Residence – Savannah Historic District

Front After-featured

Completed by Brian Felder as design principal


Built in 1852 for Simon Mirault, a free man of color. This house originally occupied a site on Habersham Street just north of Jones Street until 1963. At that time the upper wood frame structure was separated from the brick lower floor and relocated to 21 Houston where it was set on a new masonry garden level. The 110-year-old structure was reconfigured as a duplex with a 650 sq.ft. apartment on the ground level. The upper floor and finished attic served as a second independent apartment. The primary unit, with only 1,200 sq. ft, could not facilitate the full time commitment the two professional owners wanted to make to this Washington Square home.

They charged the architect and contractor with the following requirements:
• Connect the parlor and garden level with an enclosed stairway that would not diminish the interior space or reduce the usefulness of the small rear court
• A gourmet kitchen that could accommodate the owner’s professional needs
• A library and study
• Concealed HVAC equipment inside and out with ductwork on the ground floor that did not encroach on the 7’6” ceiling height.
• Strengthen the parlor floor and reduce the 1 ½” deflection that occurred with normal foot traffic
• Closets and storage adequate to their needs
• Guest bedroom space
• A full bath for each level
• Minimize the demolition of any original walls and maintain the historic fabric inside and out. Where required, replace in kind.

The switch back style exterior wood stairway was removed to accommodate an addition that would enclose the new stairs. This addition increased the useful space of the rear yard. A storage closet was also incorporated on the parlor level. The new exterior siding profile was selected to allow for an obvious visual difference to the large bead style on the original house. Remove the 7’6” sheetrock ceiling from the garden level to expose the floor system and add four floor joists to reduce the span from the original spacing from 36”, on Center, to 18”. To bear the weight of the parlor level wall above, two steel columns and beam were installed and enclosed in new matching cabinets.

A faux floor board system was installed between joists on the garden level to conceal the needed electric and mechanical work while leaving the lower part of the joists exposed, providing the illusion of added ceiling height.

Custom fabricate very flat wide duct work for the garden level that would allow for the needed airflow while maintaining the most headroom possible. Conceal the air handler within a custom fabricated kitchen cabinet.

Utilized a special side exhaust air compressor that would allow a second compressor to be set above, so that both units could be fit in a small back yard recess and not encroach on the courtyard’s important social space. The original very wide plank flooring was found in the recess of the attic. It was removed and replaced with plywood. The 165-year-old heart pine was then used for repair and infill in the floor below.

A new window was installed in the upstairs parlor to provide more north light and a better sense of space to this important front room. One door was thought to be from the original construction and all new doors were fabricated to match. The few door casements that did not have the original shallow chevron header were fabricated with conforming header design.

Lastly the asphalt shingle roof was removed and replaced with a standing seam metal roof in keeping with the original construction. The requirements and constraints of adapting what remained of this century and a half old home, to meet the present day needs of conditioning, powering and servicing the structure and meeting all the appropriate clients requirements without compromising the home’s history, or its petite proportions was a significant challenge for the design team and the contractor. But their successful solutions to these challenges have helped ensure the continued contribution of 21 Houston to the Washington Square neighborhood and the Historic District for many decades to come.