Have you ever wished you had a good friend who was an interior designer or architect? Someone who could show you what to do with that weird little landing at the top of your stairs—or help you furnish your octagonal dining room? When Melissa Hempstead and Liz Baker opened Coralberry Cottage in 2011, they wanted to create a place where people could find unique coastal cottage and English country furniture and accessories, but they also wanted to create a place where customers could get help solving design challenges.
Hempstead is a former teacher who happens to have decades of professional design experience, and Baker is an architect who designs coastal cottage-style homes. They love to problem solve. In fact, Coralberry Cottage is where my husband and I learned one of the most important rules of domestic bliss: There is no problem that beer and professional help can’t solve.
We’d been looking for a dining room table for weeks, mainly because we didn’t know what we were looking for. Then my husband spots one he likes at Coralberry Cottage. “It’s too big,” I say. “ It’s too small,” he says. “I’ll get Liz,” says Hempstead.
While Baker sketches room dimensions from our description, Hempstead asks if we’d like a beer or glass of wine. (Yes, please.) Then she helps us narrow down a wood finish that complements the style of our room. When Baker and Hempstead finish, it turns out my husband is right, we need the 7-foot table. And just like that, one beer and one detailed drawing later, my husband suddenly loves furniture shopping. This kind of capable, thoughtful service plays a big role in why Hempstead and Baker are regularly called upon to do wholeroom or whole-house interior design projects. “We work with individuals or their designers to create beautiful, comfortable rooms and homes that fit their lifestyle and budget,” Baker says. “The showroom is our starting place for inspiration. If we don’t happen to have what you need, we have a craftsman who can make any piece of custom furniture.”
“Most of our clients are surprised at how affordably we can furnish an entire room or house,” Hempstead says. Baker and Hempstead’s recipe for success is so effective that they’ve recently expanded the store by 1,200 square feet. The extra space allows them to increase their offerings of linens, textiles and bedroom furniture, all in the coastal cottage and English country styles. The store now features 3,600 square feet of natural painted wood and slipcovered furniture for every room in the house, plus soft textiles in coastal colors, handmade ceramics in organic and whimsical shapes, unique accessories and colorful local art.
Design services are free in the store, and the duo are experts at translating ideas and needs into functional and livable arrangements. If you have an underwhelming existing arrangement, they can tell you what’s not working and what will work better. “You don’t need to guess,” Hempstead says. “We can help you get proportions and combinations right.” Baker and Hempstead aren’t the only design gurus at Coralberry Cottage either. Baker’s mom, Gail Carson, is a master at accessorizing and can help clients put the finishing touches on a cozy room. When you visit, you may also meet Katherine Sparks and Rutledge Carter, who team up to create beautiful room compositions.
The designers encourage clients to bring in paint chips, fabric swatches and pictures of existing furniture and living spaces, so they can see what you like and where you’re stuck. “It’s important to us that everything we hope you put in your home is comfortable and well made,” Baker says. “We only use vendors who don’t sell to anyone else in Charleston. That way our clients have access to unique pieces that fit their tastes perfectly.”
The extra space also allows them to expand their gift offerings, something about which the pair is excited. “We want our customers to be able to find unique, elegant gifts at reasonable prices,” Hempstead says. In true Coralberry Cottage style, gift-wrapping is beautiful and totally free.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston.