The furniture sold at Old Charleston Trading Company has already lived countless lives. Each shelf, table and chair sold here has been pieced together from the abandoned parts of other things—everything from old metal milk urns to the remains of demolished buildings. The store is filled with history. And yet it couldn’t feel more alive.
Come in and you might find yourself admiring a chic coffee table and never know it was made from the planks of a dismantled James Island dock. You could trace the patterns notched in the frame of a bookcase and never know they were carved years ago by a villager living in Nehru Nagar, India. It’s a bookcase now, but in its past life it framed the entryway to an Indian courtyard.
There are fascinating stories behind everything at Old Charleston Trading Company, and the owners, Warren and Jim Redman-Gress, find much pleasure in telling them.
“An artist in Beaufort does these,” Warren says about a decoration hanging on the wall—a small boat with sails made of tin. “The sails come from an old barn roof he salvaged. I like it because it’s not just something you buy from Home Depot. It’s sheet metal that kept farm animals dry for who knows how many years.”
Warren and Jim opened their store last July on Johns Island, and since then they’ve filled it with both local and exotic items. Jim points out a light fixture that came from Turkey. It looks like a typical lamp from across the room. But when you come closer, the lamp reveals its true personality. The shade is an upside-down steel basket covered with hundreds of small holes. It might have been used to wash fruits or vegetables long ago. “Olives,” Jim says. “It’s an olive basket. The holes were originally put there to act as a sort of colander.”
When Warren and Jim describe any of their furniture they become animated. Everything in the store is made from one-of-a-kind materials, so when a piece is gone, it’s gone forever. Jim admits he can’t help having favorites. “There are certain pieces in the store that I become particularly attached to. I look at them every day, and when they sell, it breaks my heart.”
The way Jim and Warren talk you’d think they were running an animal shelter, not a furniture store. They aren’t looking to sell their products so much as find them a good home. Warren, in particular, feels uncomfortable calling himself a salesman. “If customers are not sure about something, I’ll say, ‘Well, then, don’t get it!’ When they find a piece they really love, you can just see it in them. That’s what I’m looking for,” he says.
Warren tells the story of a customer, a “little old lady,” who came in and bought a big, heavy sideboard with drawers made from old storm shutters. Warren was sad to see the piece go since it was one of his favorites.
A few days later the woman returned and bought a table that was even bigger and heavier than the sideboard. Warren offered to help move it to her home. As he was lugging the table inside, he saw his favorite sideboard sitting in her living room. “There it was. I was amazed. It was an absolute perfect fit for her house,” he says.
The experience made him proud. “The wood already had a story,” Warren continues. “It was part of someone else’s life at some point. Then it was ours. Now it’s hers…and her story will be added next.”
Jeramy Baker is a freelance writer in Charleston.