Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Honeymoon - Part One: Charleston, South Carolina

I can't believe it's the week before Christmas and I'm just blogging about our (Sept/October) honeymoon.  My sincere apologies for the delay. I have so much to share with you, but without further ado...the honeymoon:

Charleston, late September

Our honeymoon started with a fire at the Chicago airport, which almost grounded us.  We arrived in Charleston much later than we planned (but at least it was the same day!) 

We had four days in downtown Charleston.   Unfortunately for us the weather was uncooperative, so didn't initially show Charleston at its best.   The first two days were as hot as Dante's inferno (we thought October would be a little cooler), with each day in the high nineties and extremely humid.  Definitely not ideal for walking and sightseeing.  I felt sweaty, steamy and grouchy most of the time, but we put on a happy face!  

When we weren't experiencing heat stroke, it POURED rain - I mean torrential rain, with gale-force winds.  It rained for hours and hours until the streets were flooded (Charleston is only a dozen feet above sea level, so it doesn't take much to flood the storm sewers and then the streets).  

Luckily it cleared a little each day (though it remained gray and gloomy).  So I grabbed a few photos when I could (my apologies for the rather bland lighting in many of these shots).

Where We Stayed

We stayed in a lovely carriage house (researched and selected by David!), tucked into a closed courtyard behind a larger (main) house.  It was nice and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of our busy downtown Charleston neighborhood:
The perfect home-away-from-home!  And thankfully...very well air conditioned. 

The house was tastefully decorated, quiet and peaceful, and had a lovely airiness due to the high ceilings and abundant natural light.  The kitchen was lovely and classic, with honed marble countertops, white subway tile and gray cabinets.  I couldn't have designed it better myself:

There was also a little living room on the main floor, with vintage furniture pieces and a a few nautical elements:

The house had a handsome tall stairwell, leading to the two second floor bedrooms and bathroom:

Tall vintage doors lead to a little patio where we had our breakfast:

On the second floor, one bedroom was more quiet and peaceful:

With a pretty gallery wall of personal art:

While the other bedroom was more cheery and bright (I took these photos the day we left, when it was ironically sunny with a blue sky):

The owner painted many of the colourful paintings herself

So our little house was a lovely oasis.  David made a great choice!

We started our adventure with breakfast at the nearby, and very famous, Hominy Grill:

Fried green tomatoes, in progress...gooood.

The first day, since it wasn't raining (only 100 degF), we walked around downtown and visited the historic district.  

Downtown Charleston & The Historic District

Downtown Charleston consists of many blocks of old homes and streets lined with interesting shops.  King Street (running north-south) is the main shopping street.  As you travel south through downtown, you eventually find yourself in the "historic" district, which occupies the southern part of the peninsula, south of Broad Street all the way to The Battery (waterfront). 

Map graciously provided by travelerofcharleston

Charleston is a small city, with a population of only 128,000 (the wider Charleston district has about 700,000), but its downtown historic district is dense with beautiful architecture, and a very rich history as a merchant colony of Great Britain (it was named Charles Towne in 1670, after King Charles II of England).

I took about a billion photos.  Here are a few...

A blue painted ceiling on the veranda, a common detail we observed in old Charleston homes:

Elegant entryways are de rigeur:

Everywhere you look, there is a lush secret garden:

Or an inviting veranda: 

I fell in love with the greenery and immediately chose a favorite tree, the exquisite Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) (also spelled Crape Myrtle), which has fine curling branches and tiny pink flowers, delicately positioned on the branches:

The trunk of the crepe myrtle is very unusual as it sheds its bark throughout the year
I had a wonderful conversation with a gardener at the historic Nathaniel Russell house, where I photographed this crepe myrtle tree.  He helped me identify many of the trees I had seen that day and was admiring!

Everything is inviting about the architecture.  Many of the homes are very old and elegant, dating back to the 1700's, as Charleston was a very wealthy merchant colony:
Notice the periwinkle blue painted ceiling of the portico.  No detail is missed!

Many of the homes were brightly but tastefully painted:
Notice the shutters of the neighboring house, which are a matching green!  Another crepe myrtle makes its way into my shot.

Each house is unique and eye-catching.  I love this olive green door with the pale sage green facade:

Striking blue-green shutters:

And overflowing window boxes:

A perfect small front parterre garden:
Very green thanks to lots of rain!

