SECOND LIFE

by PATRA TAYLOR / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

CAPERS CAUTHEN REMEMBERS when Landrum Tables transformed from a part-time hobby into a full-time business. In his spare time, Cauthen often crafted tables from reclaimed wood and put them on display alongside antiques in a shop on James Island. “I was amazed that people would walk past a beautiful 200-year-old table and buy a table built by me out of wood I’d salvaged from a construction site,” says Cauthen. “I thought that was pretty amazing, so I kept making the tables and putting them out there.”

Cauthen first became aware of just how much of Charleston’s history was being hauled away and dumped after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. He never forgot that. Ten years later, he began salvaging discarded wood from wherever he could find it. “I had a reputation for being somewhat of a dumpster diver,” he says. “But now that I’ve been around awhile, I get calls from contractors who have wood that can’t be reused in construction. Sometimes I buy it, sometimes they give it to me, if I’ll haul it away. I think more and more people would rather see it be reclaimed and reused to build a beautiful piece of furniture than tossed into a landfill.”

The reclaimed wood begins its transformation when Cauthen removes any nails and cuts away any damaged areas. “Reclaimed wood is imperfect by its very nature,” he says. “I work with the imperfections. I believe the wood’s true beauty lies in those imperfections.”

Despite the hard work—sometimes grueling work—Cauthen can’t imagine the last 20 years of his life doing anything else. He believes one of the most meaningful aspects of his working life these days is teaching students from the American College of the Building Arts, the nation’s only college that trains artisans in the traditional building arts, where he serves on the program advisory committee.

“Most of the students I work with are training to be timber framers,” he says. “I have one to three students working in my shop much of the time. I love putting a piece of reclaimed wood in their hands, then guiding them to see that wood through a different lens. It doesn’t have to be a perfect piece once you know how to see the beauty and character in a piece of reclaimed wood. Working with these dedicated students is a wonderful thing. It’s been a huge part of my endeavor recently, to give back to others.”

Landrum Tables’ gun table, custom-built to meet the individual needs of hunters, is just one example of how the company’s original rustic console tables inspired an entire line of furniture. From beautiful dining room tables to sink vanities and kitchen islands to stainless steel-topped worktables, Cauthen is constantly reimagining ways to repurpose reclaimed wood.

“It’s been a pleasure working with so many wonderful people across the Lowcountry,” he says. “Architects, interior designers and our other patrons have been so supportive of my work. I look forward to continuing these relationships in the coming years.”

Patra Taylor is a full-time freelance writer who lives in Mount Pleasant.