Last weekend, my boyfriend and I had the opportunity to take a walking tour during the 70th annual Festival of Houses and Gardens in Charleston. Tickets for these tours are usually $50/person, but I happened to win two tickets at a silent auction during a fundraising event. These tours allow you to step inside the private homes and gardens of Charleston’s historic residences. While there are docents on location who provide the history and background of each home or garden, the tour is self-paced, so you can visit the residences in any order.
We chose the East Battery tour as this area has a special place in our hearts. Not only did this route include large historic homes within view of the water, but Waterfront Park (close to East Battery) is also where we had our very first date! Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the homes, so I can only describe the interior splendor and majesty of these amazing historic homes through words.
First Stop: Rainbow Row
Starting our self-guided tour on the north end of East Battery, our first stop was the beautiful cerulean blue house that sits on the famed Rainbow Row. A brick entryway led to the front door of this lovely three-story home. The living area, like all the other rooms, featured rare decor and antique furniture. The wall along the far side of the house, as well as the walls framing the staircase, depicted images of old historic Charlestowne in large mural paintings.
In each bedroom was a dark wood four-post bed frame, hand-carved with pineapples and intricate designs. The rooms also housed large white old-style fireplaces laced with tiny seaside detailing. The master bedroom didn’t just have a walk-in closet. It had a walk-in “dressing room” that was bigger than most downtown bedrooms, with an entire wall of closet space. The dressing room connected to two his & hers bathrooms. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there were TWO large, modern design bathrooms in the master bedroom!
As this was one of the more iconic houses, and one of the few homes that allowed us to walk through their entire house, this was one of my favorites.
South Adgers Wharf & Vanderhorst Tenement Garden
Our next stop was a house on a cobblestone side street off East Bay. I love the look of these streets, but if you’ve ever driven your low-riding sedan over bumpy cobblestone-it’s the worst! Not to mention trying to walk down one in heels! I definitely wore my comfy shoes for this.
It was just a quick walk through the first floor at this home, but it was still an interesting one. The owners had mixed historic elements, such as the long 12-seater wooden dining table and shabby chic cupboard display accents, with modern photography, abstract art, and exposed beams on the ceiling. Eclectic, but in a well-fitting sort of way. The backyard opened up to a huge manicured garden with creeping vine, squared stone walkways, and pruned shrubs.
The third stop was just a tour of their garden, with the entry located down the side of an exposed brick building. The actual garden in the back stretched long, partitioned into 3 sections, one with a patio table, one with benches and a statue, and one with an open space.
1 Water Street
We were told that this house suffered terrible flood damage when the last hurricane hit. The owners had only just moved back in a couple weeks prior once repairs and renovations were complete.
Once upon a colonial time, houses were built over piles of sand instead of setting down concrete foundations. Upon entering, you could immediately feel that the floors had shifted and were not level. This is common with historical houses in Charleston, and walking through often leaves you with a feeling of dizziness or vertigo!
1 Atlantic Street
This was also an interesting half historic, half modern home. Once you entered the front door, the foyer extended into a hallway that opened up into a living area at the back of the house.
From the front of the home, the room on the left was a sitting room of sorts. All the furniture matched the blue and white color scheme, and faced toward the white fireplace. Turning right from the entrance, you’d walk into the dining room with a large table. We were told that the pastel artwork on the walls were the work of the homeowner’s brother.
Though I don’t remember the exact details, the docent explained that renovations had closed off the dining space from the newly remodeled kitchen, and made room for the enclosed patio across the kitchen. From the patio, you could access a beautiful side garden full of bright flowers, with a view of the water.
This house may have been my favorite residence to visit. Either this, or the one on Rainbow Row. Back in the day, kitchens were not connected to the main house. Kitchens were built into a separate, smaller building several yards from the main house, in order to reduce the risk of a fire spreading and burning everything down.
The owners connected the main house to the small “kitchen” building in a beautiful way. Since it would be silly now to have the kitchen so far away, a new kitchen with high-end modern appliances was built into the main house. From this kitchen, you walk down a few short steps into what used to be the old kitchen.
The tiny building was originally two stories: the kitchen on the first floor and slave quarters upstairs. There were two fireplaces in the kitchen, and two fireplace upstairs, one in each room of the slave quarters. The owners of the home restored the gorgeous exposed brick on the inside, and removed the flooring of the second story, so that the soft brick walls ran all the way up to super high ceilings that exposed original wooden beams.
Although I’ve tried my best, words really can’t describe how amazing and stunning this part of the house was. What was once a kitchen and slave quarters was now a beautifully rustic living room with windows that let in lots of sunlight and a view of the lovely garden outside.
Now we were just across the water, watching people on the elevated walkway on East Battery, high above the ocean waters. East Battery curves into South Battery, where the houses on our next stops faced White Point Gardens.
2 South Battery
We popped into a carriage house of the next-door mansion that had been converted into its own very large residence. Once you passed the gate, you walked through the garden and patio. The raised foyer led to a very bright green-themed sitting room to your left, then onward to the dining room straight on through. The kitchen was also more modern, with all-white cabinets on granite countertops.
20 South Battery
The last house on our tour was the most historic, as it was the most untouched, free of any major renovations or modern touches. While we only had access to the first floor, we were met with extremely high ceilings. The original tiling in the entryway was mostly intact, except for where flood damage had shifted and cracked it.
A spacious ballroom, surely used to throw Great Gatsby-style parties, had been turned into an art gallery by the new owner, who is an artist. She had revealed the original fresco in the hallway walls, and painted murals on them. Passing through a dark library, we were led into the dining area, which also had original tile flooring and high fresco ceilings with moulding designs. While the owner had decorated the walls with her own artwork, no part of this house felt modern at all. It was as if all the history was held in by the walls of the building and kept intact all these years.
We had a lot of fun walking down Memory Lane and learning so much about these historic homes. This part of town is not one we visit often, so it was fun to walk around and explore places that weren’t even on the map. I would recommend anyone visiting Charleston between March-April, or even locals, to take one of these tours. The Historic Foundation offers house and garden tours in several Charleston districts, as well as special events at a variety of locations. Learn more here.