There were lots of secluded gardens behind red brick walls:

And lots of secluded homes behind iron gates, making for a very enticing and mysterious aura:

And vines grow like weeds, making their home everywhere:

The photo below shows a famous local architectural style, exclusive to Charleston, called the "Single House".  The single house is a "single width" (one room wide) house with a side door facing the street.  The street door enters onto a long side veranda, which they call a "piazza".  The actual door/entrance to the house is from the center of the piazza.  The side veranda takes advantage of the shade, as it creates a shaded wall of side windows, but its history is a little unclear (someone told us the narrow, deep houses were designed to minimize taxes by minimizing street frontage but I could not confirm that):  

There is also a "Double House", which looks like this, sitting with its "wide" side to the street and featuring a double entrance stairwell:

This circular iron medallion (below) was prominent throughout Charleston, but I was unable to determine its provenance:

A walk along The Battery (Charleston Harbor) on a very rainy afternoon.  As you can see, these waterfront homes are basically below sea level!  

These homes face Fort Sumter, which sits about a mile out in the harbor.  In 1861, Confederate forces in Charleston fired on Union forces stationed at Fort Sumter (below), starting the American Civil War:

David toured Fort Sumter: 
Fort Sumter.  Flags and a lot of stone walls, from what I can tell.  David enjoyed his visit anyway.

Shopping on King Street

David toured Fort Sumter while I focussed on more pressing needs, like shopping on King Street.  I didn't take that many photos in stores as I only had a few hours to cover a lot of miles.

Inside Alexandra French Antiques:

Inside Vieuxtemps, which sells a beautiful selection of fine china.  This was a creative display of registry china, selected by brides for their upcoming weddings.  Each card in front of the set gave the name of the bride and groom and their wedding date.  It was so fun looking over the sets to see what each young lady had chosen: 
The owner told me that some young southern brides still delight in selecting fine china, while others are dragged in kicking and screaming by their (more traditional) mothers.

For me, the highlight of King Street was my visit to Circa Lighting, where I must have spent two hours.  I was so very smitten!

The very large but lovely Cannes table lamps by Aerin Lauder:

A smaller scale bedside lamp (Marseille), also by Aerin:

A very pretty sconce, smaller scale:

The lovely and restrained Dauphine small table lamp, which came home with me (I went in specifically looking for it!):
This was one of only three things (yes three) that I bought for our house while on our honeymoon.

An Historic Home Tour

The next day, I visited the historic Nathaniel Russell house, which was a dream.  I adored this elegant Federal home, built in 1809.  Sadly I could not take photographs on the tour, so a look at the facade is all you get (my second home decor purchase was a gold Christmas ornament of this facade)!
The huge tree to the left is a Magnolia, which I had never seen in person before!  The gardener told me these trees are a mess to have in your garden, as they dump massive carpets of huge leaves when winter comes.

The original homeowner, Nathaniel Russell, was a wealthy merchant, but wasn't yet a member of the elite upper class - that honor was saved for wealthy plantation owners who owned vast country plantations out of town, as well as stunning "town" houses.  This was Mr. Russell's "nouveau riche" attempt at fitting in with society. 

The famous cantilevered stairwell inside the house, first designed in England and copied here in America.  This design was cutting edge:
File:Nathaniel Russell House (Stair).jpg

We also learned a lot above slaves on this tour, and I did a lot of reading on the subject before, during and after my visit. All the owners of these historic homes owned slaves, who lived in separate quarters in the back yards of these homes.

Charleston Fall Tour of Homes

After leaving Charleston a week earlier, David and I returned to Charleston on a beautiful, cool, sunny day (I am forever grateful) for the Charleston Fall Tour of Homes, organized by the Preservation Society of Charleston.  The lovely weather allowed us a second chance to savour historic Charleston.

On the tour, we visited six private homes, dating from 1746 to 1890, including Georgian (my favorite), Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Victorian styles.  I was thrilled with the tour and wish I could have seen a hundred more homes.

Photography was prohibited, since these are private homes.  But I asked and was kindly granted permission to take one photo.  This photo shows an old slave kitchen (where all food was prepared for the main house).  This kitchen was originally a separate building, detached from the main house (due to fire risk) that was later renovated and attached to the main house. Above the kitchen, there would have been a second level (you can see the ledge for the second floor) where slaves would have slept (hence the second story hearths and window openings:
Once a slave kitchen and second-storey sleeping quarters.  This is a private home, so please don't pin this image.

Although I'd read a lot on the subject, I never saw any physical evidence of slavery except inside this home.  So it seemed especially poignant and important to share.  This is a beautiful renovation and a striking room, but what a dark history it represents.

Continuing on the tour, this is a shot of the exterior of another Adamesque (Federal c.1804) house.  I shot this photo as it shows the original brick construction peeking out from underneath chipped stucco, which would have been added later.

Another example of Single House architecture on our home tour.  Built before 1800.

