Get ready for a lot of pictures of classic low-country southern architecture, because today I’m sharing about our little excursion with my mom to Charleston, SC.
When we first started talking about things to do in the general area of Isle of Palms, Charleston rose to the number one thing I wanted to do. We didn’t really want this vacation to be about running around and doing touristy things, but the beautiful old city of Charleston was too close to not visit. The guys weren’t really interested, so we left them back at the beach house.
The best way to cover the most ground in Charleston is to do a carriage tour, so we signed up for one shortly after we arrived. There are several companies who offer the tours at a couple of different price points. We went with Palmetto Carriage Works because they had the earliest opening and they had the option to buy out an entire row for just a little bit extra ($70 regular price for two seats, $90 for the entire bench.) We liked this option so we weren’t crammed in with two other people and so I could take pictures on both sides of the carriage. As a bonus, we ended up on the back row, so I could take pictures out the back of the carriage as well.
While we were waiting for our carriage ride, we checked out Charleston’s famous market. It used to be a place where meat, produce, fish, etc. were sold, but it’s now a place for local artisans and vendors to sell their wares. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, as is the case with most similar venues. There are some makers selling their unique creations, but there are also people selling things that are certainly manufactured as well as touristy stuff like roses made out of palm leaves and t-shirts. As you walk through the buildings, you see a repeat of a few booths with the same products. My mom bought a silver rice bead necklace and I bought a sunhat.
We really lucked out on the weather. It was warm, but not overly hot and humid. There was a nice breeze and, under the shade of the carriage, it was a delightful way to tour the city.
I was definitely one of those people who was hanging out of the carriage madly taking pictures. I didn’t want to miss things because I was constantly looking through the lens, but I also wanted to take home a lot of inspiration for drawings and paintings. There was too much to see to remember it all.
The tour itself was wonderful! Apparently, the carriages go on different routes, so it’s a bit of a luck-of-the-draw which route your carriage will take. We drew the lucky straw and hit the coveted highlights – Rainbow Row, Fort Sumpter, the large homes along the water, etc. We also lucked out with a wonderful guide who was entertaining and incredibly knowledgeable about the area.
(I love that this pink house is no 30 1/2)
The light was perfect for taking painting inspiration photos. There were strong shadows and the trees created dappled light on many of the buildings.
Charleston lived up to its reputation of having beautiful architecture. I was so in love with the shutters, windows, brass hardware, window boxes, side porches, and haint blue ceilings. You can definitely see influences from Europe.
Homes in this area range from $1-6+ million, so you have to save your pennies if you’re going to live in one of these houses. As pretty as they are, I’m not sure I’d want to pay that much (even if I could) to live in such a bustling area. The place was hopping with tourists, carriages, traffic. I can imagine a run to the grocery store is time-consuming during peak times given all of the activity. But, oh, the houses are breathtaking. My home-loving heart was all a-flutter.
One interesting detail is that many of the front doors enter onto a porch instead of the interior of the home. Most of these houses also had courtyards and walled/fenced gardens.
(You can see the entrance onto the porch in the photo below…)
I loved this old home particularly, which was slightly off-kilter due to age. It was built by a relative of George Washington (my uncle George, in case you didn’t know), so, naturally, George Washington spent a night there. When we talked to my great-aunt about that, she laughed and rolled her eyes. “George Washington has stayed everywhere, it seems!”
While most of the homes are private residences, some of them are open to tours and some are museums that are just now reopening to the public.
Many of the homes are now painted in pastel colors (inspired by the Caribbean roots of the city), but most of the homes originally had faux stone facades and would’ve been gray. Brick was considered a poor man’s material, so the brick was covered in faux stone treatment. I’m not sure if the brick homes have been restored or if they were brick to begin with and perhaps the shame of the neighborhood at the time! It’s funny how home trends come and go and what was once looked down on is considered desirable today.
I love the color combination on this house – creamy yellow, soft green, haint blue, with bright white and black details. Not only were most of these homes great studies on architecture, but also color palettes.
Notice the enamel house number? Just like what you see in Europe!
I could go on and on, but I’ll just let you soak in some of the beautiful houses in the pictures I took…
After our carriage ride, we decided to walk about a mile to a used book store I looked up. It is Blue Bicycle Books and is a wonderful little local book shop. In addition to carrying used books, they also have new books featuring local cuisine, artists, authors, etc. I inquired about their art books and the woman behind the counter pointed me to a section of books on a shelf that spanned about 18″. My hopes were not high that I would find something up my alley in such a small selection, but I did find one book with a cover that immediately spoke to me. I had only recently been introduced to Fairfield Porter through the book At Frist Light, a book about Maine artists, their works, homes, and studios. I flipped through this hefty book for a few minutes and knew I wanted to add it to my reference library and enjoy reading it while I was at the beach. The book was $75, so that gave me pause, but this was the only souvenir I would buy, so I decided it would be worth it.
When I got home and looked the book up online, I saw that it was selling for $190-400 online! So, what was my $75 book splurge is now my $75 book bargain and I feel very pleased with myself for having unknowingly sniffed out such a great find. I’ve already marked some pages and I can’t wait to do some studies of his paintings.
I used the painting on the cover of the book as inspiration when I was painting one of the Charleston homes I photographed. The thing I loved most about that painting was the reflected light on the underside of the trim and roof, so I tried to capture the red roof reflecting on the second story of this home.
I am planning to paint more of the homes I photographed to include in the next collection I’ll be selling. All of the paintings will be inspired by my trip – beaches, boats, houses, and shells.
The sun was high when we finished our little trip to the book store and it was getting hotter, so we decided to take a bike taxi back to the market to do a little bit more browsing before we left for home. We did walk by a French patisserie and I had an immediate memory of eating a beignet in Paris. I did an about-face, “Maybe they have beignets!” Sadly, they didn’t and I think the young man behind the counter didn’t even know they were a French pastry because he pointed to another bakery and mentioned they had more southern comfort specialties.
Believe it or not, we didn’t eat at one of the many amazing restaurants Charleston has to offer. I’m a little ashamed to say we drove back to the beach house and just picked up milkshakes from Chick-fil-a on the way. In our defense, we had an early dinner planned with the guys, so we didn’t want to be too full when pimento cheese grits, hushpuppies, and crabcakes were in our near future.
Dining in Charleston will have to wait for our next trip, which is already being planned for next year.
I love that a trip like this can serve multiple purposes. I had a wonderful, rich time with my family, but it was also a way to gather creative inspiration. And, this trip to Charleston specifically had me brimming with ideas.
You can read more about our Isle of Palms trip in these posts…
And you can read more travel posts HERE.