In keeping with proper local manners—and South Carolina law—no one is allowed to snap shots of showcased properties while traipsing about on a house and garden tour. The only workaround comes via written consent of the homeowner, but that’s equal parts gauche, cumbersome, and unlikely. Luckily, a perfect storm of talent (writer William P. Baldwin of Lowcountry Plantations Today, Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden, and The Hard to Catch Mercy; author and head of special collections at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library Harlan Greene; and veteran coffee-table book photographer N. Jane Iseley) has come together to give you permanent entrée into some of these fantastic historic homes.
The Preservation of Charleston ($75, Legacy Publications, March 2016) compiles image after image and backstory after backstory of more than 60 manses, cottages, plantations, and townhomes downtown and beyond. If you’re an avid tour-goer and house-museum patron, the locations might be familiar, but that only makes this tome the perfect keepsake to relive your wanderings.
And while the featured interiors tend toward reverential, über-traditional settings, signs of life in the residential section give the book a current of timeliness amid its stream of history. From comical, candid pets hiding in the corners of plush rooms to personal side notes (that dining table, says one homeowner, is where her husband asked her father for her hand in marriage), the team has an eye for detail that makes visiting these homes a real delight.
Be sure to read the wonderfully written introduction. While explaining the advent of the local preservation movement, the authors write: “Charleston had survived war and pestilence, hurricanes, an earthquake, and other adversities, but now the question was: Could it survive the gnawing demands of insatiable 20th-century remodeling?” Some questions never go out of style.
Other than a set of tickets to the next round of tours, your best companion to this book would be Jonathan Poston’s The Buildings of Charleston. Pair the two and you can very easily create your own walking tour of town with addresses and staccato facts coming compliments of Poston and colorful interior and garden views compliments of this talented crew.