While touring our last home, the Victorian Carrington-Carr House (c. 1890), now a popular inn, we came across the answer to a Charleston riddle that had been plaguing us for days!  Throughout our walks (when it wasn't raining), we'd noticed the most beautiful scent in the air but could not identify the source.  That is until we discovered this, the gracious Tea Olive shrub (Osmanthus Fragrans), which emanates the most lovely scent.
Thanks to a tour guide at the Carrington-Carr House, who identified the fragrant Tea Olive for us!  We were told it blooms only briefly, so we felt blessed that we got to experience its lovely scent.

Other Sights around Charleston

David and I did a bus tour on a rainy day.  This photo show the Citadel, a military college, in the distance:

David visited an aircraft carrier, the USS Norfolk:

And went inside a submarine:

David made a new friend at the harbor.  This white bird with bright yellow feet casts a mean silhouette against that black submarine (do you know what this bird is?):

Wentworth Mansion

One evening we toured historic Wentworth Mansion (now an upscale inn) after eating dinner at its posh restaurant, Circa 1886 (ranked in the Top 3 of restaurants in Charleston):
We had an exquisite honeymoon dinner at the very posh Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion, on a very rainy night

The mansion was once a private residence.  

It has a famous, very ornate stairwell:

And it's chock full of inviting details, like this elaborate door knob.

Anyone fancy a glass of Port before bed (guests only)?:


On our last day in Charleston we walked in the rain, discovering many gardens, churches and mysterious pathways:

I'd also like to make a shout out to Black Tap Coffee (70 1/2 Beaufain Street), an airy and chic gourmet coffee shop, for making me a wicked iced decaf latte on more than one occasion!

David catches up on his reading, while fake smiling for the camera, at Black Tap Coffee in Charleston. Besides amazing coffee, the cookies were great too.

After four days, we said goodbye to our little house:
Good-bye Charleston house.  We loved you and your air conditioning.

Final Thoughts & Recommendations

Charleston is an inviting city!  The people were lovely and polite and we were made to feel very welcome. I hope you will get to visit one day!  It is, however, a smaller city than I realized.  There were far fewer (affordable) antiques than I'd hoped and a lot less home decor shops in general.  But the city itself is full of grace, charm and history and there are many amazing restaurants (it's a real foodie paradise).  We also heard there are lots of cool things to do in Mount Pleasant, across the bridge from the Charleston peninsula.

I'd suggest if you go (and you like houses), you should plan your trip around the Fall Tour of Homes (which occurs for 3 weeks in October!), organized by the Preservation Society of Charleston.  If you can't make the tour, at least stop by their shop (Lower King Street) as they have a wealth of knowledge about historic Charleston and tons of great books.  I'd become a member of their society in a hot second if I lived there!  The tour I attended, though only one day, was a highlight of the trip for me.

In my next installment, I will report the second leg of our honeymoon - Savannah and Fripp Island!  I hope you've enjoyed this post!

(And I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas as I likely won't get a chance to post again before that)


  1. I've been waiting for this post. Looks like you made it a wonderful trip even if the weather wasn't the best. The dinner out at the mansion sounds like it was very memorable! Looking forward to reading the next installment. Merry Christmas!!

    1. Yes the weather was wretched. It poured on my shopping day so I was a drowned rat going from shop to shop, even with my umbrella! Merry Christmas to you and your family!! Xo

  2. Thanks for your tips - we'll get there one of these days! Looks like you had a great time! We have plenty of Crepe Myrtle and Magnolia here in DC but maybe they weren't in bloom when you visited. Our neighbor FINALLY cut down his awful (but very pretty) Magnolia which had me raking our back courtyard 356 days of the year after I begged him for nearly 2 years. They're pretty when they're someone else's FAR AWAY!

    1. Haha. Thanks Stefan for confirming the mess of the Magnolia. You have experience!!! I'm sure I saw them in DC, just didn't process it at the time. And you have Crepe myrtle!!! Jealous. Maybe not as pretty when not in bloom. I will have to pay better attention next time. Charleston reminded me a lot of Georgetown in ways, but without the hills. There was the same bounty of close-fitting old homes all elegantly appointed. Go during the Fall Tour of Homes, although there are lots of historic places to see as it is.

  3. It's been so enjoyable to visit Charleston through your photos. We've been there twice, quite a long time ago. The gracious homes with lovely gardens are so wonderful to tour. We toured the Edmundston Alston house and our friends took us out to the Middleton Plantation, where reenactment of the slave era brought that darkness to reality.
    How delightful is your carriage house stay. David did well! Merry Christmas!

