A Cinder Block Duplex in Charleston Is Recast as a New York–Style Loft
When architect Kevan Hoertdoerfer was asked to turn "probably the ugliest house in Charleston" into the proverbial swan, he was both thrilled and apprehensive. "It’s a dream to have a client who gives you an open book," he says of the instruction to do anything he wanted. "On the other hand, you’re compelled to do something really powerful." The resulting metamorphosis of a squat 1950s cinder block duplex into a concrete and glass neighborhood standout leaves no trace of its ugly duckling origins.
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Located in Wagener Terrace, the building was chosen in part because it sits just outside the purview of the historic city’s stringent architectural review board. The owners, interior designer Karen Baldwin and her partner, share a passion for 1970s art and sought an unconventional space that evoked their idols, like Andy Warhol and Richard Diebenkorn. "We wanted a New York–style loft, with lots of open space and light, so local artists and artisans could have the creative freedom to add to it," says Karen.
Keeping the footprint, Hoertdoerfer replaced the upper part of the cinder block construction with a concrete-supported, double-height loft space. The ground-level side windows were enlarged and filled with translucent polycarbonate panels. Two walls of glass—one upstairs in front and one downstairs in back—flood the home with light.
Perhaps the most striking feature is the sculptural galvanized steel roof, whose unconventional angled design is based on the sun’s movement. Neighbors were divided during its construction, speaking out at a city meeting. "One person said, ‘Contemporary architecture like this is killing Charleston,’" recalls Hoertdoerfer. "But another said, ‘Diversity is great, we love its creativity.’" Today, the home has settled into its role as a local wayfinding marker. "It’s known as the modern house opposite the dog park," says Karen.
Inside, the eye goes immediately to a floating staircase along one wall. Inspired by Diebenkorn’s abstract works and created by local artist Tess Thomas, its wood treads are painted in a variety of bright hues, each combination unique. The color-blocked surface continues on the landing that leads to the roof deck, which looks down on another piece of art, the front garden. Designed by landscape architect Robert Maerlender, it features green circles of astroturf stamped onto a gray canvas of shale and framed by an angled wood fence.
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The circles repeat in the backyard, as stepping stones and as holes in the wall of a concrete-and-stucco cabana, which includes mesh side tables designed by Karen and built by artisan Eric Doran from a piece of airport conveyor belt. The home’s aviation-themed metalwork, including canopies over the back and side doors, resulted from frequent trips to the scrapyard.
"It’s just the greatest space," Karen says of her new home. "We put the music on, dance, and cook, and are so happy here."
If you think this modern home looks familiar, you're right. The Metamorphosis House was recently used as the set for one of our Smart Tech videos.
Structural Engineering: Powell Engineering
Interior Design: Karen Baldwin
Landscape Design: Robert Maerlender