Charleston's Historic Architecture


Charleston is known for so many things - but one of the first things you'll notice when you walk into the city for the very first time is it's beautiful buildings. What kind of architecture and history can be found here in the Lowcountry?

Charleston isn't just known for its beauty, beaches, and amazing food! The stunning homes and buildings that make up the Historic District are all Historical Landmarks that are one of the most popular draws for visitors and architecture lovers alike. Each home you come across is an amazing example of classic American Architecture. You will find so many different forms of architecture here in the Lowcountry including Colonial, Georgian, Regency, Federal, Adamesque, Classical Revival, Greek Revival, Italian, Gothic Revival, and Queen Ann. Charleston has over 2800 historical buildings that range from stunning homes, cobblestone streets, churches, and buildings that were once used for business. In this blog, we are going to be talking about some of the most popular types of architecture and elements of architecture that you will find yourself surrounded by at any corner of this beautiful city.

Charleston Single House

  • These were dominantly used as residential buildings.

  • There is not just one singular style of these homes, there are many different styles of the Charleston Single House

  • These types of homes were built during the 18th and 19th centuries and were adapted from the English Row House plan.

  • The Charleston Single House can be built out of any home building materials.

  • It is a detached building and is one room wide and two rooms deep. It is at least two stories tall.

  • The eldest Charleston Single House dates back to the 1730s.

  • They are tiered with piazzas that have large windows opening on them from inside the home that run the length of the house along one side.

  • They sit asymmetrically to the building lot and are built a lot closer to the street than most homes. The one-room side of the home faces the street and allows for a side yard.

  • The way the house is built, longways and facing either South or West, help catch the sea breeze to provide cooling and ventilation.

  • They are known for their street-facing doors that lead to the piazza's and not right to the house.

  • The front door is located at the center of the lower level of the piazza.

The Double House

  • These homes have four rooms on each floor with a center hallway

  • The home faces the street and doesn't run the length of the street like the Charleston Single House.

  • Some have side or front-facing piazzas but don't catch the sea breeze as naturally or as easily as the Charleston Single House


  • A piazza is a tiered, covered porch or veranda

  • They are located on one of the long sides of the home.

  • They are almost always on the side of the home facing South or West for the max amount of shade, cool breeze, and ventilation.

  • Very often a piazza has decorative columns, balusters, and railings that can come in a huge variety of different styles.


  • After one of the most devastating earthquakes in South Carolina, if not United States History in 1886, many homes were rebuilt and reinforced with long iron stabilizing rods. Each of these rods were anchored in placed and attached to the outside of the home with iron bolts and plates. These plates were either left plain or were beautifully decorated to give their appearance on the home something a little special. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors depending on the materials that were used to create the iron or what was added to it.

Famous Charleston Colors

  • Charleston is known for two colors in particular, even though Rainbow Row boasts some of the most beautiful colors the Lowcountry has to offer. But Haint Blue and Charleston Green are some of the most popular historical colors that can be found here in Charleston. Haint Blue comes from the Gullah/Geechee culture and ranges from light bluish-green to aqua or sky blue. These colors were used to paint Piazza ceilings, window frames, or shutters and doors. A Haint is a wandering spirit that is unable to cross water but can be harmful to those inside of a home that it's trying to enter. So, many painted these parts of their home to make it look like water to the Haint's so they wouldn't enter their homes. Some also believed it tricked spiders and wasps to also avoid coming into their homes.

  • Charleston Green is found on a lot of shutters and doors of many historical homes that were built or rebuilt after the Civil War. Union troops demanded Charlestonian residents to paint their homes with a dark black paint that they provided, as a symbol of losing the war. As an act of defiance, they added yellow paint to make it their own. The mixture of the two created a very deep dark green. You might have to look closely, but you'll be able to see the green peek out.

Colonial Homes

  • These homes were popular during pre-revolutionary wartimes, about 1600-1700.

  • They have a low foundation with 2-3 levels

  • They have multi-pane windows.

  • They have symmetrical facades

  • Usually sports pillars and columns

  • They are known for their beautiful entry halls


  • These homes are very square and have symmetrical facades.

  • They were popular between 1774-1820

  • They are built with rough-faced limestone trim

  • Usually built with stone arches

  • They are known to have granite flanking the front door

  • They have 5 windows across the front of the house

  • Always have chimneys

  • They have a centered front door that is decorated with crown molding

  • These homes were the inspiration to what became Georgian Style Plantations

  • They also boast two-story porches


  • These homes were built and were very popular after the Revolutionary War between 1700-1820s

  • They have a central floor plan

  • They have several chimneys, staircases, balconies, and shutters.

  • They have narrow windows framing the front door

  • They are known for arched Palladian-style windows

Classical Revival

  • Also called Neo-Classical homes

  • They were popular before the Civil War

  • They are decorated with large columns

  • They have beautiful high arches

  • These homes are known to have triangular roofs

  • They were designed to show social prominence

Gothic Revival

  • These homes were also called Neo-Gothic

  • They were popular and built until the 1900s.

  • They are known to have decorative designs, scalloping, and hood molding.

  • They are known to have pointed windows, pinnacles, and parapets.

  • They are famous for having a castle-like appearance, with castle-like towers and pointed arched windows.

  • They have elongated vertical facades with steeple pitched roofs

There are so many other architectural trends and styles of buildings that you can find in Charleston - but this top ten covers some of the most important you will see and find in this beautiful city. Now that you know a little more - have you seen some of these trends used in modern architecture? Are there certain styles that specifically make you think of Charleston or are inspiring you to build your dream home? Take a walk down in the Historical District once in a while - and see if you can name some of the topics we talked about in this blog. We guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Tim Hilkhuijsen