There are people who bend and break the rules, people who bend and break to follow the rules, and the select few who learn to take advantage of them.
Cothran Harris has spent 25 years designing beach cottages and resort houses, where strict building codes dictate what percentage of a structure can be heated and air-conditioned, whether a porch can be covered, how much permanent structure can be built on a floodplain zone and more but instead of letting the codes restrict his designs, Harris has learned to embrace the rules.
“Everybody has rules. Rules are not an excuse for doing something badly or in an ordinary manner. If you’re good at what you’re doing and you work hard, you can take the rules and use them and still do something that is attractive and appropriate,” Harris said.
Whether designed as a space to relax and recharge or greet and entertain guests, Harris sees porches as an essential component of any well-designed house; an outdoor living space that mirrors and extends the function of the house’s indoor space. When Harris designed the Smith cottage on South Channel Drive, he used the rule restricting permanent structures below the floodplain line to create a ground floor deck with a stunning view of Motts Channel. Instead of throwing the house on pilings, the deck gives the homeowners an additional 1,000-square-foot space for entertaining guests.
“Because of flood zones, the bottom of the house has to be open, and yet, that doesn’t mean it has to be abandoned, either,” Harris said. “This outside room is a large gathering area. If you had friends and family down for Fourth of July and it was raining, you have this covered area you could use to stage a large function.”
Plumbing and electrical work on the ground level are limited, but the space will include an outdoor shower and lighting.
Randy Williams, broker of Hardee, Hunt & Williams, said homeowners can also use the ground level space to plant a small garden.
“I’ve even seen little gardens underneath houses where they had some diffused sunlight. I’ve seen some areas screened in for oyster roasts, a lot of hammocks swinging under houses,” Williams said. “Down on the ground in the summertime, there’s quite a bit of enjoyment to be had.”
The design of Alicia Gregory’s newly constructed vacation house on Waynick Boulevard was driven by her desire for a wraparound porch system, but she was pleasantly surprised with the way Charleston-based architect Glenn Keyes also used the space beneath the house to create a deck complete with an outdoor shower and benches.
“It’s a neat little design,” Gregory said. “We’ll have really pretty lighting so if we have an oyster roast or a fish fry, we can sit out there and enjoy being by my dad and husband, who love to cook.”
Williams suggested porches be designed for solar orientation and cooling southeast winds in the summertime.
“I show a lot of houses that have ample porches and decks that never get used. I would strongly encourage any of my clients to work with an architect and find the optimal place for a porch,” Williams said.
Gregory said her porches were designed with the sun and wind in mind, with different areas of the wraparound porch offering sun, shade and breezes rolling in from the ocean.
“We wanted for everybody to be comfortable, to able to enjoy all the pretty views and get outside and feel the breezes,” Gregory said.
Williams said some homebuyers might not know they are interested in outdoor living space until they see a home with innovative, thoughtfully designed porches.
“It almost never comes up in the initial interview, but it almost always gets noticed if it’s a well-designed porch,” he said.