By Robert Salvo

Writers, this one included, often fall into traps of all sorts. One of the most pernicious is the use of hackneyed word pairs, twinned for their own sake: Rare breed, charmed life, stately home. Is the home truly “stately,” or is it just old and architecturally pleasant? Although many houses in historic Charleston are appropriately grand and imposing, the truly stately dwellings are fewer in number.

Truly stately are homes like the Isaac Jenkins Mikell House, sitting behind massive cypress columns that must have fit like a Savile Row suit when the building served as the county library from the 1930s to 1960. Looming like a mountain over the corner of Rutledge and Montagu in Harleston Village, it is a prime example of the majestic urban villas the world imagines when they picture the Holy City.

But, as this column explored last month, Charleston has seen many ages, many styles; its collective fortunes have waxed and waned and waxed again. The colossal pre-war mansions of the peninsula are an important part of our architectural heritage … but they’re just a part. The heritage of the rest of our built landscape is just as rich, even when not as dramatic.

For a perfect example, look at the I. Jenkins Mikell house’s neighbor, 40 Montagu Street. It’s a little smaller — just a bit more than 4,410 sq. ft. — though its hard to imagine too many families would be cramped in its five spacious bedrooms. It’s a bit newer — built by local bulk grocer Bernard Wohlers in the early 1890s — but still features the Charleston charm of a large double piazza and much of the rhythm (if not the classic layout) of a single house.

Stately? Perhaps not — the grandiosity of Greek Revival had given way to the enchanting amusements of Victorian residential architecture by the time Mr. Wohlers built his house. More like quaint and amusing: Queen Anne hallmarks — asymmetry, a polygonal tower, decorative cladding, a highly-ornamented balcony over the entry — abound. The joy and whimsy of the age are highlighted in our own through the keen use of color, inside and out. An exterior of pink with white and blues accents guards an interior judiciously alternating its peaches and teals with restful whites. Never overwhelming, the palate pairs with the Eastlake spindlework in one harmonious, adorable whole.

Vibrant and vital? Absolutely, and not just part of the house, but also how one might describe its Harleston Village neighborhood. Quiet and leafy, the home is a short walk from Cannon Park to the north or Colonial Lake to the south; both MUSC and the College of Charleston are nearby but not on your doorstep. However, if you’d rather stick a little closer to home, a petite front garden and ample yard mean that one doesn’t need to go anywhere in particular to let Fido out, or just enjoy the urban outdoors.

Impressive? That too. The front entry, with a light-filled foyer opening onto a beautiful dining hall, is certainly striking. High ceilings, exquisite fireplaces and warm hardwood floors are bound to dazzle, too. The kitchen is where old-meets-new, with up-to-date stainless steel appliances and a gas range set in more warm wood cabinetry, all tied together with granite countertops. Updates continue in the baths: The house blends Victorian ambience with modern convenience throughout.

Interested? Call Helen Geer of William Means Properties. She’d be happy to show you Mr. Wohler’s delightful Montagu St. residence, and even help make it your own. It may not be as “stately” as its neighbor on the corner … but there’s a thesaurus full of positive words to describe this quaint Queen Anne. One more descriptor could be “yours.”

Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:


Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)