The population and economic boom in the Lowcountry is causing a few ill side effects, among them the loss of trees and the gutting and chucking of often historic items made of wood.
But a handful of craftsmen are saving what they can to create art for the home, from sturdy tables and bowls to frames, mirrors and more.
They see not only the value of trees and the beauty and individuality of wood grains and colors, but their heritage and belonging to Charleston.
The craftsmanship combined with the sustainability and history makes for products that one framemaker says are “selling like hotcakes.”
Capers Landrum Cauthen, owner of Landrum Tables, has preservation in his blood. His father was the late Henry F. Cauthen Jr., a leading preservationist, curator and antique dealer in Charleston, Columbia and Georgia.
For nearly a decade, Capers has been salvaging wood, from barns and docks to downed trees, and making furniture out of it. He started Landrum Tables about seven years ago shortly after he suffered a head injury among other personal challenges and losses.
Since then, thousands of locals and tourists have seen his tables at the Charleston Farmers Market.
Since October 2013, Cauthen has been working out of a large warehouse at 575 Meeting St. where he not only stores salvage wood but has five carpenters, some apprentices, making a variety of tables. “Architectural Digest” in April named Landrum Tables as one of four places to shop in Charleston.
And while recent news that the property owner wants to demolish the buildings on the property, Cauthen seems like a man with a mission and dreams, driven by a higher calling, that won’t be daunted by obstacles.
“We have to be good stewards of God’s creation. He made this wood. It’s not done yet. It might be done with its first use, but there’s another use in it,” says the 45-year-old Cauthen. “This wood was here before I was born. And unless some cataclysm happens, these tables will be here after I’m gone. The wood is the reason. It’s not that I did something. I just saved wood that is timeless.”
Like many craftsmen, Cauthen says the wood he collects often has a background story, a history, that he often can recite.
“It (making furniture out of reclaimed wood) is something I believe in. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. I’m facing huge challenges financially to keep this going.”
Retired developer Paul Kaplowitz, as the owner of K&M Custom Homebuilders, used to be responsible for having trees cut down to make way for new houses.
But the 71-year-old says he’s always loved trees and wood and is now making bowls out of trees that have met the demise of the developer’s chainsaw.
Kaplowitz’s introduction to woodworking came 26 years ago when his then-11-year-old son and avid baseball player asked him to make a bat for him.
“I had no idea how to make a bat. I didn’t know what kind of wood to use. I didn’t know anything about it,” says Kaplowitz, who also coached and umpired. “I had bought him bats, but he wanted me to make him one. At age 11, they think you’re a god and I wanted to extend that illusion a few more years.”
He made some calls to the makers of Louisville Slugger, who actually accommodated his request, and Kaplowitz made the drive from his then-Connecticut home to the Bronx in New York to take lessons in operating a lathe.
The woodworking hobby continued. After the housing market crashed and he retired, he admits to going “stir crazy.” His wife suggested that he start selling his bowls and he created a business, Artistry in Wood. Eventually a jury selected him to sell his bowls at the Charleston Farmers Market, which he does every other week.
He tapped friendships in the tree cutting businesses and turned adversaries, namely municipal staffers in charge of permitting tree cutting, into friends to find sources of downed trees.
“My getting them is a good use. The tree will live on. I know that sounds hokey, but I’m recycling it. It’s much better than the landfill,” says Kaplowitz, who stores logs, dries rough cuts and shapes bowls in his backyard and outbuildings in Mount Pleasant.
Five years ago, friends Mike Moyer and Will McKibben found a couple of doors and started “making stuff for friends” out of them.
Then they happened upon a guy on Spring Street, who was planning to move to Mexico, and wanted to unload about 60 mostly historic doors that he had been collecting for two decades.
“We ended up buying all of them,” says Moyer. “I started out solo and he (McKibben) was helping me out. So we started taking the doors and making mirrors out of the door panels. I had neat ones (doors) that were 150 years old.”
In 2011, Moyer and McKibben got into the Charleston Farmers Market and “that’s when it got serious.”
“We had a great response from everyone, locals and tourists. We try to do something different, but all with reclaimed wood,” says Moyer, adding that they went from collecting doors to “trim and different stuff.”
Moyer says they spend 90 percent of their time Dumpster diving and the rest of the time making frames in a backyard garage on James Island.
“Last year, I was downtown driving around. I was on Alexander Street and saw a house getting gutted. The dumpster was filled to the brim. I talked to the contractor. We took that thing from the brim to about ankle high. We took almost everything.”
In creating frames, they often leave the paint on the wood, sanding it slightly to obtain a rough chic quality.
“We don’t paint anything. It’s all original. Go on Etsy (a crafting website) and nobody’s doing that,” says Moyer.
And while the frames and mirrors are well crafted, Moyer says something bigger sells it.
“The story is the No. 1 seller of all our stuff. It’s Charleston. It’s saved. It was going to the landfill and got a second life. That’s our first sales pitch,” says Moyer, adding they will show on their phone and Facebook of the process from dumpster to frames.
Repurposing wood, as well as other architectural items, continues to get chic, as evidenced by the opening of a new showroom this spring on upper King Street.
Encore Architectural Salvage Co. is the creation of Bryant Dyees, a former law enforcement officer in Alabama who has a passion for building furniture out of reclaimed wood.
Last summer, Dyees purchased a mill in Orangeburg and offered his sister-in-law, Julie Gibbes, an opportunity to run a future store in Charleston
“All of our lumber is reclaimed from pre-1920 structures, so it’s antique grade. It’s beautiful wood. It’s heart pine and oak, some cypress. It all tells a story. It all has it’s own character. No two pieces, tables, floors, are the same. So it’s unique and special,” says Gibbes.
Gibbes says the demand for reclaimed wood is growing.
“What’s cool is people with modern homes who want to bring the rustic look back into it. It’s so easy to do. It’s a popular look right now. We’ve been fortunate with a wide range of customers and builders. We’re doing stuff with restaurants, a hotel and homeowners, or someone who wants to build his own coffee table. It’s a wide spectrum of needs and wants.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.