JOHNS ISLAND — It was the perfect spot for a future homesite.
The only problem — well, besides the price, which was more than $100,000 above budget — was how to fit a house into such a narrow space without cutting down the sprawling oak trees on the property and ruining the picturesque view of Bohicket Creek.
For Matt and Chelsea Anderson, less turned out to be more.
The design the couple came up with for their personal residence drew inspiration from local Johns Island barns and the dogtrot home concept. The single story, three bedroom, 1,800-square-foot home was recently honored by the American Institute of Architects-South Carolina for personal residence. The ‘Bohicket House’ captured the AIA South Carolina Virtual Design and Robert Mills Residential Merit Award.
“It was so unexpected,” said Chelsea Anderson, who has been designing homes for the past decade. “You are never sure what the jury will or won’t like, so this was a thrill for us.”
Matt and Chelsea had been coming to Charleston for years on weekend getaways and mini-vacations. Chelsea was finishing up her master’s degree in architecture from Clemson in 2017 when the couple decided to move to the Lowcountry permanently and start MRA Design and Build, a design and build firm. Matt has been a carpenter for more than a decade and has owned and operated his own residential construction company for the past seven years.
In the fall of 2017, the couple began to look at property on Johns Island and finally stumbled across a heavily wooded lot off of Bohicket Road. The 1.6-acre lot sits about a quarter mile off of Betsy Kerrison Parkway, on a rutted, gravel road that backs up to Bohicket Creek.
“Matt’s brother told us about the property and when we got here it was like, ‘oh my God,’” Chelsea said. “It was way over our budget, but we knew we had to have it.”
The biggest challenge facing the couple was how to fit a house between the oak trees that dominated the property.
“We came up with some funky designs,” Chelsea said. “We took the topography of the land and wanted to build around it. We had some L-shaped houses and some crazy shapes, but the main thing we wanted to do was to preserve the views.”
They settled on a dogtrot design.
Historically, a dogtrot house consisted of two log cabins connected by a breezeway or ‘dogtrot’, all under a common roof. Typically, one cabin was used for cooking and eating, while the other was used as a private living space, such as a bedroom. The style of house was common throughout the Southeast during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The main style point was a large breezeway through the center of the house to cool occupants in the hot southern climate.
The Anderson’s home is sandwiched between two large, oak trees. It’s 100-feet long and just 20-feet wide. There is a master bedroom and an office at one end of the house and a third bedroom for their 18-month-old daughter, Liv, on the opposite side. In the middle is an open space, which features a kitchen and family room.
“We took a little bit of a different interpretation on what the dogtrot house is, but it’s the same basic concept,” Matt said. “We wanted the space to be flexible.”
It took Matt and two Clemson students — Sterling Green and Chase Davis — about nine months to complete the project.
With a limited budget, there was little room for frills.
“We could have added another 500-square feet, another bedroom or bathroom, but we didn’t want to do that,” Matt said. “Honestly, the only thing that I would have added would have been a pool.”
Chelsea calls the interior style “modern minimalist.”
“It’s not sterile like you’d think a modern home would be,” Chelsea Anderson said. “I still think it has a warm quality about it.”
It was this spartan style that caught the eye of the AIA judges.
“The jury really appreciated the restraint and control of this small house on the beautiful tidal marsh of Bohicket Creek,” said AIA jury chair Frank Harmon. “This quiet house lightly touches the site with minimal disturbance. The long-thin plan’s orientation protects the house from harsh solar gains in the summer and encourages cross-ventilation throughout the year, creating what we imagine to be a very comfortable living space that connects you to the dynamic views, sounds and smells of the tidal marsh.”
The Andersons just call it home.