Tag: lowcountry

How Much Will Building My Custom Home Cost?

Before you so much as set pen to paper, there’s usually a host of questions that come up when you consider building a new home.  The one question that encapsulates all others is, “How much is it going to cost to build my house?”

When I’m asked this question, my first response is usually, “How much have you budgeted for the project?”  Far from being an unpleasant retort, it is a serious question.  Often, people will respond with so many dollars per square foot, which, with a simple multiplication by their desired conditioned area – Voilà! – the project budget!  But…

Ce n’est pas un budget.

Approaching your project budget in this manner obfuscates more than it accounts for.  There are just too many factors that influence the cost of your custom home, but this simple arithmetic persists as a way to easily talk about costs, from rough framing to floor finishes.

In order to meaningfully address such a complex undertaking within the space of a post such as this, we need to set some parameters, because not all houses are located, designed, and built the same.  Let’s assume the following.

  • Location:  Urban, suburban, rural (on high ground)
  • Scope:  New ground-up construction only
  • Area:  2,500 – 3,000 SF (square feet), conditioned

Your budget, and the final cost of the project, will depend largely on two interrelated factors; 1) Size, meaning how much you build, and 2) the Quality of all that you build.  Keep in mind that both are more nuanced when taking into consideration areas not part of the conditioned area – porches, decks, terraces, etc. – and the difference between a finely finished library and a bare bones mechanical room.  These differences also need to be reflected in the cost.


We have quite a range of options for building sites in the Lowcountry; a dense historic downtown, spacious suburban neighborhoods, meticulously maintained resort communities, prized beachfront sites, and magnificent river marsh locations.  These fall into roughly three categories; urban, suburban, and rural.

Urban sites located in downtown Charleston or the Old Village Mount Pleasant have their own unique set of conditions.  Limited parking, narrow lots, the historical context, and public design review are just a few issues that present challenges to designing and building a custom home.

Suburban building sites, whether as far out as Summerville or closer in like West Ashley, are generally less expensive, less design prescriptive, more spacious, and easily accessible.  The exception would include luxury resort communities like Kiawah Island, that requires a 60-minute commute, security gate passes, specific community design guidelines, and an architectural review board (ARB) that adds costs up and down the project team, from architects and builders to subcontractors and suppliers.

Rural sites located in remote areas such as Awenda to the northeast or Wadmalaw Island to the southwest generally have far fewer design restrictions – unless located in an exclusive enclave – than suburban and urban sites, but their distance from labor and material sources does add to construction costs. It’s difficult to say exactly how much, but it’s safe to assume an increase of 15%.



The cheapest foundation to build is a concrete slab on grade, a method preferred by track home builders here and across the region. If your building site is on high ground and NOT in a flood zone, then this can be something worth considering.  The next cheapest foundation is concrete footings – preferably continuous to mitigate differential settling of the building – and concrete masonry units, or CMUs.  Piles driven into the ground using heavy equipment is the more expensive foundation, but is also a necessity on sites with soft ground or in “V” flood zones where scouring from flood waters can undermine other types of foundations.  For foundation costs only, pile foundations generally cost up to three times that of slab on grade construction.


There are three interrelated factors that determine the cost of your homes structure; method of construction, labor, and time.  As a baseline, stick-built is the common construction method here, consisting site built walls framed with 2×4 (or 2x6s) studs at 16” on center, but other construction methods have made their way into Lowcountry, offering faster build times which translates to cheaper finance and insurance costs.

  • Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) – Slightly costlier (2% or so), than an equivalent stick-built home, this method offers advantages of speedy construction, high thermal performance, wind resistance, and, for urban sites particularly, greater noise attenuation.  Homes can be built in about 75% of the time for a comparable stick-built home of comparable size, saving a lot of money that gets eaten up by a typical construction schedule.
  • Modular – Modular construction methods present can impact design choices, but for homeowners wanting a minimalist aesthetic and a quick build time it’s an attractive option.  Savings resulting from this method can be pocketed or applied to other aspects of the home like higher quality finishes, lighting and plumbing fixtures, or more energy efficient windows and doors.  Homes can typically be built in 50% of the time for a conventionally framed home.

If we assume that the minimum construction cost for a simple home is around $160 – 180/SF, as the design becomes more complex and higher quality finishes are selected, this guestimate will quickly reach to $250/SF.  Highly custom designs and artfully crafted homes will start out around $300/SF and rise as high as a homeowner is willing to pay for more refined details, high performance systems, and luxury items.

