From Rustic to Refined

BY MICHELLE THOMPSON | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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It is probably safe to say that, for most of us, crossing a piece of copper sheeting with a blowtorch would likely yield one very hot puddle. Hand those two items, however, to Cliff and Corey Lill, father and son co-owners of Palm Metal Designs, and this match-up might just result in a one-ofa-kind copper cage lantern with a burnished finish, destined to hang in the vestibule of a grand Lowcountry home.

The Lills specialize in the design and creation of custom metal furniture, light fixtures, gates, balusters and virtually anything else one can conjure up. Their versatility is apparent in the diversity of the projects they undertake, from a custom hexagonal two-tier rustic wrought-iron table with a distressed wood top to a historical wroughtiron gate replication requiring permit and design approval.

Hailing from New Jersey, they bring a combined 53 years of experience in metal fabrication to Charleston. In fact, you might say metal runs in their veins. Corey’s great-grandfather specialized in copper works and, though Cliff’s background was primarily industrial, “the crafts were always in him,” Corey says. After vacationing in Charleston, Cliff decided to relocate and, shortly thereafter, Corey joined him. North Charleston-based Palm Metal Designs opened in 2013.

“The pride and joy of what I do is in the process of making a unique piece,” Corey Lill says. “When I get an idea, I’ll take my scratch pad and just start doodling. Then I’ll clean it up and I’ll figure out how to make it.” Not long thereafter, you might find a glass-topped wrought-iron coffee table with a chain base sitting in their showroom. “The chain design was originally going to be a lamp, but it ended up as a table instead,” he says with a laugh.

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Palm Metal Designs works with contractors, designers and homeowners alike. “We receive most of our baluster and gate work through contractors,” says Lill, “but sometimes a homeowner will come to us with an idea, maybe something in a particular size or specific material. We design it, quote it and, when approved, the piece is usually delivered within two weeks. We do have a product line we make on order, but even then, we give our customers options for size, shape, color and finish.”

Salvaged metal pieces also find new life at Palm Metal Designs. A row of large lanterns lining the floor in their workshop provides an example for Lill to expand on. “We purchased some lanterns from I’On, which were actually discarded light posts with really harsh fluorescent lights. I tore them apart, stripped the finish, added a nice patina and a glass bottom, and, voila, we now have a chandelier.”

A walk through the workshop is an introduction to heavy-duty equipment, ranging from the historically symbolic anvil and forge for blacksmithing work to the most high-tech PlasmaCAM table, which cuts detailed shapes generated by a CAD-like computer program with a plasma flame.

When asked about his favorite thing to do, Cliff Lill replies: “When we are done with a job and it’s installed, we go check out our piece of art. When the customer answers the door with an ecstatic look on their face, that’s the best part. That’s a happy client.”

Their vision for the future is clear. “We want to keep the shop local and offer free local deliveries,” Corey Lill says. “We are a Charleston-made company where word-of-mouth drives our business. When someone asks ‘Where did you get this?’ and the reply is ‘Palm Metal Designs—they make custom, one-of-a-kind pieces just for you,’ then we are succeeding. We don’t make cookie-cutter pieces available by the dozens. When we make something, there’s only one of it.”

Michelle Thompson is a freelance writer in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Find out more at MichelleMarieThompson.net.