Much of the appeal of Charleston is the living history of its architecture and how its occupants give the art and tradition of the past a relevance in the present and hopefully for the future. Architect Mark Maresca and his beautiful Battery house are a perfect example. Built in 1800 by a captain in the Continental Army, member of the South Carolina General Assembly and president of the Bank of South Carolina, the John Blake House is an august though unusual example of a Charleston Single House. One of only two ell shaped houses of the period in Charleston, it is also on one of the largest lots in the historic district. A house of strong simple lines, its qualities are reflected in Maresca’s light at the entry designed for Urban Electric Co..
All the colors on the exterior were developed by Mark and his wife, also an architect. The lively turquoise on the muntins of the windows, as seen on the porch below, was a challenge to get approved by the rigorous BAR (Board of Architectural Review) who felt it was too Victorian. However, knowing how Charleston was influenced by Barbadian colors, Maresca carefully researched another period house with similarly colored windows to certify the authenticity of its use. Armed with this documentation, Maresca presented his case and received the final nod of approval.
Maresca’s classic Belmont lantern for Urban Electric Co., hangs above, painted a similar tone.
The charming parterre garden originally dates from 1840, an era of refined and elegant style. The previous owner had established the garden merely for show, but Maresca believes it’s about living in and sharing the space, so he restored and reconfigured it as a pattern garden for modern use. The lush layout can be seen from the porch above.
Maresca defined the space by establishing four axes centered on a 1790 Italian sculpture he found of the same era as the house, based on an ancient Roman statue in the Met called Study of a Man. The plantings are all about texture.With different outlines of boxwoods and palms, they will be filled in with an all white floral scheme for the holidays. At night 1,000 votive candles light the space creating what I’m sure is a dramatic and magical effect.
And then through a deep trellised arbor, bordered on either side by a high dense podocarpus hedge, you enter another garden room.
A large open space, it is the perfect party venue. Charleston ivy lines the walls like a textured green fabric and a tin Sense and Sensibility-like tent Maresca designed is brought out from storage for parties along with a painted dance floor. I think I may need to make a return visit to see the garden really come to life.
The foyer inside is painted a dark inky chocolate Maresca developed for Benjamin Moore. Originally named Melissa Brown, after his wife, it is now known in the line as Bronzetone,
a handsome versatile backdrop for their classically inspired vignettes.
Charlestonians seem gifted at telling visual stories. Like the beach house of Amelia Handegan, Maresca’s home is filled with handcrafted objects that silently paint a picture, narrating a unique vision of tradition for today. Portraits of and by his daughters, antiques purchased with his wife decades ago as a young married couple, a coffee table designed early in his career, all contribute to the life of this room.
The elegant, intricately carved Regency mantel lives comfortably with an 18th century Italian grotto chair, textiles from Thailand and Malaysia, an American grandfather clock,
and sinuous Venetian glasses, the perfect counterpoint to the geometry of the millwork.
And while Maresca has many beautiful things, his most treasured assets rest behind the doors of a cabinet in this room – love letters from his wife and daughters with momentos they have collected over the years, leaves, butterflies etc. – set against another proprietary color – Marco blue.
A delicious brunch was served in the gracious dining room.
Many of the furnishings in the house are from other historic Charleston homes, such as the beautiful chandelier, from the distinguished Nathaniel Russell Pineapple Gate house of a similar era. And the 18th century architectural engravings
perfectly complement a drawing from Maresca’s daughter, an accomplished classical artist in her own right.
Up the stairs
and we reached a sitting room. As Maresca explained, according to custom, this is where guests congregated, removed from the odors and noise of street level.
A Mark Mulfinger textile work hangs prominently with Maresca’s Urban Electric Co. Melissa light standing in the foreground. Vignettes full of eclectic pieces and patina populate the room.
And through french doors an enclosed porch is a place where Maresca plays cards with his daughters when they are home
overlooking the garden below.
Another corner held more of Maresca’s eclectic collection.
Seeing art and history through Maresca’s well informed and catholic eye was a privilege and pleasure. And lest you think you’ve seen his entire vision, stay tuned for a surprising update to the manse he has planned – I think it will be a design revelation. Stop back after the holiday as we visit the factory of Urban Electric Co – the visionary company which, like the designers we’ve visited, is passionate about melding past and present.