UNCOMMON SKILL

BY MARGARET LOCKLAIR

Capture

“This,” says a fabricator who pops her head out of the workroom, “is where the magic happens.”

Ah, if only. An incantation, a wand-wave and out would come window shades, draperies, slipcovers, cushion covers, headboards, bedspreads, pillows and lampshades—every piece strictly custom.

In the workroom of Southern Shades, owned by Annette and Ken Kreck, all of these 254 CSD decorative delights spring, not from magic, but from skill and painstaking attention to the fine points.

It’s a congenial environment, dominated by bolts and bolts of fine fabrics. Here Annette measures twice, cuts once and hands over the fabric to a crew of four fabricators. Day by day, their team constructs the reputation of this steadily growing Lowcountry business.

Annette possesses passion, problem-solving ability, and determination to please the client, says Blair Hays of Cortney Bishop Design, a residential and commercial design firm in downtown Charleston. “It’s not often,” she notes, “you meet a service provider that, hands-on, does it all.”

“We pride ourselves,” Annette says, “on workmanship, craftsmanship, being totally custom.” Southern Shades’ work with architects and design- ers takes them throughout Charleston’s resort islands as well as its upscale, inland neighborhoods.

The company’s work has been commissioned as close by as the Cassique Cottages at Kiawah, and as far away as St. Kitts and Germany.

“I have yet to find anything they cannot do,” says Theresa Bishopp, a designer with Herlong Architects, a Sullivan’s Island-based firm that specializes in residential architecture and design. Bishopp cited, for example, the challenge of making top-down bottom-up window shades.

“To do them in a beautiful custom fabric, as Annette can, is wonderful,” she says. “And it’s a full-service company: They get the hardware, and they do the installation.”

Annette, who began sewing as a small child, says she possesses “an engineering mind. If I can visually see something, I can build it.”

Installing the finished product also takes technical expertise. “You’d be surprised to know the level of construction knowledge you have to have to hang curtain rods,” she points out, citing one notable project that called for drilling through marble walls to hang multiple lengths of linen—40 yards worth—at the windows of a large, elegant bathroom.

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Annette says the company is also moving into automated hardware and rods, noting that “today, people want to touch their cellphones to move their curtains and Roman shades.” Southern Shades works with individual homeowners, but most of its business comes from architectural and design firms. Sometimes those lines cross over. For example, the company has done work for both the personal residence and commercial projects of Reggie Gibson of Reggie Gibson Architects in downtown Charleston. On average, Southern Shades is invited to bid on five to eight full-house projects a month.

Inns, such as The King’s Courtyard, and a number of Lowcountry restaurants are also among the company’s clients, including Hall’s Chop House, 492, High Cotton, The Obstinate Daughter, Beardcat’s Sweet Shop and Rose’s Diner.

Velvet wallboards as well as other fabric wall treatments are among the projects the company has produced for restaurants seeking to establish an atmosphere of luxury.

Because Southern Shades purchases fabrics directly from the mills, Annette says she’s able to pass on substantial savings to her clients. By ordering whole bolts—usually more than a project calls for—she can keep an inventory of fabrics in her shop that designers have come to count on.

“Annette’s got great taste,” says business manager and design consultant Anna Romanosky. “She knows what looks good. She knows what’s functional, and she’ll tell you ‘no’ if she sees that a proposed project won’t come together well.”

As an example, “I don’t make drapes without both interlining and lining,” says Annette. But that doesn’t mean a project has to be elaborate. While she works often with linens, flax, burlap and sometimes bamboo, as well as silks, velvets and blends, she says: “I like cotton. It will last a lifetime. Simplicity sometimes is the best thing.”

Annette’s goal is to expand Southern Shades, and she is proud of the people who expertly turn out the products the company is known for. “I have the best crew I’ve ever had,” she says. “This business is all about us, as a team, not about me.”

Margaret Locklair can be reached at locklair@homesc.com.