Vernacular Architecture: The "I" House

A typical southern house was the "I" house, named because of the tall narrow profile. This house was two stories with a simple gable roof and a shed roofed one story porch in front and a shed roofed addition on the rear. Typically, there were masonry chimneys on each end of the house. This simple house was one room deep which maximized the amount of light and cross ventilation. It had high ceilings which allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. The one story porch allowed the second floor sleeping rooms to have ventilation on three sides. Occasionally there would be a double porch on the front. Kitchens were usually in a separate building behind the house; this kept the heat from the fireplace out of the main house and also protected the main house in the event of a kitchen fire. There are a number of "I" houses to be found in Beaufort and the surrounding counties. The challenge with the "I" house is incorporating the necessities of modern day living, such as kitchens, bathrooms, closets and laundry rooms. Frederick and Frederick Architects worked on an "I" house in Beaufort that has an important provenance.

In 1839, Robert Smalls was born a slave on this property. In the civil was he became a U.S. Army captain. He went on to serve in the SC House of Representative, SC Senate and was a United States Congressman for 5 terms. After the civil war, Robert Smalls purchased this and adjacent properties. It is believed that this circa 1855 house was moved to the property as part of the Smalls estate.

The original house was two rooms over two; it appears that a one story wing was added when the house was moved. The double front porches were removed many years ago and replaced with a small stoop. Typical of historic houses, there was only one inadequate bathroom and virtually no closets.

Robert Smalls is an important historical figure in South Carolina, so it was critical to respect the integrity of the house while providing the basic necessities in bathrooms and storage. We added a small Lshaped second floor addition to house two new bathrooms, master bedroom closet and a small third bedroom. The addition backs up to the existing chimney and we left it exposed in the bathroom. We enclosed an existing small porch to create a breakfast room with a new porch beyond.

In restoring the double front porches, the house now looks like the typical Beaufort house that it is instead of some foreign transplant. The clients desire for a screened porch was met with a free standing enclosure that respects the scale of the historic home and encloses a courtyard on the south of the house.