Sharon Campbell knows that porches, powerful symbols of Southern hospitality, are a big deal in the South. Campbell, owner and president of Backyard Retreats, is a petite and energetic steel magnolia who is passionate about helping people create welcoming outdoor vignettes for those beloved porches. “A bare porch looks like you haven’t taken the time to care,” says Campbell.
Campbell helps people show they care by providing high-quality, long-lasting outdoor furniture not only for porches but for patios, gardens, poolsides and other outdoor spaces in traditional and coastal styles.
High heat, humidity and Southern sun are especially challenging in the Lowcountry and take a toll on most natural materials, so Backyard Retreats carries many long-lasting items. “Quality is so important because our climate is so harsh. The Lowcountry weather is beautiful but harsh,” says Campbell. Anyone who has lived here any time at all has experienced rotted, dry-rotted or sun-destroyed outdoor furniture.
To that end, Backyard Retreats in Mount Pleasant carries a selection of woods including teak, eucalyptus and ipé wood as well as handsome resin wickers and recycled polymers. “We even have furniture in marine grade polymers, like those used in the boat building industry,” adds Campbell.
Visitors to the shop are greeted outside by a line of resin Adirondack chairs in delicious popsicle colors, that seem to say, “Welcome! Glad you’re here. Have a seat and stay a while.” Campbell uses as many American manufacturers as possible because, “You can go directly to the manufacture and get service. Most of our aluminums and polymers come from the U.S.”
The showroom is filled with inviting tableaus of seating arrangements, including a comfy resin wicker rocker that seems perfect for dozing. Most people make their way over to the resin wicker daybed with canopy and sit for a while. This is furniture for lingering with friends and family and enjoying life. Other pieces available include recliners, sectionals, love seats, chairs, chaises, even bed swings. Many brands are available, including Ebel, Ratana, Woodard, Mallin, Gloster and Telescope.
If you don’t have a vision, don’t worry. “People come in and say, ‘I’ve got this porch and this porch and this porch and I don’t know what to do!’ and we guide them through the process.” Though you can purchase items off the showroom floor from any of the staged vignettes, Campbell says people rarely do. “People usually want to customize the finish and the fabrics and truly make the look their own. Then we do a custom rug to tie it all together.”
You can select your fabric from many different fabric lines, such as Sunbrella, Outdura and more for use on cushions, pillows and umbrellas. “We’re an authorized Sunbrella dealer so we have a wide range of fabrics for customers to select from,” says Campbell. Also available are customizable indoor and indoor/outdoor products in endless (and gorgeous) styles. Several lines are available, including Capel, Nourison, CMI and others. “Most people want to have their outdoor space be a continuation of their indoor space. Our custom finish, fabric and rug selections make it easy for clients to get the look they’re after,” says Campbell.
The selections are in no way limited to porch furnishings. Backyard Retreats offers hot tubs; outdoor ping pong; billiard and other gaming tables; firepits; outdoor heaters; retractable awnings almost anything to enhance an outdoor space, including UV-protected outdoor art: all-weather waterproof canvases with aluminum frames. “We have a lot of items, but we don’t see ourselves as being here to sell. We’re here to help people make the most of their spaces by offering quality furniture with custom designs that create a true backyard retreat.”
Backyard Retreats operates without a seasonal lull. On a recent visit, the latest rush was from clients wanting pieces ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Says Campbell, “Business is year-round in Charleston. There are no end-of-season sales here. With first homes, second homes and rentals, every season is porch season in Charleston.”
Sharon’s tips for great Backyard Retreats
1. PURPOSE: Decide what you want to do in the space. You’re setting a stage. Some people want to entertain, some people want to sit and talk, and some people just want the space to be nice to look at and don’t plan to use it at all.
2. SIZE: Measure the space to get an accurate picture of how much room you have. People often over or underestimate how much furniture they need for a space. Take the measurements with you when you shop. You don’t want to fall in love with and order a product that doesn’t fit.
3. COMFORT: Pick quality, durable pieces that speak to you, are comfortable and work in the space, be it porch, pool or yard.
4. COLOR: Make the look your own by selecting custom finishes and fabrics. Keep your home decor in mind and extend your look to the outside.
5. RUG: Tie the look together with a great floor covering. A rug pulls everything together.
Jane Catoe is a Charleston-based writer.