Published in Charleston Mercury | by Patra Taylor
For John Palmer, following his passion meant taking the road less traveled. The Tulane-trained architect had experienced nearly a decade of work experience with top firms in New York City including a stint at Cooper Robertson — one of the world’s most respected architectural firms. Then, he suddenly found himself working day and night during the coldest days of February to open a retail store on upper King Street ahead of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. Palmer couldn’t be happier about the new trajectory his career has taken.
“Moving here to Charleston to open Workshop with John Paul Huguley is an opportunity for me to forge my own path … to do something I really love doing,” states Palmer. “Now coming to work doesn’t feel like work.”
At first glance, Workshop is a welcome addition to Charleston’s Design District, offering shoppers an amazing selection of Old World-style antiques and reclaimed building materials such as doors and fireplace mantels. But according to Palmer, the retail store is just the foundation upon which he and Huguley plan to create an environment in which to grow design-build partnerships between experienced artisans of the building arts and those architects, builders and designers with project needs.
Palmer met Huguley, the founder of the American College of the Building Arts, at an International Preservation Trades Workshop in Mobile, Ala. in 2005. “When I accepted my first position as an architect in New York City, John Paul introduced me to people there who became my best friends. They were people from Charleston or who had connections to this city. Throughout my years in New York, Charleston kept popping up in my life. Cooper Robertson worked on a number of historic projects for the city of Charleston, which drew me here. I came here to visit friends. I vacationed here. I fell in love with the city.”
Palmer notes that initially he planned to open Workshop in upstate New York, but an unexpected series of doors suddenly opened up for him in Charleston. “It was a seamless transition,” states Palmer. “I believe it was meant to be.”
Located at 609 King St. at the corner of King and Columbus streets, Workshop offers three distinctive client experiences. First, a client can walk in and buy an antique or reclaimed piece and leave with it. “Take a reclaimed door, for example,” continues Palmer. “The client can preserve that old door just as it is … use it in a room in their home or building … or even create a design around it.”
A client may also choose to repurpose the door. “For example, it can be transformed in to a unique table,” suggests Palmer. “Here at Workshop, we can help design the table and we can connect the client with a craftsman who can actually take that old door and turn it into the table they want.
“Or that door can serve as the inspiration for some other piece,” explains Palmer. “Maybe the client loves the door, but it’s too big for their project. I can help them create a similar door that fits their specifications and then pair the client with the right craftsman who can complete the project in the client’s timeframe.”
Workshop is actually the natural progression in what Huguley has been working on for a number of years. Huguley is the principal of Building Art, LLC, a design/build firm dedicated to using time-tested techniques, materials and craftsmanship in projects. Moreover, his firm incorporates architectural reclaimed details and sustainable practices in both new homes and the preservation of historic landmarks. Since the inception of the ACBA, he has been committed to connecting the college’s graduates and other skilled craftsman with projects that require those craftsmen’s skills. Workshop is an expansion of that mission and serves as the nucleus of that he and Palmer hope to take to other cities.
“Eventually, Workshop will be filled with products created by our craftsmen,” adds Palmer. “One of our craftsmen is currently working on a line of fire pit tools that we will sell here, but will also help market to other companies to sell. In the future, Workshop will have an actual workshop. Our goal is to have centers like this around the country that will welcome clients in to see what’s possible in Old World craft. The client, along with an architect and their ideas, will be able to sit down with a craftsman and design something right there.
“Working with graduates of the college is so rewarding for me,” concludes Palmer. “The best part of my work here is when my knowledge can help young artisans strengthen their designs or I can help them in anyway as they transition to careers as craftsmen.”