Charleston Homes Have History

Dated: January 12 2017

Views: 348

21 Wentworth Street, Charleston SC 29401 - Photo 221 Wentworth Street

As you walk along the historic streets of Charleston, stop to appreciate the paint colors and architectural features of the beautiful homes. The Historic Charleston Foundation works hard to preserve the architectural, cultural, and historic character of the homes and environment in Charleston. There are several features of the homes on the peninsula that are classic to our city and have been maintained for many years.

The most notable feature of Charleston homes is visible before even entering the front door. The porch ceilings of most homes on the peninsula are painted “haint blue.” A “haint” is a spirit that has not yet moved on from the physical world, so it is wandering restlessly among us. These spirits cannot cross water, so homeowners believed that they could trick the spirits by painting their front porches with a shade of blue. The milk paint was made by mixing lime and local pigments in holes dug on the property of the home. Therefore, the shades of blue were similar, but none were identical.  

As time went on, residents realized that the blue paint on porch ceilings mimicked an endless sky and kept birds and insects away from their porches. Since the main ingredient in this milk paint was lime, that is most likely the real reason that insects stayed away. Yet, this feature on Charleston porches is iconic and brings a brightness to homes even as the sun goes down, so residents around the Lowcountry continue the tradition of a blue ceiling on porches.

Along these porches, windows are flanked by shutters. Although these shutters are mostly decorative now, they were originally used to protect windows from the strong winds and rains of hurricanes. These shutters were often a dark green, which is now known as Charleston Green. Although there are a few theories about where this green originated, the most accepted oral history comes from rebuilding the city after the Civil War. The Union sent down large buckets of black paint to help Charleston restore its devastated city. As Charleston has always been known for its bright colors, residents added green and yellow to the black paint to maintain color, but help their resources go further. This resulted in the dark green that many shutters and front doors hold today.

140 Broad Street, Charleston SC 29401 - Photo 21140 Broad Street

Once you step inside the home, many Charleston houses have raised wood panels covering the walls. Since plaster and sheetrock were many years away, wood was an attractive option to help insulate interior rooms. Cypress was a common wood throughout peninsula homes, as it used to be easy to obtain in this area.

As you make your way through the home, the kitchens were typically found in a separate building from the home. Since food was prepared over an open fire, it was a common issue that fires could occur. By separating the kitchen, that structure could burn down without affecting the rest of the home. Once the 1900s introduced stoves, Charleston residents connected the kitchen to the main home with a room called a “hyphen.” These rooms often have exposed brick walls, or even sections on the floor, from the original brick exterior.

Finally, exiting through the back door, Charleston homes are known for their lush gardens. Since winters are mild, and there is plenty of rainfall throughout the year, it is easy to maintain a garden full of blooming plants. These can be seen along the side or behind the historic peninsula homes, as you peer through the famous Charleston iron gates. These gates are seen throughout the city and are so ornate that jewelers often replicate their designs.

42 Church Street, Charleston SC 29401 - Photo 5

42 Church Street

Would you like to own a piece of history and live in one of these iconic residences? Or are you looking for a classic Charleston home in the surrounding Lowcountry? We can help you find your dream home! Email us at to start your home search today!

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Dan Lorentz

About Dan Lorentz, ABR, CRS, Founder & Team Leader of Greater Charleston Properties: Founder and Team Leader of the Greater Charleston Properties Team, Dan Lorentz, has lived in the Charleston, SC ....

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