FROM OLD COUNTRY TO LOWCOUNTRY

BY PATRA TAYLOR | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

Black tableware is all the rage in Europe, so when acclaimed chefs across France, England, Portugal and Italy unequivocally declared that black dishes were in, the new trend almost instantly began appearing at tradeshows across Europe. Soon thereafter, black tableware made in Portugal began wowing shoppers at Lavender Hill Designs.

The Eurocentric artisan shop offers gifts, linens, home accents and furniture, as well as a special selection of clothing and accessories, all hand selected to create a one-of-a-kind shopping experience for Lowcountry customers. “We carry a variety of new and vintage items that have that certain je ne sais quoi,” states Tracey Wonnacott, owner of Lavender Hill Designs, located at the Belle Hall Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant. “We invite our customers to browse our latest finds while enjoying the ambience of a far-off land.”

With her two children grown and on their own, Wonnacott was eager to take on a new challenge. After her friend Beth Hoehne moved to the area with her husband two years ago, it didn’t take long for the two friends to conceptualize the store, a collaboration that ultimately bloomed lavender.

“Inspired by the lavender fields across France and England, Wonnacott came up with the name for their store, Lavender Hill Designs. Her daughter, Caralina, quickly reminded her mother that Lavender Hill was the name of the road that connects Battersea, a district of southwest London where Wonnacott’s mother grew up, with Wandsworth, a borough of London where Caralina lived at the time. “It is the road where the past meets the future,” offers Wonnacott. “The name just seemed perfect.”

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Wonnacott says that her daughter has since returned to the United States and now works as the marketing director for Lavender Hill Designs as well as the family’s other businesses.

“I love to shop, and I love to travel, especially in Europe,” continues Wonnacott. “These two passions come together perfectly in this shop. We try to select home furnishings that blend with and complement the coastal styling that’s so popular here in the Lowcountry. And we offer items that can’t be found anywhere else in the area. If one of our items pops up in another local store, we drop it and replace it with something fresh and exciting. The store is constantly changing, so shoppers can always find something new.”

On days the two friends aren’t in Europe browsing the tradeshows or searching the antiques markets for vintage pieces, they can be found changing up the displays at Lavender Hill Designs, creating a beautiful space for items arriving in the next shipment or enthusiastically sharing the origins of items with customers over a glass of wine or cup of coffee.

“Our original plan was to focus on furniture, lighting and home décor,” Wonnacott says. “But we evolved into a shop that offers a bit of everything— including the items that we personally love. The Charleston area has deep roots in Europe, especially England and France. So the community loves the same things we do.”

Lavender Hill Designs has expanded from its original focus on England and France to include items made in other European countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands.

For Wonnacott and Hoehne, who serves as the store’s manager, their favorite items seem to be whatever is in their sight at the moment. The two women point to the handblown glassware from Biot, a small town in the South of France, that dazzles people with its tiny bubbles and its 16th-century craftsmanship. Or they encourage shoppers to sample one of the finest olive oils in the world, made by Oliviers & Co., which was founded in the village of Mane, high in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. They encourage customers to smell the luxurious soaps and hand creams from Provence; to run their fingers through furs from Paris and Denmark; and to try on one of the stylish scarves from the Netherlands or the new jewelry from London.

“We have lots of exciting items coming in for spring, and we’ll soon offer online shopping, as well,” says Wonnacott. “We always want the Lavender Hill experience to be a personal one. So we strive to make every visit to our shop a pleasant break from the stresses of daily life.”

Patra Taylor is a full-time freelance writer in Mount Pleasant. Find out more at patrataylor.com.