A truly transformative project, the Burnett Residence project began with the desire to adapt an existing waterfront residence that had significantly deteriorated. Only several feet from the marsh, the previous house had been set on low piers, covered in vinyl, and was suffering from moisture damage. A frame house with familial ties and significant interior woodwork, specific framing members and sections of wood paneling were identified for salvage from the existing house prior to demolition for reuse in the creation of a new structure.
Maintaining a small footprint on the same site, the new house was able to remain in close proximity to the marsh. Raised to a higher elevation, the new cottage is set on taller piers and incorporates two generous porches to provide an additional 730 square feet of outdoor living space. One porch wraps around the house’s northwest corner, providing ample seating room and gathering space as well as a covered entry from the approach of the adjacent driveway. The other capitalizes on the house’s front gable with a full height screen enclosure, capturing 180 degree views of the marsh and the property’s adjacent pier and dock. The house’s roof framing carries out into these areas, incorporating wide eaves and exposed rafter tails into the porch ceiling. The baluster features a cable rail system, providing minimal visual obtrusion and contemporary styling.
Through the addition of porches, the house’s open interior floor plan, paired with a compact design program, allowed it to retain a minimal footprint, an important ecological and aesthetic consideration along Savannah’s coastal waterways.
Framing the house’s open kitchen-living area concept are timbers and wall paneling salvaged from the previous dwelling, stained and refurbished for reuse. Throughout the house, these reused architectural elements provide a warmth to the interior, which features coastal details to include finishes in sea greens and blues. Along exterior walls, paired windows and doors with transoms give generous light to interior spaces, while interior pocket and sliding doors allow for maximized interior floor space and the incorporation of salvaged wood paneling. Similarly, the bedroom floor reuses wood flooring from the previous dwelling.
Finished in 2016, the house has now withstood several storms unscathed. During recent hurricane activity, the owners remained to only report damage to the surrounding site. Together, the house’s craftsmanship and structural stability; mass, scale, and minimal footprint; and overall aesthetic make the Burnett Residence a transformative and successful design, exceeding project goals and client expectations.
Design ChallengeThe project’s greatest challenge stemmed from the need to replace a non-conforming structure set within a 35 foot marsh setback along Bradley Creek on Savannah’s Whitemarsh Island. In poor condition at the outset of the project, the client originally sought to renovate the house that stood previously. Based on these conditions, however, the house had minimal taxable value. Since flood plain requirements dictate that structures be made compliant when upgraded, if the total cost of the improvements exceeds half the value of the structure, there was no way to maintain the structure in-place. As a result, it was determined that the new structure would honor the footprint of the existing house within the setback area and that the whole house would be raised above the flood plain elevation.
Looking to grow their home to a total of 993 square feet, a size within reason, the new house required an addition. As a result, the design team worked with local officials and was a awarded a variance for the expansion of this non-conforming structure.
With the variance in-hand, it was then necessary to identify the exact location of the 35 foot setback line for a clear delineation of the wetland boundary, wrested vegetation line, and riparian buffer. Requiring intensive coordination between County officials, Department of Natural Resources representatives, and the design team, these determinations led to the development of a detailed site map within which the new design could be placed successfully.
Other design considerations directly linked to the project’s location included the new house’s conformance to hurricane standards, to include material impact ratings to withstand 130 mph winds that was reinforced with hurricane ties. With only the marsh as a buffer from wind and storms, the house’s design was “put to the test” during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. The owners remained for both storms, reporting no damage and minimal disturbance.
Physical ContextDescribed as “sitting lightly on the land,” a reverence for the project’s surrounding natural environment was a driving factor for much of the design decisions implemented. Located on a tract of land owned by the client’s family for generations, the connections to the neighboring marsh and pier were powerful influencers of the design decisions made. Further, an existing pier on the property and its surrounding marsh view made the house’s placement particularly poignant.
Located on a site with an abundance of trees, including several large live oaks, the house’s new foundational piers required some improvisation to accommodate for large roots that extended below grade. This involved moving a footer and pier where a live oak’s roots were located, cantilevering the wood beams and tying them together with a galvanized steel bracket. As a result, no trees were damaged as part of the project and the house’s shaded areas were maintained to include a tree framed marsh front view off the house’s south façade, where a screen porch was incorporated.
As a result, the house was able to remain on this secluded marsh front lot just steps from the activity of Whitemarsh Island, nestled within live oaks with as little disruption to its site and setting as possible.