Down a long dirt driveway in an unlikely part of town, hidden amongst ramshackle Charleston homes in various states of deterioration, lies a project of such inspiration and passion, the energy of it is palpable. Dramatic I know, but true it is.
This is a post about local design consultants and visionary developers – about people who push the bounds of the imagination while giving respect to Charleston and her historic architecture. People who use modern building technologies coupled with old school building styles in attempt to make homes that are comfortable, but that will last generations. And those that don’t just take same ole same ole for their answer.
This is infill real estate at its finest.
Gerald J. Moran (Jerry), George Holt and Andrew Gould of New World Byzantine, and Mark Regalbuto of ReNew Urban are four such people. Having been an admirer of New World Byzantine‘s work for some time now, I was happy to meet Andrew in person on Thursday and speak with George on Friday. The company’s projects at Tully Alley, Charles St, Sullivan’s Island and around the country consistently require the viewer to navigate into a different realm of understanding. They are mostly unlike anything we have seen in the past 50 years, yet are at the same time, familiar to our genetic memories.
Mark, on the other hand, was one of the first people I met when I moved to Charleston, and I have had the chance to see innumerable projects of his come to fruition. Mark and his team at ReNew Urban are known for their meticulous attention to detail in their restoration projects and an eye for preserving every single possible piece of historic architecture. Here’s an article about his project on 48 Bull St, and here are some photos of it that I took many years ago.
So let’s go visit 264-268 Ashley Avenue.
You may recall that address (and New World Byzantine) when I wrote about it after my first visit during the Master Preservationist Program in March in a post called Asphalt & Infill, Just how smart are we? At that time only part of it had been built with the help of builder David House. Today two additional structures are now in progress.
To truly understand the heart and soul of this project, we need to go back more than half a decade to 2005, and acknowledge the original man-with-a-dream-and-a-plan, Jerry Moran. From 2005 through 2010, Jerry slowly acquired each house and lot from those who needed or wanted to sell them. As he commissioned the design for 266 Ashley Ave and renovated the home, he subsequently sold pieces of the lots to those with like-minded visions and thus here we are today. Without him, none of this would exist.
George Holt of New World Byzantine agrees, stating that “Fine design and urbanism seldom come from the designers alone…as other “dreamers” are always needed to risk their money on expensive experiments that have an equal chance of failing as they do succeeding.”
In the words of T.S. Eliot – Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
So let’s see how far these dreamers went…
The first additional home is a tiny Palladian Villa, designed by New World Byzantine, and its owner, Reid Burgess, a visionary gentleman from NYC. As Reid says, “Every town needs a castle. Every castle should be built by the same spirit that pulls kids into the woods to build a tree fort.”
And spirit it has.
ReNew Urban is building the home, using every effort to incorporate historic elements into the unique design. For this one, each brick used in the keystones, exterior accents, cornices and interior fireplace was hand-selected for color and texture from various sites around town. These bricks were handmade a century or two ago, and put to artful use again. The interior was designed to be a flexible space, with the kitchen hidden behind panels that can be opened for cooking and entertaining, and closed again to quiet the mind and the space.
Reid says, “The small scale is deliberate and that’s part of the beauty of a classical building – its scalability. All the materials are solid and authentic, nothing synthetic, and the masonry block you see in the photos will obviously be stuccoed over…Small doesn’t require a lot of stuff to make it beautiful….You only need a little. So the whole building is very much about making something beautiful and enduring, but also with a great spirit of economy!”
The other home nearing completion is a labor of love. The build of it is being spearheaded by Rick Rockwell of Rockwell Construction and ReNew Urban using old school technology – with mortise and tenon joints, tongue and groove wood and more…
This diminutive home is large on space, with a living area and kitchen on the first floor, a master suite on the second floor with a Jefferson Bed and large bath, a guest room and another bath. Double timber frame piazzas with doors opening out along the length give it a light and airy feel, overlooking a soon-to-be garden where eventually there will be another small home. Of special note: the timber frame elements were built by faculty and students of the American College of the Building Arts. This piazza is their first substantial timber frame to be installed in Charleston.
And if that wasn’t enough, these homes use geothermal heating and cooling like the other ones in this project.
So what do you think? Is there inspiration? Is there passion? Is this a departure from the same old same ole? I hear a resounding yes. So the next time you are sitting at the light on Ashley Ave, waiting to turn right on the Crosstown, put down your phone and look to the right. Look down that long dirt driveway and realize there are risk-takers and dreamers in your midst. And it’s all coming true.
In case any of you are interested in other current work by these gentlemen, just look for their signs around town.