An empty lot and new construction in Charleston’s elite South of Broad neighborhood are rare indeed. But here was a lot that once housed a formal side garden, and Cindy and George Hartley were anxious to put up their dream house on it. They had, accordingly, assembled a team to make it a perfect fit both inside and out.
“It’s a new house, but I wanted it to fit the street and didn’t want it to take away from the historic ambience at all,” says Cindy. The Hartleys had built homes before, so they knew the process and came to the table with four pages of typed notes.
On the couple’s dream team were builders Sheppard Construction, led by Tre Sheppard “It was no question after we met Tre that he was the one,” says George.
Tre Sheppard and his brother Rus founded Sheppard Construction, a custom homebuilding and remodeling company, 18 years ago. Since then, the two have built or remodeled nearly 100 homes in the Lowcountry and surrounding area. “As the builder,” Tre Sheppard says, “I’m the one who has to bring everyone together and coordinate the work. That’s a challenge on any job—and we like to think we’re really good at that.”
Along with Dufford Young Architects, Elizabeth Sullivan Interior Design, Wertimer & Associates and the team’s other experts, Sheppard’s group worked to put into place exterior details that would make the structure as at home on the street as its venerable neighbors.
When the homeowners requested stucco with an old feel, the team accomplished this by bricking the house and applying special plaster stucco over it. “The only way we do stucco is the old way—on top of brick, not on a wood frame—because it’s the best way,” says Sheppard. “Among other advantages, it eliminates water problems. It’s just like the real thing you find throughout the historic district.”
Artisans hand-applied a custom stain on the stucco for a finish similar to Venetian plaster. Custom-milled, impact-resistant, floor-to-ceiling mahogany windows are set off by stone surrounds that enhance the “old style” of the new home. The full length of the windows brings down the scale of the new, elevated structure by putting the sill at the floor line. “This creates a connection with the position of windows on adjacent dwellings,” explains architect John Young of Dufford Young. “Our goal was to create a home similar to the height, scale and mass of the existing streetscape while meeting flood zone requirements for elevating new construction.”
Other ways the team integrated the home into the historic landscape: The entry stair breaks up the verticality of the facade, and the front forecourt with its formal garden is elevated 16 inches above the sidewalk to visually reduce the height of the base of the house.
One of the early challenges was limited space. Just getting 65-foot steel pilings onto the lot was daunting. “Fitting everything in, even equipment, was difficult,” says Sheppard. Yet he and his team engineered it, taking into account small yet meaningful details like respecting the neighbors’ favorite parking spots.
Outside, the team worked to subtly insert the residence into an existing streetscape, while, inside, they created a floor plan full of natural light and open yet clearly defined spaces.
One of the home’s highlights is the kitchen casework with its hexagonal paneling.
“That required a high level of detail and coordination, as did the integrated trim work throughout the house,” notes Young. Working hand in hand with talented carpenter Chuck Allen, Sheppard’s team created a kitchen showpiece where trim, cabinetry, casing and paneling blend for a seamless look.
“It’s as if it’s one piece,” says Sheppard. “Everything is tied together, all the reveals are even, the corners are all symmetrical. It’s the most difficult and complicated kitchen we’ve ever done. There was nowhere to hide any defects, so it had to be perfect.”
Intricate cabinetry and woodwork are featured throughout the home, including the jewelbox paneling that defines the couple’s sitting room. Sheppard also points to the hidden doorway in the upstairs hallway. “We needed a closet there but didn’t want the visual clutter of door trim,” he says. “Hiding the closet by keeping the trim consistent with the wall gives this area a clean line.”
“Tre was good at anticipating things, at getting everyone to agree before it was too late,” says George.
“We appreciate the Sheppard team’s ability to execute complex details and provide the highest level of fit and finish on our projects,” says Young, who’s worked with Sheppard on numerous custom builds and redesigns.
“We like to work with all team members and make sure everybody’s on the same page,” says Sheppard. “But above all, we try to make it a fun time, to make it as stress-free as possible.”
Cindy agrees: “We had a good time!”
M.S. Lawrence is a freelance writer based in Charleston.