It’s cold the day I stop by the 750-square-foot showroom and retail space at Encore Architectural Salvage Co. “We don’t have any climate control,” says 30-year-old owner Bryant Dyess, smiling gamely. I keep my coat on, as does assistant Stephen Veres, and Dyess’ dog Nico.
The unheated retail space sits on a side street in downtown St. Matthews, about an hour-and-a-half northwest of Charleston. Twenty-foot ceilings, a claw-foot tub and various architectural salvage items reinforce the other-era feeling that’s so important to Dyess. Old doors, feed bag pillows, spigot taps, crystal doorknobs and the earthy smell of wood add to the sense of history.
Dyess spent six months renovating the almost-condemned 2500-square-foot turn-of-the-century brick building, scraping through three levels of ceilings, hundreds of pigeon nests and debris. Of course, he appointed the new space with reclaimed materials.
“The walls are from my first salvage in Alabama,” says Dyess, touching the red corrugated tin. “It was the roof from a barn built in the early 1900s.”
Wood samples for lumber orders show varieties of antique heart pine, oak and cypress. They have heft, rich patina and a story. “We know where all our wood comes from. Most of what’s on the wall now came from barns and residential structures in Lexington, Sandy Run and Manning, South Carolina,” says Dyess. He gestures toward the wall and continues, “We can tell you where every one of these pieces came from, because we took them down.” For clients who love a sense of place, he provides photographs of the buildings from which the wood was salvaged.
I notice some attractive wall boards with an aqua wash. He explains: “That’s how the wood was when we found it. We do not stain or repaint. It’s as close to its found state as we can keep it.” (On request, he will add a clear coat or lightly plane the boards.)
“We’re a full-service deconstruction company,” he says. “We go from the roof down and can also clear the land.” It’s a competitively priced alternative to full-on demolition that appeals to people’s green ethos. Encore recovers anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of material that would otherwise go to a landfill. Dyess sorts the wood, cleans it and de-nails it for clients seeking unique and authentic accent walls, flooring or wood for furniture projects.
Most people don’t understand the salvage business. Dyess gets frequent calls from people offering to sell him old structures at top dollar. “It doesn’t quite work that way,” he explains. “It costs money to tear down a building. Our dump fee alone is usually around $3,000 on a salvage, because, as much as you want to, you can’t save everything.” Dyess encourages salvage over demolition: “You let it rot or you destroy it, and the history is gone.”
Encore works only on structures from the South, generally pre-1920. Now, he’s particularly excited about cypress logs from a barn in Savannah—more than 150 are waiting to be cleaned and sorted.
Dyess splits his time between driving to Atlanta trade shows and making weekly custom-furniture deliveries to Charleston. In addition to reclaimed wood, Encore is sought out for its one-of-a-kind iron and wood tables, which Dyess has created for individuals and commercial clients in Hilton Head, Mount Pleasant and Atlanta. An in-progress barrel sofa in the workshop looks like it will have no trouble finding a new home.
Being located in a one-horse town doesn’t seem to hurt business. “People find us!” he exclaims. As if on cue, a woman walks in wanting to know more. It will be easier to find Dyess when he opens a second location near Charleston later this year. “There aren’t too many showrooms with antique wood. We want people who share our passion for beauty and history to be able to find what they’re looking for.”
Jane Catoe is a freelance writer from James Island, S.C.