All of this is to say that, at best, a ballpark cost-per-square foot construction budget can only give you an approximation at the outset of your building project.  You would have to develop a highly detailed set of drawings and specifications describing the level of desired quality, fixtures, finishes, etc. to have a more complete picture of the final cost.

This is certainly prudent when you’re ready for your project to move forward, but if you’re not, doing so could mean wasting tens of thousands of dollars on design services only to find out what you’ve dreamed up is beyond your budget.  A low-cost Discover and Focus consultation that includes conceptual level design and preliminary budgeting can help you avoid such a scenario and save you a lot of pain in the process.

Towards A New Lowcountry Architecture, Part 1


Le Corbusier

October 6th will mark the birthday of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, more famously known as Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965). An architect, urban planner, designer, painter, writer, he was one of the pioneers of the modern architecture movement.

My first introduction to his work was in a small college town nestled in the foothills of South Carolina. On seeing his iconic Villa Savoye for the first time, I was taken across the state and back to the houses on the edge of America, Folly Island, where my family would vacation during the summer.

While my first impression found a connection to a familiar type of building back then, Le Corbusier’s Five Points that would inform this 85 year-old modern masterpiece has some valuable lessons to teach new houses being built now in the South Carolina lowcountry.

It was in his 1923 book, Vers une Architecture, that Le Corbusier outlined those five points for a new architecture.

  • Pilotis (it’s French for stilts) – Use of columns instead of load-bearing walls as the structural system.
  • Free plan – The absence of load-bearing walls means that interior spaces are flexible.
  • Free Façade – Structural columns allow the façades (sides of the building) to be flexible.
  • Ribbon windows –Long horizontal windows were intended for even illumination and ventilation of the rooms within.
  • Functional Roof – The roof replaces the land occupied by the building, serving as a garden and terrace.

Before explaining how these points can positively influence the design of new homes here along our coast, it’s important to understand how the design and construction of the vernacular beach house, as well as new homes currently being built, has evolved.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) height regulations were enacted, it dramatically changed how coastal vernacular architecture functioned, even though its aesthetic largely remained the same. From an architectural standpoint, these changes have negatively impacted the function and experience of residential architecture in the lowcountry, or that haven’t been sufficiently reevaluated in the least. I call these my Five Critiques. In Part 2 of this post, I’ll discuss how these shortcomings can be turned into positive design opportunities.

1. It’s A House…On Stilts.

Typical beach house construction.

I’ll admit, I am a bit nostalgic about an old ramshackle beach house that looks like someone just took your typical home and precariously plopped it down on some skinny posts sticking out of the ground.

Whether they’re piers, piles, posts, or columns, the ground floor structural system of  homes built in flood zones typically stop at the first floor level. The rest of the house is framed using dimensional lumber, commonly referred to as being “stick built.” Structurally this is perfectly sound, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. But, architecturally, this results in a house having little vertical design continuity.

In some cases, break-away panels may be added to the ground level, helping to anchor the house to the ground.

2. Your Front Door Isn’t Your Door.

A house that I provided very limited design services for recently sold on the market. It was listed for $939,000. That’s a lot money. But here’s the thing, and this is true of even more expensive homes, that beautifully front porch and three-quarter lite mahogany front door, the homeowners will never use it.


Calling myself out on my own design to expose local building practices that should be reconsidered.

When a house is elevated a full story above the ground, the natural response is to locate the parking underneath, a common practice here along the coast. Parking underneath led to the need for a stair from the first floor to the garage below. Problem solved!

Unfortunately, this has led to the most regrettable experience of new homes being built in flood-prone areas today.

Your daily experience of arriving and leaving your home is now through the most uninspiring, boring, utilitarian space imaginable, or unimagined in this case. It often has no natural light, little to no finishes, and poor artificial lighting. If you’re lucky enough, that stair will lead you up into a nice foyer. If you’re lucky, but probably not. There’s no reason it has to be this way. It just requires thinking things through.

Hey, if you spend that much money, a million, or more, don’t you think you should have a vastly different experience each time you come home or go out? I certainly think you should.

3. Wasted Space, Right Under Your Feet.

The big shortcoming, I see with most houses being built with parking underneath, is that the space beneath them usually ends up being wasted or underutilized. It often becomes storage of sorts for more stuff people know what to do with.

