Antiques of Distinction

BY PATRA TAYLOR | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

The antiques business is alive and well on King Street. That’s according to expert-in-residence Andy Golden whose store, Golden & Associates Antiques, has been a fixture in the heart of Charleston’s Antiques District for more than 25 years. Known for brokering the highest quality 18th-and 19th-century antiques, and for his impeccable reputation, Golden has been instrumental in elevating this traditional retail section of lower King between Beaufain and Queen streets into an antiques lover’s paradise with international appeal.

Golden acquired his deep appreciation for beautiful wooden pieces early. “I got it from the wood on my grandfather’s old shotguns,” recalls Golden. “As I’d rub my fingers on the stocks, he would tell me the kinds of wood they were made of . . . the various types of walnut and mahogany. I fell in love with the wood.”

As a child, Golden seemed to attract furniture. After his father, Neal, built a large new home for his family, he announced there wasn’t any money to spend on furniture. That’s when Golden’s magic touch kicked in. “People would just give me things back then,” says Golden.

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One major treasure trove came from his cousin Estelle. “When she closed her boarding house, she let me take whatever I wanted from the part of the house she was no longer using,” explains Golden. “I was 12 or 13 and couldn’t drive, so my mother would drive me in a pick-up truck to the house. I’d drag the furniture from the attic all the way down to the first floor by myself. Between Cousin Estelle and others, I took home so much stuff that my father went nuts because it was taking up all the space in our home.”

After college, Golden waded into the antiques business with the Livingston family. Golden & Livingston was established south of Charleston on Highway 17 as a result of a number of buying trips to Europe taken by Golden and Johnnie Livingston. But, Golden always kept a keen eye on the retail comeback that was taking place in Charleston’s historic shopping district, particularly on King Street. When he finally announced he wanted to move the business downtown, the two parted ways.

“My first antiques shop downtown was at 12 Anson St., where Anson’s Restaurant is currently located,” continues Golden. “I bought that building with a partner. It had a huge parking lot, and some days my son, Drew, would make more money parking cars in that lot than I’d make selling antiques.”

Finally, Golden got the big break for which he’d long been waiting. The property at 204 & 206 King St., went up for sale. Golden and a partner purchased the building, and after making major repairs, King Street finally became the new home of Golden & Associates. But Golden’s bliss of finally being exactly where he wanted to be was short-lived. On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo blew into town leaving a devastated Charleston in its wake. “I lost it all,” says Golden. “We believe this building was directly hit by a tornado. The entire front of the building fell into King Street, and the back came down.”

Fortunately, Golden had the foresight to move out truckloads of his finest wares ahead of the storm. Even with much of his inventory high and dry, it took Golden three years to rebuild.

Today, Golden & Associates is one of the jewels in Charleston’s famed Antiques District. The dealer’s 3,500-square-foot showroom features period lighting, 18th and 19th-century American and European antiques, 19th-century Caribbean furniture and great finds for the fireplace. One of the secrets to his longevity in the high-end antiques business is French polish.

French polish is a highly glossy and durable furniture finish invented by the English in the 18th century but perfected by the French. (Hence the name.) According to Golden, it’s all about gradually filling the pores in the wood grain so that a reflective surface is created to achieve the desired level of sheen. “French polish is a process rather than a product,” explains Golden. “It’s labor intensive and very expensive, but it brings out the luster of the wood. The Charlestonians who buy from me know what they’re looking at; the visitors to Charleston who dock their yachts in the harbor and come to this shop know what they’re looking at.”

After more than 40 years in the antiques business, Golden is still active in the day-to-day operation of the business—buying and selling, authenticating and appraising. What’s most amazing is that Golden often knows a bit of the history of those pieces of furniture that pass through his loving hands, and willingly tells those tales to anyone interested enough to listen. He freely admits he does it all with a lot of help from his wife, Shirley Golden, his son, Drew Golden, and associates Bob Osteen and Elliott Spann.

“If anyone tries to tell you that the antiques business is dead on King Street, don’t believe him,” concludes Golden. “We’ve survived hurricanes, recessions and the latest trends, but we’re still here. We’re still here selling period pieces to owners of the historic homes in the Charleston area. And with the help of the Internet, we’re now shipping antiques worldwide. I think we’re here to stay.”

Patra Taylor is a Charleston-based writer.