TALE OF A CHARLESTON SIN­GLE HOUSE

The 1836 Greek Re­vival house, built by a mem­ber of the prom­i­nent Taft fam­ily, re­mains un­der the dili­gent care of Um­brian-born preser­va­tion­ists with a light touch.

Old House Journal - - Inspire - STORY AND PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY STEVE GROSS & SU­SAN DA­LEY

The dili­gent stew­ard­ship of an 1836 Greek Re­vival. EASEMENTS EX­PLAINED

On a quiet street in the his­toric An­son­bor­ough neigh­bor­hood of Charleston, South Carolina, a stately “sin­gle house” with re­strained Greek Re­vival de­tails sur­vives with orig­i­nal el­e­ments in­tact. (The sin­gle house is a form al­most unique to Charleston—one with its nar­row side, of­ten two or three bays wide, and its gable end fac­ing the street and the longer side, of­ten five bays wide, run­ning per­pen­dic­u­lar to the street. Thus, the pi­az­zas open to a side gar­den.) Built in 1836 by Augustus R. Taft, a mem­ber of the prom­i­nent New Eng­land fam­ily that in­cluded Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Howard Taft, the house stayed in the fam­ily for more than a century. It was in­her­ited by Augustus Taft’s daugh­ter, who mar­ried into the old Charleston Stoney fam­ily. With the ex­cep­tion of six months in 1865—when the res­i­dence was con­fis­cated by the Freed­man’s Bu­reau to house freed slaves af­ter the Civil War—the house had re­mained in the Taft fam­ily lin­eage. Now it’s home to Gi­ulio and Donatella della Porta, both avid preser­va­tion­ists. They pur­chased the house with strict easements al­ready in place. In Charleston, a preser­va­tion ease­ment is a le­gal agree­ment that pro­tects the ar­chi­tec­tural in­tegrity of a build­ing. Many de­tails of the Taft House can­not be changed or al­tered. Even the chan­de­liers that re­main in the house may not be re­placed, ac­cord­ing to

the ease­ment doc­u­ment, which in this case runs to 30 pages. The house came down through time with its orig­i­nal door­knobs, black mar­ble man­tels, plas­ter cor­nices, ceil­ing medal­lions, and some light­ing. Home­own­ers Donatella Cap­pel­letti and Gi­ulio della Porta met in Italy be­fore com­ing to Charleston. Gi­ulio is an ar­chi­tect who ren­o­vated and re­stored many dwellings in his na­tive Um­bria, es­pe­cially old stone houses dat­ing back to the 1600s.

And Donatella worked as a jour­nal­ist; her fa­ther was an ex­pert in the stat­u­ary tech­niques of an­cient Rome. The cou­ple dis­cov­ered Charleston while on a driv­ing tour through the south­ern states. Af­ter just one day walk­ing the streets and mar­veling at the city’s beauty, they de­cided to buy a house here. In some ways, a cir­cle was closed when the cou­ple bought the Taft house. Back when the house was built, it was fashionable among the sons of wealthy Charles- to­ni­ans to take the Grand Tour of Europe, and Italy was the pri­mary desti­na­tion. Young peo­ple trav­eled to fur­ther their aes­thetic ed­u­ca­tion and to be schooled in the lan­guage of clas­si­cal Greek and Ro­man art and ar­chi­tec­ture. They brought back from Italy busts, Re­nais­sance oil paint­ings, mar­ble fire­places, and por­traits of them­selves for their show­place town­houses in Charleston.

To­day, the della Porta home is fur­nished in a sim­i­lar man­ner. Taste­ful pieces brought over from Italy re­flect dis­cern­ment and re­spect for well-made ar­ti­sanal prod­ucts. Here re­side an an­cient stone bust of a Ro­man com­man­der, old lan­terns from Florence, land­scape views of Italy done by painters in the 1600s, and a foun­tain statue that was once in the cou­ple’s gar­den in Um­bria. Like other old Charleston homes, this one has an­ces­tral por­traits and heir­looms, hand­painted doors, and old sil­ver passed down through gen­er­a­tions.

ABOVE Re­mov­ing a low­ered ceil­ing re­vealed the black cy­press roof beams, lend­ing “the feel­ing of kitchens in the Um­brian coun­try­side.” BE­LOW The new is­land was painted to mimic the design and patina of the old Tus­can wine cabi­net. The chan­de­lier was made by Um­brian black­smith Al­berto Alunni. RIGHT The hand-painted din­ing ta­ble was de­signed in the man­ner of 14th-century Tus­can fur­ni­ture; doors lead­ing to the kitchen also are hand­painted. Land­scapes cap­ture views of Rome through the eyes of 17th-century painters.

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