Southern Charm in Any Home
BY BARBARA BALLINGER
When you envision a Southern-style home, a variety of architectural motifs may come to mind — sturdy white pillars, a grand elliptical staircase, or a sprawling front porch.
But as you may know, there is not just one architectural style associated with the South. Depending on the region, you might see plantation-style homes, American Federal styles, and even French Creole styles. But Southern homes do tend to have one thing in common: charm, and lots of it.
By learning about the roots of Southern architecture, you’ll be able to spot influences in your market area and help your buyers find a home that is elegant yet comfortable for day-to-day living.
Fans of the movie “Gone With the Wind” may think that the Georgia plantation home of Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara is an indigenous Southern style. However, her Antebellum home — with its stately white columns, expansive porch, and symmetrical shape — is actually derived from Greek Revival and Roman architecture.
Such home features were common in homes around the United States — not just in the South — in the late 1700s to the mid 1800s. But there are some very good reasons why this look is commonly associated with the South, says William H. Bates III, an architect and professor of drawing and design at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, S.C.:
- The country’s greatest number of Greek Revival homes survived in the South because the area’s economy languished after the Civil War. Because many Southern home owners couldn’t afford to tear down or remodel their homes, as people were doing on other areas of the country, they had to leave their homes intact. By the time the economy improved in the 1940s, people were more interested in spending money to restore rather than replace the stock.
- Thomas Jefferson popularized the look with his Monticello home and the University of Virginia campus he designed. Both are located in Charlottesville, Va. In the late 1700s, he also played a role in designing the neoclassical U.S. Capitol building, which borrows from Greek and Roman styles.
Although Greek Revival was highly popular in the South, other architectural styles also took hold in the region during the pre-Civil War period. For example, Andrea Palladio’s classical influence can be seen in Georgian-style Drayton Hall, constructed near Charleston, S.C., in 1738. The Federal influence is visible in Nathaniel Russell’s 1808 Charleston home, and the Regency style in the 1820 Davenport House in Savannah, Ga.
Southern Variations Develop
In many Southern cities, regional variations on existing styles developed because of scarcity of land, the warm climate, and the terrain. Many houses were built several feet above ground to avoid dampness and flooding. Curved or straight staircases, embellished with iron railings, provided access to the front door, according to A Pictorial History of Architecture in America by G.E. Kidder Smith (American Heritage Publishing Co. Inc, 1976). Here’s a look at some of the home styles and features that emerged:
- Charleston Single. Until the Industrial Revolution, Charleston’s shipping trade made it one of the country’s most sophisticated cities and gave rise to the Charleston Single — a Federal-style house with a central hall flanked by two, or sometimes four, rooms on each level. The house was turned so that the front porch and two outside doors were located on one side. (When the outer “hospitality” door closest to the street was left opened, neighbors knew home owners were ready to receive visitors.) The side orientation gave owners privacy and a deep layout on the long, narrow lots. Doors and windows were situated to let in breezes, Bates says. People of different income levels lived in Charleston Single homes; The affluent sheathed homes in brick, while those of more modest means used wood.
- Savannah flying staircase. In Savannah, Ga., where James Oglethorpe designed the city in squares, many homes had piazzas, columns, and so-called “flying” staircases that spiraled without touching a wall. This type of staircase also became popular in nearby Charleston.
- Luxurious homes of Natchez, Miss. A combination of cotton and steamboat commerce made many residents of this riverfront city wealthy, and they used funds to build lavish homes. Natchez is said to have the country’s finest collection of early and mid-19th-century, Antebellum houses.
- French Creole. The influences from France, Spain, and the West Indies intermingled to produce a style known in the 1700s as French Creole, which became especially popular in New Orleans. Features include a hipped roof, galleries or porches, French windows, and wood or wrought-iron columns and detailing.
Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine [March, 2006 ] (http://www.realtor.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.
Southern Styles Still Going Strong
Southern style never fell out of favor, Bates says. Features of traditional Southern homes, like the type showcased in “Gone with the Wind,” are popular all over the country — in homes new and old.
When it comes to new construction, today’s buyers often insist on a high level of authenticity, Bates says. “I am approached more and more by clients who insist on period details and not the knock-off classicism often seen in the colonial-style Ranch of the 1950s and ’60s,” he says.
Why has Southern style been so endearing and enduring to so many buyers? It could be the grand features and spacious scale. But more likely, it’s the charm and genteel lifestyle that Southern architecture suggests.
SouthernLiving House Plans
Visit SouthernLiving magazine’s Web site to view an array of Southern-style house plans. You also can access free decorating tips, gardening guides, and recipes.
Antebellum Architecture: About.com
Learn about the roots of Antebellum architecture, reflecting the power and idealism of wealthy landowners in the South prior to the Civil War.
Architecture: University of Louisiana Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism
Browse various styles of architecture prevalent in Louisiana, from Antebellum plantation homes to Cajun homes.