MORE OF A GOOD THING

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

THREE YEARS AGO, Paula Moland opened The Red Dresser furniture consignment store in a cozy space on Mill Street in Mount Pleasant. Moland opened the store to indulge her passion for vintage and antique furniture, but the venture grew into something much more. Among other things, The Red Dresser became a social hub, a treasure trove for aesthetes with champagne tastes and mimosa budgets, and a haven for consignors looking for loving homes for family heirlooms. The store is also a go-to for designers looking to value-engineer a design plan or help clients unload things so they can start fresh.

From the beginning, Moland intentionally kept prices low—sometimes so low it seems there may have been a typo. However, when prices are low, stock turns over quickly. For people who love the hunt, that keeps things exciting.

As with all great businesses, there’s more to Moland’s success than a savvy strategy. If you know the owner even a little bit, you know she sincerely cares about people. It’s that energy that attracted the intelligent, kind, empathetic staff for which the store is famous. Technically, the team job shares one position: minding the shop. However, the staff loves connecting with consignors, whether they are navigating a move, settling a parent’s estate, downsizing or going through a relationship reconfiguration. On any given day, they may function as design advocates, historians, detectives, therapists, decorators, curators, life coaches and surrogate family.

It’s no surprise that the store’s cult following led to Moland outgrowing her packed-to-the-rafters space on Shem Creek. In May, she opened Vintage Mercantile, a 4,000-square-foot retail space at 422 Savannah Highway. The new store means she can offer larger furniture, spread out her vignettes and accept more consignments.

There’s more good news. Blue Bird Vintage at 925 Front St. in Georgetown will open in the fall. “I am super excited to be part of the revitalization of Georgetown,” Moland says. “The restaurants and shops are incredible, and there’s such a neat vibe. Georgetown has managed to grow and still retain the small-town feel that’s easily lost. It’s just 45 minutes from Mount Pleasant, so it’s a nice day trip. You can enjoy the water, have lunch, then come shopping.” If you’re looking for a nearby staycation, Georgetown has lovely B&Bs and will soon have a boutique hotel. Blue Bird Vintage is just a 10-minute drive from Pawleys Island, allowing Moland to tap, and cater to, a market with a lot of potential.

“Vintage Mercantile and Bluebird Vintage have the same good stuff as The Red Dresser,” Moland says. “We still have furniture from higher-end stores in the Northeast and Southeast, and from all over the world. There’s just more of it.” That is good news for designers and those of us looking to refresh our spaces. The two stores offer beautiful, unique, high-end antiques at low prices and modern styles from retailers such as Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Southeastern Galleries and more.

Moland explains the particular magic that keeps her customers coming back. “Charleston has a lot of interesting people who have traveled the world through business or other opportunities,” she says. “Right now, we have a gorgeous French dining room table from a chateau, a wall unit crafted in France, ottomans from Dubai, a beautiful carved piece from Kathmandu. We also have a lot of traditional things that come from beautiful Charleston homes.”

No matter what you find at Moland’s consignment stores, it will have a story. “The furniture we have is always beautifully made,” she says. “Sometimes we know the history, and sometimes we don’t. I always ask people, ‘Do you want a chair, or do you want a chair from France or a magnificent Charleston home?’”

While Moland says her secret sauce is in Charleston’s rich history, there is something to be said for the service she provides the community. Some of her consignors are downsizing, and sometimes they want a fresh look. Either way, they want someone to take things off their hands, which is what Moland does. Then, the younger generations and others who are moving or renovating benefit from it. This is a cycle she’s proud to facilitate. “You can go through any decorator magazine, choose a photo and find something like it in my store,” she says. “The furniture here has character and uniqueness you can’t find anywhere else, and it’s excellent value.” *

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