BRINGING THE GALLERY EXPERIENCE ONLINE

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

Mitchell Hill is a staple of the Charleston design scene and serves as one of the city’s most respected fine art galleries.

CHARLESTON IS LEGENDARY FOR HAVING a close-knit community. Time and time again, when things get tough, Charles-tonians huddle up and support each other. As the isolation and economic impacts of the pandemic began to threaten the Holy City’s small businesses, Michael Mitchell and Tyler Hill of art gallery and interior design firm Mitchell Hill quickly got to work on a solution. Their plan was to build an online community, highlight other small businesses on their social media platforms, and de-vise a way to bring the design and gallery experience to their clients online.

Mitchell Hill is a staple of the Charleston design scene. The firm also serves as one of the city’s most respected fine art galleries, as well as a fun place to shop for furniture and unique accessories. If you want to add a conversation-starting, intelligent persona to your home, Mitchell Hill is the place to get it done. The designers are also deeply involved in the local philanthropic community, so it’s no surprise that they were among the first to rally the troops.

“The first thing you do when there’s an uneasy state—you call your friends and family,” Hill says. “By word of mouth our community came together, and together we’re learning how to navigate the new normal.”

Mitchell Hill’s community-building solution during the “Great Pause,” and into the foreseeable future, is to bring the gallery experience online and to help other local small businesses stay afloat. They started by hosting Instagram Live interviews with directors of nonprofits, such as the Ryan White Wellness Center; restaurant and small business owners, such as Steve Palmer of Oak Steakhouse and Rhett Outten of Croghan’s Jewel Box; Lasley Steever of the Gibbes Museum; and CEOs of the national brands Mitchell Hill represents, such as Mr. Brown, Century Furniture, Hickory Chair, Made Goods, Farrow & Ball and more.

“In times like this we have to support each other,” Hill says. “Small businesses are struggling as it is. When we didn’t have normal opening hours, we felt it was important to support other local businesses by sharing their stories on our social media platforms. It’s vital to come together and celebrate the individuality of each company, and give people a sampling of other businesses they may not know about.”

The designers also hosted wildly popular artist Instagram takeovers, where artists such as Linwood and Fallon Peper took viewers on behind-the-scenes tours of their studios and processes. “Instagram takeovers bring our customers into artists’ homes; they get a whole new perspective as they watch artists painting in their studios,” Hill says. The Mitchell Hill team also took viewers behind the scenes in the design office, showing followers how they get inspired and giving them a peek at their creative design process.

To bring the gallery and design experience to clients at home, the team also devised virtual tours of the design space. “Normally, when we meet clients at the gallery, we’ll show them around and show them what’s new,” Hill says. “Then we’ll go upstairs to the design studio and get to work. We’re open for business now, but not everyone is ready or able to come into the store. Clients can call us and we can take them through fabrics and other design elements on Zoom. Then we can create a mood board and send photography through email that visually explains what we were talking about on the video.”

Hill says that most things they do in person can be done over the phone and via video. “If clients can’t come to the store, we can use video to get close and show them details of fabric,” he says. “It’s been a learning process, but we’re kind of getting used to it now. We can give clients an experience that’s pretty close to normal.”

Mitchell and Hill are learning from organizations that have successfully pivoted during the pandemic and are sharing what they learn with other small businesses.

Mitchell Hill is open and nearly back to normal business hours. Clients are still building and remodeling homes, and plenty of people are undertaking smaller DIY and one- or two-room projects.

Hill says they miss their summer art openings that benefit nonprofits, but they plan to get back to normal in the fall. *

Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com