    1. Oh so lovely that you've been there before. Time to go back!! The plantations were on our list but we had so much we wanted to do that we didn't make it back for them. We decided we would go next time and see a few of the plantations. Merry Christmas and hope you get a little dusting of snow on the island. Xox

  4. Oh, yes, it gets HOT in the South!!! I can't stand the heat and humidity, and that's why I love Maine. That carriage house is adorable!!! I've never been to Charleston, so thanks for the highlights. Beautiful photos. Love your new lamp - can't wait to see where it is going. Merry Christmas!!! xoxo L

    1. I'm like you. I hate the heat and humidity. I've never experienced heat like that. You slowly get used to it but feel uncomfortable and sticky all the time. I've only ever been in the south in February or March before. Now I know the real thing. I can't imagine what August feels like. I would stick with Maine too. Merry Christmas to you and Tom!! Xo

  5. Absolutely gorgeous! Now I want (need) a Crepe Myrtle. I wouldn't have been able to resist the beautiful offerings at Alexandra French Antiques. The architecture is amazing and I love the idea of a secret garden. Thank you for describing a Single House - I've seen pictures of them in some of the decorating magazines, but they've never really been described in any great detail.

    Thank you so much for the amazing tour. I'm glad you and David had a wonderful time.

    Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks so much for being a loyal reader and so glad I could share this with you. I loved the single house design with that lovely shaded veranda. Have a Merry Christmas!! Xox

  6. Ah, Charleston. One of my favorite places. My husband and I honeymooned there 19 years ago, and we've been back a few times since (and we vacation at Edisto Beach nearly every year, which is about an hour's drive to the south). I'm sorry you had wet weather for part of your stay. I had been watching the weather forecast for that area since our beach vacation was originally scheduled for Sept. Then I had a bulging disc in my back flare up, so we delayed vacation until October. Fortunately the weather was beautiful. Yes, it stays hot down South sometimes into November! I'm so used to it, it doesn't bother me anymore.

    Magnolia trees are a common sight here. They are beautiful but messy (and the leaves make lovely wreaths). The bird your hubby photographed is a snowy egret. We see tons of them at the beach. I love them! Did you see any dolphin? So glad you enjoyed Charleston. I look forward to seeing part 2, as I've never been to Savannah or Fripp Island.

    1. Hi Claudia, oh yes you mentioned Edisto and we passed the road to Edisto a few times but didn't have time to visit. I thought of you every time!! Sorry to hear about your disc flare up but luckily you delayed and got better weather! Next time we will go in late October. You know, I did see a ton of snowy egrets out at the island but didn't clue in that it was the same bird. Yes we saw dolphins! More soon from Fripp and Savannah. Xox

  7. Terri what a great city for a honeymoon, I have wanted to visit for so long as there are so many great things to do and see!
    Sorry about the weather issues, that is just something that can happen anywhere though! I am very excited to hear more!

    Tis the Sunday before Christmas

  8. Terri, I also meant to compliment you on your photos (love all the architectural details and gardens!), and to say how adorable that guest house you stayed in is. Well done, David, in researching and planning that!

  9. Great pictures of a great city. My mother's family is from there, and my niece is at uni down there. The blue porch ceilings are said to minimize bugs. The colour is called Haint Blue (haints are ghosts). I think the white bird is a snowy egret, which is a member of the heron family. They have yellow feet.

    Happy Christmas! xo

  10. I want to get back to Charleston so badly (I got my wedding dress there on a very short trip) and this post makes me want to go right now! Thank you for the wonderful tour!

  11. I am so looking forward to visiting Charleston in a few months! This just made me more eager. I love the smell of magnolias and boxwood. Its very Southern and it looks like Charleston has plenty. I am excited for the restaurants too.

    Merry Christmas, Terri!

  12. Wow, beautiful photos! Charleston has definitely on my wish list as well as Savannah so I'm eager to see what you thought of it. Although, I'm not a fan of the heat, the architecture is very attractive to me.

  13. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures. I love the house and the gardens !

  14. Anonymous11:44 pm

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  15. Anonymous7:50 am

    Nice photos. Glad you and David are doing well. The trip looked like it was fantastic and relaxing ! Melanie

  16. Isn't Charleston gorgeous? I do so love the haint blue ceilings of porches here in the South--they are supposed to repel bad spirits or something like that! My favorite southern gardener, P. Allen Smith, says that they discourage wasps too. I suppose they think it is the sky! I love the rich history of the South. My great-g-g grandfather was a Confederate officer and I am fortunate to have his portrait and a few letters written during that time. His mother and 9 other women were tortured by a rogue group of Kansas Jayhawkers who burned their feet and stole their goods. I have the coin silver flatware which she refused to divulge to them where it was buried. It is engraved with her initials - Her name was Lutetia Willis Howel. Her great-grandfather, Britton Willis, fought in the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War and was at the siege of Savannah, GA where he fought alongside the French. So my roots are deep in the South. How did you like the southern cuisine?