At first glance, you might think South Carolina and the Caribbean are worlds apart. But look more closely at the coastal architecture on Kiawah Island and St. Kitts and things start to look just a little familiar.
“You know, the two are not that different,” says John H. (Hank) Hofford, president of Bennett Hofford, one of the most successful and respected construction companies in Charleston, S.C.
And he should know. In the past 30 years, Bennett Hofford has developed and built more than 300 quality homes from downtown Charleston to Kiawah Island and St. Kitts, seamlessly bridging the gap between three distinct architectural vernaculars: historic, coastal and island.
“Kiawah and St. Kitts actually have similar environments with a lot of rain, heat, humidity, mosquitos and hurricanes to deal with, and the houses on both islands have adapted along similar lines,” he says.
“They’re generally designed to allow for natural ventilation with lots of indoor-outdoor living space, so the screened porch becomes part of the living room and vice versa.
“Both have nice overhangs on the roofs to protect the building from rain. And the walls, windows and shutters are designed to withstand winds of 120 to 150 miles per hour – even earthquakes on St. Kitts – so the homes have to be built very solidly.”
> This article originally appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Ocean Home magazine. <
While the materials might be different – more New England-style shingle on Kiawah, concrete and steel on St. Kitts and traditional bricks in downtown Charleston – Bennett Hofford’s exacting construction standards never waver.
Extensive experience, dedication to its clients, smart management and rigorous attention to detail are the foundation stones of this award-winning company.
The three Cs in Hofford’s life – Charleston, construction and the Caribbean – have been calling for as long as he can remember.
Born in Key West, Fla., Hofford and his family moved to Charleston in 1958 when his father, who was in the navy, was stationed there – and the city has been home to him, wife Susan and their family ever since.
He also fell in love with construction during his college years and started his own company in 1979, fixing up old buildings and homes in and around Charleston.
When Hofford cofounded the current firm with partner Michael Bennett in 1983, they turned their attention to master planning and building small and architecturally themed neighborhoods on several resort islands – including Kiawah – off the South Carolina coast.
“They were southern beach houses with architecture similar to Cape Cod Shingle-style homes – wood frames, wood paneling and large windows and doors that opened to the sea breezes,” says Hofford.
As demand for the village communities grew and the firm flourished in both Charleston and the islands in the 1980s and ’90s, the Hofford family enjoyed many happy vacations spent sailing yachts to the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations. “Sailing and the sea are very much in my blood,” he says.
But it wasn’t until the owner of Kiawah Island bought 2,500 acres of prime land on St. Kitts – for the development of Christophe Harbour, a luxury resort community on the island’s southeast peninsula – that Hofford really caught the Caribbean bug.
“One of the beauties of St. Kitts is that it has never really been commercialized or developed,” Hofford says. “The island had an agricultural economy based on sugar cane until 2005.
“It has a very different feel to it than the rest of the Caribbean,” he adds. “People are very well educated, softly spoken and quick to smile. These are very special people; it’s a wonderful place to be.”
The firm’s strong connection to Kiawah and blue-chip reputation in the construction industry made Bennett Hofford a natural fit with Christophe Harbour.
In the past seven years, the company has built a dozen homes there, has another three in progress and is planning more in the future.
The company is also creating much-needed jobs on St. Kitts and training local tradesmen and craftsmen to the highest American design and construction standards.
“Some of our craftsmen came down, fell in love with the place and never went back,” says Hofford. “Now they’re working with local crews and training them, which is great to see.”
Hofford says the island’s geography, climate and culture drive the architecture of the firm’s homes, but all are built to strict international codes and blend cutting-edge American and European technology with traditional materials from the Caribbean and Central America.
“We bring in coral stone from the Dominican Republic, roof shake from Guyana and half of our impact-rated mahogany windows are made in Guatemala,” he notes.
“But we also bring in nano doors that really open up these homes as well as prefabricated and prefinished cabinetry from Charleston, Miami and Germany.”
Hofford’s heart, however, always returns to Charleston and the firm’s ongoing building and restoration work in the city’s historic downtown.
The company office is in the landmark 1860s West Point Rice Mill, overlooking a marina on the Ashley River, and Hofford is a longtime and passionate member of the South Carolina Maritime Foundation. “I love the Caribbean,” he says, “but this will always be home.”
For more information, visit bennetthoffordconstruction.com.
Image Credits: Photo credit: Holger M. Obienaus.