The first space you experience?

The image was taken during construction, but you can be sure it doesn’t look much different that it’s now completed.

Rarely, if ever, are these spaces planned and designed for a specific purpose in advance. Most of the time they are left bare and unfinished even though they’ve become the primary means of entering the house for the homeowners. That’s really too bad.

Sure, there are limitations on what you can do below the base flood elevation, but these areas can be designed as more interesting spaces by using flood resistant construction.

4. Ground? What Ground?

Elevating your home is good thing because it places one of your most valuable assets out of harm’s way. The other advantage is that doing so can also provide your home with some pretty incredible views if you’re fortunate to have a site overlooking one of our beaches, the beautiful marshes, or along our lazy rivers.

cruise ship house

Early in my career, it was joked that the experience of the houses we were designing was like being on the deck of a cruise ship, coasting along above the landscape.

The downside to this is that it disconnects the interior spaces of the first floor from the ground and its immediate surroundings.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things about my grandparents’ house was the huge azaleas that came right up to the window sills. You could press your nose up to the window and watch the bubble bees buzzing about when they were in full bloom.

A well designed house should connect us with the earth and its beauty, not separate us from it.

5. Nature Stops Here.

Often there’s a clearly delineated line between the outside and inside with most all houses, not just those here. In the case of homes here, space is cleared away to build what amounts to a considerable footprint despite the little physical connection to the ground they actually make.

For an elevated house, it sure has a big footprint.

Landscaping is run up to the perimeter of the houses, if at all, where it remains only enjoyable to passersby on the street or sidewalk. In some cases, there may be an elevated terrace with a pool and planters that attempt to bring nature just a little bit closer to the first floor.

That’s a good start, but good design can go much further toward integrating a lowcountry house with the beautiful landscape in which we’re fortunate enough to live. And it should.


So, there you have it, my Five Critiques of the current state of lowcountry vernacular architecture. Stay tune for the second part of this post. I’ll explain how these shortcomings can be turned into positive design opportunities for your new home, whether it’s on the beach, looking out over the marsh, set along a river, or nestled between twisting live oaks. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.



Finding and Hiring Your Builder

Many people struggle with understanding how and when to hire a builder for their new home. This process can seem like a complex and frightening roadblock for those who haven’t been through it before. I prepared this guide to help you understand and simplify the process.

Hiring the best builder for your residential project is an extremely important decision. That choice will result in a higher quality of craftsmanship, a timely completion, and within or even under budget. It will also minimize emotional stress and unforeseen extra costs.

For an luxury high-end custom home, it would be beneficial to research a number of reputable builders specializing in that kind of size, complexity, and quality work. It’s also very smart to bring in a contractor early on in the design process to ensure you won’t be building more than you can afford or need. Your architect can advise you during this process.

To download my free top tips for finding and hiring your builder for your customer home, simply fill out the form to the right. You’re welcome, and good luck with your project!

Know What You Can Build Before You Buy

Here’s a question for you.

Say you’re in the market to purchase a property that you plan to build a new home on. Or, maybe it’s a vacation home. Now, ordinarily, you’d be looking at a few properties, and trying to make a decision based on their individual locations, features, problems, opportunities, value, etc.

That’s all well and good. But, what if you could see into the future of one or more scenarios that you’re considering?

What if I told you that you could get critical insights about how the property would inform the planning and design of your new home, and how your new home would enhance the experience of the property BEFORE you buy?

How valuable would that be in making the best decision on a very important purchase?

I’m guessing you might be saying to yourself, “How is that possible?”

Well, it is! And, here’s how you can.

One of the services I offer my clients is what I call my Discover and Focus consultation.

Site analysis for a Discover and Focus consultation.

With it, you’ll get just what it implies, you’ll discover the opportunities and limitations of the property, as well as gain a clearer focus on the how your needs and wishes could enhance the site.

Purchasing a property for a new home or a vacation house is a big commitment. This low-cost consultation can help you avoid making the wrong decision.

It will also give you valuable information in making many right decisions after you’ve decided on a property.

One of three site planning options for a Discover and Focus consultation.

If you’re looking to buy a property and build, you owe it to yourself and your family to know WHAT you can build BEFORE you buy.

Call (843–276–2074) or email me to schedule a free meeting at my office to talk about your building plans and what how my Discover and Focus Consultation can help you.



