Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Down a long, U-shaped gravel drive and surrounded by palm trees and Spanish-moss-shrouded live oaks, the Low-Country Residence opens onto Shem Creek in the Charleston, South Carolina, suburb of Mount Pleasant. On a cloudless spring afternoon, as a pelican coasts on the breeze and pleasure boats cruise along the creek to the nearby marina, it’s hard to imagine the harsh turn the weather can take here. Considering that, Raleigh, North Carolina–based architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, has designed a house that takes nature’s good with its bad by inviting the sublime light and views in while also protecting against the elements. “The house feels remarkably open,” says Harmon, “but at the same time, it is a place of refuge and shelter.”
The client, a doctor, wanted a home with a large living area that he could share with his son, and ample work space for restoring old cars and boats. An avid bird-watcher and fisherman, he envisioned a house of glass that would bring him closer to the salt marsh and the variety of wildlife it attracts.
After investigating many locations on the 1.5-acre property, the client and architect decided to build on the obvious one—the creek-facing footprint of the small ranch house that had previously occupied the site and that they dismantled and donated to Habitat for Humanity. “On all of my projects, the site is more important than the client,” says Harmon. “The site has been there longer than they have and will be there longer than they will.” Maximizing the stunning view was a temptation too difficult to resist. But like most good things in life, it came with a price: On the southwest elevation, extensive glazing would turn the house into an oven as the hot southern sun moved across the sky. And there were other natural forces to contend with; notably, the plot sits squarely in a hurricane zone and, perhaps surprisingly, an earthquake zone as well.
Long and narrow, the Low-Country Residence has its gaze focused on the creek and the lap pool that runs parallel to it. The simple, single-story design includes an ample, double-height living area flanked by bedrooms on either side, and a guest bedroom in the back. A stair leads up to a balcony suspended from the roof beams that spans the length of the house, giving access to utility and storage areas and offering a bird’s-eye view down into the living space, the large garage, and even the bedrooms.