The City Magazine Since 1975

Digging In

Digging In
November 2018

While Juliana Falk made her house a home, it made her “The Accidental Preservationist”

Juliana Falk in her Laurens Street home’s second-floor parlor, where modern elements were removed to uncover an original mantel, as well as flooring and trim work

In 2010, Juliana Falk moved to Charleston from Pennsylvania looking for less winter and more walkability. Little did she know she’d be walking into a crash course in architecture, archaeology, and preservation. She blames her contractor, David Hoffman, who educated her on the original elements of the 1810 Simon Jude Chancognie House she purchased. The two have restored plaster moulding, walls, windows, and floors and uncovered a privy—now an archeological site. Using the moniker ”The Accidental Preservationist,” Falk tracks the progress on social media and

CM: You keep uncovering cool things, whether at the site or while researching the home’s residents of yore. How do you prioritize what to explore further?
It’s a challenge! Learning one thing inevitably leads to more questions. Chancognie was the French consul to Charleston when he built the house, so I try to focus my research on the era related to his time here, realizing that to better understand the unique features of his house, I need to know more about who he was and how he lived. The many bottles we’ve dug up suggest large quantities of French wine and Champagne were involved.

CM: What about the preservation work have you most enjoyed?
Since meeting David, my contractor and mentor, I’ve discovered you really need to put your hands on historical structures to understand them. I love the hands-on aspects—everything from cleaning woodwork and plasterwork to hand-stripping wooden floors to working on the archaeological projects here.

CM: Most unexpected detour thus far?
The archaeological dig. I’ve been working on it with Martha Zierden of The Charleston Museum and never know what I will find—boar’s hair toothbrushes, hand-carved dice, a Lego!

CM: You recently took a preservation course in England. What’s your next learning adventure? Would you ever formally pursue preservation?
This month, I’m attending The Decorative Arts Trust symposium in New Orleans. I’m curious if Chancognie would have had some contact with the French community there. I have no plans to pursue anything formally, but then again, if you’d have told me five years ago that I’d be waist-deep in a privy, I’d have said you were crazy.


Hails from: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Other, not-so-accidental endeavors: Falk owns an upscale pet blanket company, Blankets From Emma
Studied: Not architecture, or preservation or history, but law, with a degree from the University of Virginia