Building your home can and should be an exciting experience. However, too often I’ve heard stories of unexpected surprises; misunderstandings between the owner, architect, and builder; costly budget overruns that could have been avoided; and scheduling delays that should have been anticipated. Well, I decided to do something about that.

I’ve prepared these free guides to help people who are planning to build better prepare themselves so they can avoid these problems. Whether your just considering building, or if you’re already looking for your architect, these guides will help you make the best decisions for a successful project. You’re welcome, and good luck with you project!




Welcome, and thanks for visiting.

I specialize in bespoke design of primary residences, vacation homes and other residential development projects in South Carolina and Florida.

My work undertakes a range of projects types – new construction, renovations, additions, interiors and speculative endeavors. Design solutions are pursued through a careful understanding of context, deliberate consideration of priorities and opportunities, and by refining design ideas down to their elemental expression.

I began my solo practice in 2013 after having worked with firms in New York and Miami following the completion of my graduate studies at Columbia University.

I grew up in rural South Carolina where the earliest architectural memories that most interested me were old barns and sheds, saw mills, cotton gins, grain silos, and hunting camps. The beauty and integrity of simple, informal structures and materials continues to influence my approach to design.


I offer a complete scope of design services for residential and commercial projects, beginning with Pre-Design + Planning through to a built project. Customized services are offered to meet your specific design, budget and scheduling needs.

Design Solutions are developed through an iterative process with the use of current technologies including Building Information Modeling (BIM), various digital visualizations tools, as well as traditional analogue means (drawings, sketches and physical models).

I engage my clients in a manner that involves them throughout the design process, offering guidance that results in successful projects and satisfied owners.

In addition to complete project delivery, I also offer the following services:

Building Information ModelingExisting Conditions SurveyingGraphic DesignInterior DesignRenderings and Digital ModelsProgrammingSite Analysis and Zoning StudiesSpace Planning

Never worked with an architect before? Read about the process most projects typically follow here.


My professional background includes local, regional and international experience on a range of project types including commercial, hospitality, master planning, religious and residential design with award-winning firms and top-notch people in Florida, New York, and South Carolina.

Selection of Previous Work

Notable collaborations include my role as the project architect with the New York firm LOT-EK on their Open School pavilion for the Anyang Public Art Project (APAP) in Anyang, Korea and assisting architect Andrew MacNair on the design of his Egg Chapel that was completed outside Seoul in 2012.

I also worked with MacNair and Steven Holl on 32BNY, providing technical and editorial input for the magazine's online launch. Since then, I've has collaborated with firms PlusUrbia, Revuelta and rGlobe in Miami on a range of project types and scales that include a ski resort in China, an 18-unit mixed-use condo, and the adaptive reuse of warehouses in Miami.

Other past and current collaborators include:

Steven Holl
Andrew MacNair
Revuelta Architecture International
Ray Williams

Tommy received Master degrees in Architecture and Urban Planning from Columbia University, and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Design from Clemson University. He is licensed in Florida, New York and South Carolina.


Teaching is an energizing and complimentary component to the practice of architecture. As a professor, I strive to encourage a critical curiosity about what architecture can be.

Currently, I am a part-time faculty member at Miami University’s School of Architecture, where I've led graduate and undergraduate design studios and advised on thesis projects since 2013.

A pluralistic approach to design has led to diverse interests: notions of the informal, the found object and its repurpose, in systems and patterns, in construction and assemblies, as well as the intersection of historical precedents with evolving design tools and methodologies.

Past studios have included a residential tower for digital nomads in Miami, a boutique hotel in Charleston, a studio that explored the use of mass timber technology for a 30-story tower, and a mixed-use project in Paris.

More recently I've taught architecture history at The American College of The Building Arts in Charleston, where future generations of artisans are trained in the traditional building arts to "foster exceptional craftsmanship and encourage the preservation, enrichment and understanding of the world’s architectural heritage through a liberal arts and sciences education."

Sample of Students' Work

Download CV

For academic inquiries, please contact me here.


Please use the contact form to tell me about yourself and your project. I’ll get back to you about scheduling a conversation – either by phone or in person – during which I’ll give you my initial thoughts and answer questions. Following our initial conversation you may either request a proposal for a complete scope of design services or request a DISCOVER and FOCUS consultation in which I'll help you define the project's parameters and opportunities. Afterward, you may then decide to commission me to design the project.

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