of Charleston, as well as busts and images of others who shaped the city's past such as John C. Calhoun, Francis Marion, William Moultrie, Wade Hampton and Joel Poinsett. Have a few minutes? Take historic self-guided South of Broad battery tour neighborhood or visit our Charleston Top5 and fun facts page.

Another eye-opening interior lies in the domed 1904 Beaux Arts style Gibbes Museum of Art just around the corner on Meeting Street in the historic French Quarter district. Home to the historic Carolina Art Association, and distinguished by a refurbished design that incorporates traditional and modern motifs into varying perspectives of light, space and shape, the museum is noted for an international
flavor in exhibits that have ranged from Japanese wood-block prints, Picasso sculptures, and African quilts, as well as a heralded permanent collection of portraits, sculptures and miniatures that features such artists as Charles Wilson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, Samuel F. B. Morse, Thomas Sully, Charles Fraser and Edward Green Malbone. If you have minute visit the self-guided tour of the French Quarter.

Charleston also boasts a number of outstanding museum houses. The Nathaniel Russell House on Meeting Street, built in 1809, is considered among the country's finest examples of Adamesque residential architecture, and visitors are awed on entrance by the grand free-flying elliptical staircase that rises three stories without any apparent support.

Nathaniel Russell was a Rhode Island merchant who made a fortune in Charleston, and spent a then-considerable sum of $80,000 to adorn his home with lavish rooms highlighted by mirrored panels, detailed hand-carved cornices and window surrounds, and luxurious furnishings.

The Gabriel Manigualt house, at the corner of Meeting and John streets, was built in the Adamesque style in 1803, and features in gesso enrichment on doorways, mantels and friezes. Considered for demolition as a service center site in 1920, the house is now considered among Charleston's most important architectural specimens, featuring an original layer of lime between floor and subfloor to help ward off termites and decay, and typifies many a Charleston house whose history is built-in.

For example, the dark reddish hue of old heart-pine floors throughout the city sheds light on a timber industry for which Charleston was once famous. The great expanses of oak, cypress and pine surrounding the city were being milled on the peninsula as early as 1712, and before the steam engine, cutting saws were powered by both wind and water. Numerous mills sprung up along the banks of the Ashley and Cooper, where waterpower could be funneled through tidal sluices and wind could be harnessed with spinning sails.

For nearly two hundred years the favored flooring in finer Charleston homes was virgin long-leaf pine, which was during the winter when sap had drained into tree roots, providing timber that was harder and less porous. Floated by barge downstream to the riverside mills, logs were cut into boards, then cured in salt water basins to prevent termites and fungus, before being slowly air-dried to reduce moisture content. The result was a denser, more durable wood whose natural oxidation process continued to enhance its luster, creating a naturally-darkening color that cannot be duplicated with stains or paint, but actually grows richer with age.

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