Is it possible to combine two styles of architecture that originated from two different areas of the country with different climates and make the design work? The answer is yes. That is what architect David C. Bennett did with a residence in the town of Avalon, New Jersey when he used the Charleston low country style as inspiration but made the home suitable for the mid-Atlantic climate.
Bennett's colleague Fred Sykes of Gilbert and Sykes Builders Inc. introduced him to the clients and they hit it off right away. Bennett explains how the design came about. "I'm a big fan of a lot of regional American styles, including shingle style, low country Charleston style and some of the Gulf Coast Caribbean styles. A lot of contemporary architecture in Avalon had been mimicking architectural styles of homes from Long Island or Cape Cod. I suggested the Charleston low country style which seemed appropriate because in the summer Avalon's climate is similar to what you would find in Savannah or Charleston. The big porches and the classical detailing are typical of that region. The clients were really delighted with that and had some of their own ideas as well."
"The house has brick, which is something you would see in New Jersey and also down in Charleston. Sometimes people introduce stone, which is really more appropriate for a shingle style house in New England, so I thought that was very important that they had the brick, and the brick fireplace. It just made a lot of sense. We also used Hardie plank siding which is a linear plank that is really what you would see down in that region, in the low country. I'm not a slave to style so sometimes I will introduce shingles which are more from New England, but in this case I was pretty faithful to it."
Even though Bennett's main inspiration for the project was the Charleston style, he managed to make the design of the interior much more contemporary by creating large spaces. He explains, "I do a fair amount of restoration and renovation work in the Philadelphia suburbs and there are a lot of lovely 20th century houses and some of them are quite large. It gets a little bit out of control with houses that are 6,000 or 7,000 square feet or more. By and large, if people have 2 or 3 kids you really don't need more than 4 or 5 bedrooms and you really don't need a house larger than 4,000 or even 5,000 square feet unless you're doing a lot of entertaining. The rooms that people expect because of what they've seen, including a family room, living room, dining room, tend to be much bigger than what these traditional styles can handle. That's what I started with and in this house I think I was pretty successful. There is a big living room, dining room and kitchen and they're all connected, but to modulate the forms on the outside of this Charleston style and to have these big spaces on the inside, if you're not careful it can kind of get away from you. People who have seen it are always stunned at how big the house is inside and I'm always thrilled with that because my intention is to make it look like a 19th century Charleston style house but still have the kind of size spaces that people expect in the 21st century. That's always the struggle. And this house is about 4,000 square feet. To make it look like it's not too big is always a challenge."
"I think the porches helped a lot, which was intentional particularly in Avalon, Stone Harbor and Ocean City. The houses in north New Jersey are really different, at least the towns I'm familiar with like Bay Head, Mantoloking and Spring Lake. Those are really bedroom communities and they have these wonderful old houses that are suburban residences that people live in year round. You see similar things in Cape May. They're really more traditional houses. If you go further down the coast you find beach houses that people from New York, Philadelphia or DC would come to mainly in the summer. A lot of people in these beach houses live on the second floor to capture the breezes and that's what I did here. This house is about two blocks from the beach and about 85% of the houses in that area are at this second level. People go out to their front porch and see their neighbors who are also on the second floor and everyone wants to be above to capture the breezes, so that was really a part of the design as well. It's something that's really common down there and it's interesting because when you go to really old communities like Cape May, it's totally different because people didn't live on the second floor when those houses were built, they lived on the first floor. So those are some things that I brought to this to make it different."
The construction phase of the project took a little over a year and the design phase took about five or six months. Bennett explains, "The design part really continued throughout the construction. I worked very closely with them with selecting the different finishes. They did some interesting things. The front door is Sapele mahogany and I think it makes it really special, as it has that orangey-red color. That's something you wouldn't really see in the south, you'd tend to see a door that might be brightly painted in the south but not mahogany. On the inside they went with bamboo floors which are very sustainable because they're fast growing."
Bennett adds, "For the most part, I don't know that vocabulary-wise, it's much different from the south. I think I'm making it more open which tends to be more southern. That's actually what's fantastic about New Jersey and Maryland is that they're kind of in the middle. They're not as cold as New England and they're not as hot as the south so you can draw on styles from both places which is something I'm thrilled about."
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