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Living Large on Ashley Avenue

Living Large on Ashley Avenue
March 2010
A 430-square-foot dependency house, one tiny Yorkie named Benne, and a trove of art-smart finds equals one couple’s urban sanctuary

"We wanted a project,” says Marilynn Tynan. And project is what the Tynans got when Marilynn and her architect husband Dan bought a 430-square-foot carriage house on Ashley Avenue downtown.

The two—former owners of a painted furniture line up north—had been keen on Charleston since first visiting nearly a decade ago while vacationing from their Lake Michigan cottage. “It’s time we live somewhere where the temperature is more above my age than below it,” Marilynn remembers telling Dan. After the move South, they stuck to condos East of the Cooper, South of Broad, and so on. But then they spotted a tiny dependency near the very walkable Colonial Lake area.

“The place intrigued us,” says Dan. “It was small, and we’ve always liked small spaces. And it was historic; we guess that it was built around 1880.”

Other bonuses? The two-story home (there’s a miniscule garage on the ground floor) sported 16-foot ceilings (once the modern drywall one was removed), nine windows (each about six foot three inches), a sound structure, and it was detached from its corresponding main house and thus held claim to its own, independent entrance. The diminutive scale meant the couple could both afford it and afford to rework it, too.

So they got to work. After closing on the home in May 2009, contractors replaced the door (it had been chewed through by a previous tenant’s dog); took out the aforementioned ceiling to expose the gable roof line; installed a wood planked ceiling with a cottage look; and refurbished the exterior. Dan created a new floor plan—two rooms, including a “gathering” room (kitchen included), an original wood lathe and horsehair plaster partition that’s now rife with storage, and a bedroom suite with a bath that looks out over the neighbor’s garden—that came together in a matter of weeks. Then the Euro-sized appliances went in, a petite farmhouse sink capped off the kitchen, and marble found its home in the bathroom. Bottom line? Though it may be small, its amenities are grand.

But personality still prevails. Old wood became new window trim and nails and nail holes still punctuate newly exposed rafters. “We could have gone very contemporary,” Marilynn says. “But there’s a story here that we wanted to preserve.

“Look,” she continues, “this house was adequate when it was built and it should be adequate now—we still require the same things. More, for us, is excess.”

Here’s what they did:

  • Created storage and a media center in an existing dividing wall, which also conceals a complete HVAC system.
  • Moved the bath to the back of the house to take in a garden view.
  • Centered a petite farmhouse sink under a window for the view.
  • Hung artwork by local artists and pieces that seemed Charleston-esque. Contrasted the clean-lined backdrop with gilded frames and cheery colors.
  • Took out drywall ceilings and exposed a 16-foot tall gabled roof line.
  • Tuck-pointed the exterior masonry and repaired the wood siding.
  • Removed old interior walls and installed insulation like that found in recording studios to tone down the city noise.
  • Oriented the kitchen along one wall in the main room and installed appliances—other than the refrigerator—under the countertop.
  • Stayed “green” in building supplies and paint, reusing salvaged materials from the old structure to trim closets, doors, and windows.
  • Painted the walls white to amplify light and cheat in volume.
  • Brought in only essential furniture with a worn, soft-colored look appropriate for a waterfront retreat.