Heirloom Home: A Timber-Framed Home in South Carolina

This earth-honoring home on a South Carolina barrier island is sustainable and sensible, luxurious and livable.

| January/February 2008

  • A magnificent stained-glass and reclaimed wrought-iron chandelier illuminates the third-story foyer. Oversize double doors lead into the master bedroom. The glass in the doors offers privacy while allowing light to penetrate the room.
    Susan Sully
  • The warm, exposed wood of the timber framing defines the open plan of the kitchen and dining room, which flows into the gathering room. Rich maple cabinets in the kitchen are fronted with seeded glass. Stainless steel, energy-efficient appliances lend a contemporary accent to the abundance of wood.
    Susan Sully
  • In their commitment to create a healthful, low-maintenance home, the Porrettos left the cypress siding unstained, allowing the home to weather to a lovely gray.
    Susan Sully
  • The spacious second-floor guest bedroom is brightened by windows that look to the marsh and boats cruising to the ocean. Overhead, the heart-pine ceilings are the sub-flooring for the third story.
    Susan Sully
  • Exposed timbers, ceilings of heart pine, clay-covered walls and reclaimed-wood heart-pine flooring add beauty to the gathering room while revealing the home's solid construction.
    Susan Sully

Geographically and ideologically, South Carolina’s Dewees Island is a place unto itself. Separated from the mainland by the silvery blue fingers of the Intracoastal Waterway, the island community is designed to preserve its pristine natural beauty. With a serious commitment to protecting the fragile barrier-island ecosystem, Dewees Island residents are a step ahead when it comes to environmental awareness. And that made it the perfect place for John and Sue Porretto to build their “heirloom” home: one that could withstand the rigors of a coastal environment, outlast a 30-year mortgage and be passed on to children and grandchildren.

John and Sue’s timber-framed house, enclosed with structural insulated panels (SIPs), was constructed to the highest energy-efficiency and sustainability standards and designed to withstand a hurricane with 145-miles-per-hour winds. Because beach erosion and accretion are anticipated on Dewees, which is accessible only by ferry, homes nestle deep into the landscape, making a small footprint on the island.

The Porrettos, who divide their time between Dewees and their home in Houston, spent years conceiving and developing their island retreat, a cypress-clad masterpiece that rises three stories above the indigenous vegetation surrounding it. Inside, the exposed post-and-beam structure made of standing deadwood, reclaimed heart-pine flooring and clay-covered walls give the living areas a traditional and earthy feel. Large windows and French doors draw the eye to stunning marsh views.             

Environmental rap sheet 

Building sustainably was the Porretto’s top priority. As the chief operating officer of a large academic health center, John had persuaded the board of trustees to build the University of Texas School of Nursing to the highest green standards.

“I was confident an investment in sustainable building methods would pay for itself in about three years,” John says. “And it would continue to benefit the university through reduced utility and maintenance expenses for the life of the building.” The result was the largest green academic building in the Southwest, recognized by the American Institute of Architects as a Top 10 Green Project for 2006.

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