Countdown to Comfort


Shortly before Memorial Day, one of Melissa Hempstead’s clients dropped by Coralberry Cottage to ask about a home she was decorating for her on Daniel Island. How was it coming along? Hempstead knew the owners planned to drive down from North Carolina to spend the holiday weekend with their family in their newly completed home. She also knew they were probably not expecting it to be finished by the weekend.

But in the back of her mind, Hempstead, the co-owner of Coralberry Cottage, wanted to surprise them. She decided that she and her business partner, Liz Baker, would move “full steam ahead” to get the job done.

With four bedrooms, a family room, a dining room, a kitchen, four full baths and two half baths to accessorize—and with furniture being shipped from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina—the task would not be an easy one. To Hempstead, however, a former teacher who now makes her living as an interior designer, taking a single day to turn a virtually empty house into a cozy, comfortable home seemed to be more adventure than vocation, more fun than frustration and more about making the client happy than making money.

The furniture arrived at the Coralberry Cottage warehouse in North Charleston on a sunny, Lowcountry Tuesday. By 3 p.m. the following afternoon, the home, located on Ithecaw Creek Street, was completely furnished and accessorized. Debbie Riggs, who lives with her husband, Dean, near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, arrived about an hour later. She was obviously impressed with what Hempstead, Baker and Gail Carson, Coralberry’s accessorizing guru, had accomplished. From glasses and place mats to Dean’s made-to-fit computer desk in the oversized laundry room, everything was in place.


“When I left here two days ago, there was nothing but a rug and one piece of furniture,” Debbie Riggs says. “It’s phenomenal. It’s better than I expected. It’s just beautiful.”

Riggs explains why she and her husband chose Daniel Island for their Charlestonarea retreat. She says they vacationed on the Isle of Palms as long ago as the 1990s, but that they preferred a residential area to the beach. In addition, they both play golf, and their new home backs up to the Ralston Creek course at the Daniel Island Club.

But why did they choose Coralberry Cottage?

Riggs says they were working with a designer who suggested several area businesses that might be able to help them furnish and decorate their home. They visited them all but came back to Coralberry.

“It was a relief to find Melissa,” she says. “We had a vision, and she helped us build on it.”

That vision obviously included liberal use of recycled wood. The first time the Riggses visited Coralberry Cottage, they purchased a large dining table produced in Pennsylvania’s Amish country and an English-style cupboard made in Georgia and finished to look centuries old—one of Coralberry’s most popular items of furniture.

“We always have one in the front window of our showroom,” Hempstead says. “We tell homeowners not to use built-ins. You can take a cupboard with you if you move, and you can pass it down for generations.”

Debbie Riggs soon returned for help with the entire house, including the huge porch, which features a bistro table made from an old barn’s tin roof and a short, round table that once had another use. The proof that it was part of a pallet in a previous life is a number stamped into the wood—PL004800.

Hempstead adds that the job of decorating the Riggses’ home was made easier, and probably a lot more fun, because she and Debbie have similar taste in rugs, furniture and window treatments.

Baker, an architect who founded her own residential design firm in 2009, points out that she and Hempstead sometimes must depend on their own intuition to determine what a client will like.

“We get a feel for whether clients prefer floral or geometric,” she comments. “As we start pulling fabrics, they might cringe or say ‘Oh. I love that one.’ The hard part is when the husband and wife are different. That’s when we have to help them blend their ideas. Fortunately, the Riggses were very much in sync!”

A visit to Coralberry Cottage’s 2,400-square-foot showroom is a lot like dropping in on a friend or relative. If you’re thirsty, there’s beer, wine and cold water in the refrigerator; if you’re in the store around lunchtime, it’s not unusual for a member of the Coralberry team to send out for sandwiches from Jimmy John’s, which is close by. There’s even a TV and some comfortable chairs, in case some members of the family would rather watch a football game than shop.

Those who prefer to let experts do the footwork will be pleased that Coralberry can not only furnish a home from top to bottom, but also can design a single room or break a project into two or three phases to fit the homeowner’s budget. Even clients who take a do-it-yourself approach to design will want to visit Coralberry’s showroom, which is packed with everything from unusual gifts and accessories to linens, bedding, lighting and furniture.

According to Baker, she and Hempstead handle a large number of special orders. In fact, only about 2 percent of what customers can purchase is actually in the showroom. And because the team now attends an international home furnishings show instead of the one in Atlanta, Coralberry Cottage is able to offer items that aren’t available in other local stores.

“We really work hard to find things people have never seen before,” Baker says.

At Coralberry Cottage, which celebrates its third anniversary this summer, shoppers can expect a high level of personal service—whether they’re looking for a housewarming gift, an unusual item for their home or an expert to help them decorate an entire house.

“We take care of everything,” Baker says. “It’s like you’re at home.”

Brian Sherman is a Charleston-based writer.