DYNAMIC DUO

BY BRIGITTE SURETTE

DesignCoralberryVer2-Image-1Call it a chance encounter, serendipity or just plain old good luck.

Liz Baker and Melissa Hempstead, owners of Coralberry Cottage, feel certain their meeting nine years ago wasn’t just a happy accident.

“It’s the reason we’re in business,” Hempstead says.

Hempstead, a Rhode Island transplant, bought a property on Daniel Island in 2008, selecting one of five floorplans. Her real estate agent told her that particular one was by architect Liz Baker. The two met soon after to select finishes and furnishings.

“We were so in sync,” Baker says. “I’d like a piece to go in a particular room and it would be Melissa’s favorite. We’d find ourselves chuckling because so much of the time we’d say, sometimes in unison, ‘That’s it!’”

The two developed a friendship and when Hempstead went through a life change, finding herself on her own, she decided that she needed a home of her own. Baker had founded her own company and acquired her real estate license. It was 2009, during the peak of the recession, and homes were aplenty in Mount Pleasant.

“I knew that working with Liz was the only option,” Hempstead reveals. “I took Liz’s advice about looking in the I’On neighborhood. I found a home online and clicked on a link that would send it to my real estate agent. I immediately received an email and thought it had bounced back, but it was Liz sending me the exact same property at the exact same time.”

Baker smiles, remembering, “I knew it would be perfect for her.”

Synchronicity followed the two throughout the process. As they worked together to furnish the 4,400-square-foot home, they arrived at the same conclusion: They couldn’t find everything they wanted in Charleston. Their distinctive styles needed a home as well.

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STARTING SOMETHING SPECIAL

As the pair worked together to furnish Hempstead’s home, their disappointment in finding unique signature pieces grew, as did their frustration in finding local vendors who would work with them on a more personal level.

“We were disappointed in the whole process. The furnishings weren’t exactly what I wanted, but we made several contacts with vendors outside the area that were more reflective of our styles,” Hempstead says.

Baker agrees: “Melissa’s project was an eye-opener for both of us in terms of how well we worked together. Once, when doing a piece in her dining room, we realized the windows were too close together. We felt if we went with a smaller piece, it would be too small for the large proportions of the room. If we went bigger, it would cover up the windows.”

Their solution? Close off the windows from the inside while leaving the impression of them on the exterior.

That idea spawned a host of others, including opening their own store.

BOUTIQUE SERVICES WITH CHARLESTON CHARM

In 2011, Coralberry Cottage opened its doors in Mount Pleasant. The expansive 3,600-square-foot store houses vignettes of living areas, dining rooms, bedrooms and a design studio where clients can meet to discuss limitless options.

Baker and Hempstead, along with their staff—Rutledge, Gail and Nadine—give clients step-by-step guidance, whether it’s advice regarding a single item, furnishing one room or an entire home. Each member of the team brings a unique and special talent to the table and is a large part of the company’s continuing success. Superior customer service is a top priority for the entire staff and it shows. Thanks to repeat clients and referrals, the business has grown exponentially over the past six years.

“People come to us because they like their home but think something is off. Often, a space needs a signature piece—an English cupboard in the dining room, an outdoor bar or kitchen cabinet made of reclaimed wood, a large painting in the living room or a custom vanity in the bathroom. Once they see it in the space, they’re amazed at the transformation. The piece completes the room. And [its] proportions are crucial,” Baker says.

Signature pieces can also come from the clients themselves. If a client has an existing piece, Coralberry Cottage designers can work with them to give it a new personality. “Rutledge has a forte for reinventing pieces. She can fix furniture as well as use a special painting technique that can literally transform a dated piece into a signature showpiece,” Hempstead says.

The staff also vets and works with local craftspeople. A dated family bookcase becomes a vintage cupboard; a table is sized down to serve as a unique coffee table.

One of the company’s signature pieces takes center stage in Hempstead’s own home. Hempstead, an avid football fan, needed a piece to house her oversized television. Baker took charge of creating a large vintage-inspired cabinet that has storage and bi-fold doors.

“It’s perfect,” Hempstead says. “People ask me if it’s an antique.”

Baker and Hempstead encourage their clients to forgo standard built-ins and use signature pieces instead, because their uses and value never go out of style. “You can hand a signature piece down, move it to another room, and it can go with you,” Hempstead says. “It’s always yours and no one else has that special piece. It’s uniquely you.”

Their harmonious partnership has resulted in Coralberry Cottage becoming the go-to place for clients seeking a unique design experience. The two sum up their formula for success, as always, in agreement.

Baker says, “Neither of us can turn that detail switch off.”

Hempstead smiles and nods, saying, “We both translate our specialties and then dovetail them together perfectly.”

Brigitte Surette is a full-time freelance writer living near Charleston. Find out more at brigittesurette.com.