Case Study: T-House by Frederick+Frederick
Originally settled in the 1700s, Beaufort, S.C., is not a city renowned for modern design. In fact, its citizens have made considerable efforts over the years to preserve the Low Country region’s architectural heritage. A good deal of that heritage responded to the unique characteristics of this tidal, marshy, hot, and humid region. Houses were often raised above the floodwaters, and made use of ample covered porches to shade from the sun, tall ceilings to usher warm air away from occupants, and one-room deep spaces to ventilate naturally and keep molds and mildew at bay.
These are sound passive cooling techniques that make a lot of sense to this day. Another important component of the area’s history is its bountiful collection of tabby structures, buildings and walls created from a very old technique of blending sand, lime, water, and oyster shells into a sturdy aggregate. Dataw Island, the resort community where this house by Frederick + Frederick Architects is located, boasts the Sams Tabby Ruins, a significant concentration of buildings made from the material. The ruins are among more than 70 local properties and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Elevating Low Country
Although much new building in the area evokes the “Low Country” look without a thoughtful understanding of its practical aspects and pleasing proportions, several local firms are mining these antecedents in fresh, appealing ways. Frederick + Frederick, lead by wife-and-husband team Jane and Michael Frederick, is one of the best examples. The firm has practiced in the area for nearly 30 years, tweaking and perfecting what is lovable about Beaufort, while extending its design language. T House, as this project is called, is based on another Beaufort tradition—the T shaped plan wrapped in porches. The plan accomplishes a number of Low Country goals, among them shading the interior and maintaining that one-room- deep access to natural ventilation.
In Jane and Michael’s version, deep roof overhangs extend shade and weather protection even further, while the thinness of the roof profile and the crispness of related details move the house into modern territory. That the architectural review board for the community didn’t blink at the plans left Jane “somewhat surprised. We wanted it not to look like the rest of the neighborhood. And the guidelines are written so that houses blend in.”
Maybe the lack of pushback from the review board isn’t really all that surprising, given the referential and reverential attitude of the house and its architects, and of course, the handsome outcome. Another point of inspiration were those Tabby Ruins, which manifest themselves on T House’s concrete block foundation and fireplace wall as a tabby-colored stucco wash and scoring.
Shy and Retiring
With its mild winters and access to water sports, golfing, and other outdoor activities, Beaufort is a popular vacation and retirement destination. In the case of Jane and Michael’s clients, they were looking for both—a vacation home they could retire to one day. But that agenda sped up when their primary house sold faster than they expected and they decided to retire sooner rather than later. Fortunately, Scott Dennis and David Tilton of TD Builders are known for being fast and good at what they do. “We really like working with them,” says Jane. “They will tear it out and do it again, if something isn’t right. They do a good job for a good price. They really treat their subcontractors well, and I think that’s part of why they can be so fast.”
Already baked into the floor plan was the idea of an accessible dwelling, where the couple could age in place. They were also on a tight budget, which influenced the size of the house and the choice of materials at Jane and Michael’s disposal. But some amenities were non-negotiable. “They wanted open, easy living,” says Jane. “And they wanted separate bathrooms.” One of those bathrooms had to have a no-threshold shower. There’s room for guests upstairs in the main house and, across the breezeway, in a suite over the garage. Currently, one of the clients uses the suite as a home office, but it could accommodate a caretaker someday. Access from the garage (which has two stalls for cars and room for the ubiquitous resort golf cart) is covered and ramped.
The main house is rotated a few degrees on its pie-shaped lot to catch prevailing breezes, and to steer principal rooms toward the long marsh views and the water beyond. Live oaks on the property were pruned and fed.
Budget and climate dictated the exterior materials. “We used HardiePlank siding and trim, 5V metal roofing, and stained yellow pine,” says Michael. “A lot of decisions were driven by budget. But often when you have those restraints, the house is better for it.”
Where Jane and Michael won’t scrimp is in measures to fight moisture. “We always try to do a rainscreen. We know or buildings are going to get wet—we just have to make sure they dry out,” says Jane. “We have a fresh air fan that goes into the air plenum. We also spray foam and insulate everything including the ceiling, so you have to get fresh air in as well. And we make sure we keep all of our HVAC equipment inside the conditioned space.”
Because hot, humid climates attract turbulent weather, all glass is impact rated. And those deep roof overhangs provide extra protection from downpours. All entry doors are covered as well, and the front porch roof has a polycarbonate panel to allow a bit more filtered light to pass through to the porch and into the interior living spaces.
It’s a modern touch that demonstrates that architects have indeed learned a nifty trick or two over the last few centuries of design.
Jane and Michael have more than just a few tricks up their sleeves. They have a deep knowledge of the climate, sensibilities, and sensitivities of the place they call home and headquarters for the firm. They understand the traditions of the Low Country, and the subtle ways to honor and elevate them at the same time.
Plans and Drawings
ARCHITECT: Jane Frederick, FAIA, and Michael Frederick, AIA, Frederick + Frederick Architects, Beaufort, S.C.
BUILDER: TD Builders, Beaufort
PROJECT SIZE: Main house, 2,450 square feet; garage apartment, 500 square feet
SITE SIZE: .80 acres
CONSTRUCTION COST: Withheld
PHOTOGRAPHY: John McManus
WINDOWS: Andersen 400 Series
EXTERIOR DOORS: Custom front door, all others Andersen A Series
SIDING: HardiePlank, HardieTrim
DOOR HARDWARE: Emtek
APPLIANCES: GE, BOSCH
SINKS/FAUCETS: Kohler, Moen, American Standard
KITCHEN BACKSPLASH TILE: StonePeak Ceramics