A visit to a European antiques market is a thing both wonderful and terrible. It’s wonderful because there are endless tables spilling over with fantastic treasures, and terrible because they all won’t fit in your suitcase. Those of us with a penchant for European treasures, whether classic or quirky, make do with bringing home one or two pieces of old monogramed linen while forever dreaming of the vintage suitcases, photos and furniture that we had to pass by. You may get a tiny taste of those markets in New York or Los Angeles, but, until now, Charleston has not had a store devoted to such an eclectic mix.
Last fall, Sarah and Colby Broadwater opened Arsenal Designed, a home design store full of European antiques and industrial market treasures. Shoppers will find exotic taxidermy, old maps, school charts, primitive and mid-century modern furniture as well as vintage photos, rugs, objet d’art and much more. The Broadwaters choose everything themselves on buying trips to France, Germany and Belgium—geographies they know well from their years living abroad.
They began their love affair with unusual objects during their 4-year sojourn in Stuttgart, Germany, where Colby was stationed with the U.S. Army Special Forces. On vacations, the pair would load up their station wagon with camping gear (and dog, Edie) and cruise the Continent for antiques.
Sarah is a native of St. Augustine, Florida, and has a business degree from Hollins University in Virginia. She worked for Garden & Gun in Charleston and Susan Lapelle Interiors in Atlanta before moving to Germany with her husband. Colby, a native Virginian, holds an art history degree from Davidson College in North Carolina, and joined the Army right out of college. He served actively for nine years and still serves in the Illinois Army National Guard.
“We knew we wanted to bring the European aesthetic home to Charleston. We started collecting seriously a long time ago in order to get the store off the ground,” Sarah says.
Stepping into the diminutive shop in the South Windermere shopping center is very much like stepping into a European antiques store. Stacks of vintage rugs are piled on the floor, old botanical school charts are rolled up in a wine barrel and glass domes sparkle on a primitive table, just waiting to feature a new conversation piece. One of the most dramatic pieces in the shop is the 19th-century clock face that stands nearly 7 feet high. Fashioned of copper, cast iron and enamel, it was made around 1888 in the Auvergne region of France.
Edie, a friendly Vizsla, naps in the back at the feet of Rebekah Drysdale, Sarah’s sister who helps run the day-to-day operations. “Rebekah has a master’s degree in contemporary art from Sotheby’s. She’s a master researcher,” Sarah says when I ask the history of one of the pieces. “She can find the story on anything.” Edie went with the Broadwaters on all of their shopping trips in Europe, even though it meant Colby had to stay up into the wee hours shampooing the rental van upholstery before returning it. “We weren’t supposed to have a dog in the car, but she’s a good icebreaker. Europeans love dogs,” Colby says.
Taxidermy is making a resurgence in American home decor, and Arsenal Designed has plenty of striking mounts that are bound to set off a chain reaction of “did you shoot that yourself?” questions. Because Belgium owned much of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, exotic taxidermy specimens from Africa are de rigueur in Belgian homes. Currently, the store features antelope, gazelle and even a small tabletop bobcat.
Arsenal Designed has something for everyone, from French Empire furniture, antique signage, apothecary jars, antique portraits and photos to more modern school chairs and tables.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer who lives in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.