AN ANCIENT WOOD

BY SCOTT D. ELINGBURG

If you have a vision, or even a rough idea, for a piece of furniture—something unique and tailored to your personal taste—chances are Southern Pine Artistry can create it for you. Be aware, however, that the company will likely exceed your expectations and elevate a merely functional piece of furniture into one of the highest caliber. Whether you’re commissioning a hefty, thick-grained butcher block, a 24-foot-long table made from a solid piece of Indonesian teak or an exact replica of a Civil War-era door, Southern Pine Artistry has the talent and the materials to bring your vision to life.

“Looking at furniture as art requires a different kind of mindset,” says Jeff Sasko, co-owner of Southern Pine Artistry. “Our work allows people to own something unique, something that’s their own design. No one else will have any piece like it.” He adds: “There are furniture builders out there, of course, but no one’s doing what we’re doing. Our art is evolving on its own.”

As an example, consider the piece a customer recently asked Sasko to recreate, based on an antique piece called a huntboard. Similar to sideboards, but with tall, tapered legs and a few drawers across the front, huntboards were traditionally used to serve tea and to store ammunition and alcohol (a dangerous combination!). Men would set their brandy glasses down atop the huntboard before going on foxhunts. As foxhunts became less common, these pieces did, too. The piece in question was modeled after a traditional English huntboard, adjusted to the customer’s own specifications.

The company’s furniture is constructed exclusively from reclaimed or recycled wood. But not just any wood. Southern Pine Artistry doesn’t use lumber discarded from construction sites. They specialize in reclaimed heart pine, America’s preferred building material in earlier times. Heart pine comes from the longleaf pine, a wood of exceptional density and strength that once grew across the South. With the near-demise of those old-growth forests, it has become impossible to find heart pine, except as reclaimed or recycled wood.

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Heart pine carries within it the character marks of time and tells its story to every person who takes the time to touch or admire it. “You can see the sheer beauty of it in the grain,” Sasko says. “It’s an ancient wood, an antique wood. There’s nothing else like it and you can’t get it anymore.”

Southern Pine Artistry is a relatively new venture for Sasko. It was born of a company that has been in business for over 100 years, Southern Pine Company of Georgia. Twenty-three years ago, Ramsey Khalidi bought what originally began as a sawmill. Khalidi put it to good use, reclaiming heart pine to use as flooring for homes.

Four years ago, Sasko and Khalidi became equal partners in the business, building custom furniture from the reclaimed wood and materials in Khalidi’s shop. It started as a way to keep busy between flooring jobs but soon took on a life of its own. Even as the influx of custom furniture orders increased, the flooring part of the business continued to thrive.

Until last year, the company was based in Savannah, Georgia, but in 2014, Austin Hamburger joined the company, and they began selling to the Charleston market. Anyone can walk into the Savannah facility for a consultation, but Hamburger is happy to travel wherever he is needed for those who don’t want to make the trek.

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Sasko and Hamburger describe the Savannah shop as an extraordinary place where they fashion customers’ grandest ideas from inception to creation—like a modern-day Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It contains all manner of reclaimed materials, from wood to brick to wrought iron gates. And Khalidi is constantly acquiring more materials by buying plantation homes, old barns and other buildings scheduled for demolition.

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“That was one of our goals with Southern Pine Artistry: to bring Khalidi’s world to Charleston,” Sasko says. “Whenever you walk through Charleston or visit, you can tell it’s really what this city is about. It seemed like a natural fit.”

For Sasko, Charleston is indeed a natural market, given the city’s commitment to preserving its centuries-old architecture and charm. It’s not surprising that work by Southern Pine Artistry is beginning to show up in public places here. Three separate pieces, for example, will be on display in the new Grand Bohemian Charleston Hotel: a repurposed factory table in the wine tasting room, reclaimed shutters at the hotel bar and 17th-century iron-inset doors for the wine room.

Some designers and manufacturers resort to misguided attempts to capture the unique look of reclaimed materials. They beat furniture with bicycle chains to make it look older or more distressed, for example. But there’s no substitute for the real materials. It’s the type of work that is born of appreciation for the wood, the work and the environment.

“We calculated how much wood Khalidi has sold over the last 23 years and estimated that he’s saved over 20,000 trees by using reclaimed wood,” Sasko says proudly. “It matters to us that we save trees, but for many customers, it’s about the story of the wood.”

As for the hunt for reclaimed materials and the rare heart pine, Sasko has an apt metaphor: “It’s a bit like being a treasure hunter looking to find the perfect piece of wood with the right look and feel. Every piece is a treasure to someone.”

Expansion has come quickly for Southern Pine Artistry and, in seven to 10 years, we will likely see their products all over the world. But for now, I would happily settle for a brand new hardwood floor in my foyer—and a new dining room table fashioned from exquisite heart pine.

Scott D. Elingburg is a freelance writer who lives in Charleston.