The House of Eight Porches: A South Carolina Beach Home

A Southern beach house eight miles from Charleston becomes an eco-friendly home away from home.

| January/February 2005

Rives and Wally Yost had spent many summers on the beaches near Charleston, South Carolina, where Wally had family ties, but the Pittsburgh residents had never been quite satisfied with the houses they rented. The homes were clustered too close together, thirsty lawns replaced natural vegetation, and energy-inefficient designs demanded constant air conditioning. “When you walked outside, the first thing you heard was the drone of air conditioners,” recalls Wally. Adds Rives: “The houses had wall-to-wall carpeting, fireplaces, mirrored walls, too much furniture, and no clotheslines. I kept thinking I’d like to build a proper beach house.”

In 1999, when the couple and their teenage children, Robin and Lottie, were summering on Isle of Palms, northeast of Charleston, they spotted a sign for Dewees Island. They discovered a small boat landing and a guide who offered to show them the island. Soon they were aboard a ferry gliding through the Intracoastal Waterway. After passing a coastline densely studded with large houses, the ferry moved into an open inlet. The water spread wide, the sky became vast, shore birds soared overhead, and porpoises breached the waves. Small hummocks covered with bright-green sea grass punctuated the waterscape, their edges patrolled by lanky white egrets fishing in tidal pools.

Sustainable, Irresistible

Once docked at Dewees Island, the Yosts discovered a “green” community founded in 1991 by visionary developer John Knott. With only 150 home sites allowed on its 1,206 acres, 92 percent of the island is protected from development. Houses can be no larger than 5,000 square feet, must be set well back from the shoreline, and cannot disturb natural wetlands. Lawns are not permitted, protected trees cannot be cut, and only native plants may be cultivated. No cars are allowed on the sand roads, which are traveled by foot, bicycles, and electric golf carts. Building guidelines recommend the use of durable, energy-efficient materials and site planning that takes advantage of prevailing winds and avoids overexposure to the sun.

“We weren’t really looking for beach property,” Wally recalls, “but when we saw this place and learned about the protective covenants and overall approach to development, we thought it was just too good to be true. Two days later, we owned a lot.”

The Yosts’s property had been overlooked by several potential buyers because it was so densely grown with oaks. A wetland further diminished the buildable area, but Wally paced across the plot, looking up and envisioning a house built among the trees. Their architect, Charleston-based modernist Whitney Powers, understood the family’s dream of a house nestled into the natural landscape. “They didn’t want a beach decoration,” she notes.

11/14/2013 7:22:22 AM

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