The Wisdom of the Wood
With his sleek and elegant furniture, Bryant Dyess creates new life from a harvest of the past.
A tall, slender man steps into the elegantly rustic storefront on King Street, apologizing for being late. Bryant Dyess and his wife have just closed on their first house, and his face bears the frustration and preoccupation of the many details of the transaction. Shaking them off, he moves to a stool set at a tall table of cast iron and wood. With the soft drawl of Alabama clinging to his words, he begins the narrative of the journey that brought him and his wife, Georgia, to this space filled with unique objects and fascinating craftsmanship.
On the walls are pieces of history chronicled in wood. A collection of boards artfully display pine, oak and all manner of timbers. Whether aged to honeyed gold and amber, weathered gray or tan, or wearing the fresh face of new lumber, each piece has a distinctive grain and is distinctly different from the other. From these and other boards like them, Dyess has learned to listen for stories told by tall pines and grand oaks, old forests and slender young saplings, and to retell them with respectful grace.
The Alabama native began his career as a police officer in Auburn, AL. With a schedule of four days on/four days off, Dyess filled any spare time working with wood. Encouraged by Georgia, the young woman from South Carolina he was destined to marry, he took a booth at a local antique mall to display the small pieces he created, as well as the furniture he had begun to build using old wood and architectural pieces. He named it Encore Salvage; a fitting name for the second act his designs provided the materials composing his work.
He and Georgia were married at her family’s South Carolina farm, and soon the Alabama boy found himself in route to the Palmetto State.
“When I proposed, there wasn’t much question that we would be moving here,” he laughs.
It was a move that would launch them toward a new life, and lead him to a new career. Unsure if this was the path he wanted to take, Dyess worked clearing land for the first few months before deciding that working with wood was his true calling. The first step was finding a storefront, and a place for a workshop. Both needs were met in a condemned building in downtown St. Matthews, and a deal was struck with the owners to restore the building in lieu of rent. He went to work on the building and opened the store, with “a bunch of cool architectural pieces, a stockpile of antique wood I had salvaged, and the equipment I would use to make furniture.”
Intrigued by the boards and beams he rescued from rural farmhouses and urban streetscapes, he realized, that if he was willing to listen, each piece of wood could tell him its story. Weathered and beaten, scarred by nails and ravaged by saw teeth, the antique wood spoke of roots in hardwood forests and limbs that dropped away to lend character to each length of lumber. His fascination is obvious as he reaches for a notepad to draw a sketch illustrating the meaning of growth rings and the different uses for lumber drawn from various aged trees.
All of this knowledge is obvious in the design of the extraordinary dining tables, desks, and side tables on display in the storefront the pair opened in Charleston, in March of 2016. Sleekly modern cast iron legs literally and figuratively support designs that draw the eye to the wood of each item, with the coloration, gnarls, and grain of the antique planks making each distinctive. Remnants of paint applied by brushes held by hands as far back as a hundred years ago create vignettes of another time, and one cannot help imagine its origin. And yet, each board seems to have been destined to arrive in Dyess’ gifted hands, and to be respected, honored, and repurposed by his designs.
He explains how he refined his innate knowledge, “I gained all my experience regarding antique wood by figuring out where it came from. Lumber changed over the years, especially after the old growth forests were gone, and after the Great Depression. What a lot of people don’t get, is that repurposing [antique wood] requires an understanding of how and when its original structure was put together, in order for it to be reworked into something useful. Structures are built from the ground up, but I learned that you have to take them apart from the top down.”
It is clear in the thick beams awaiting his skills, the antique mantles, columns, and floor boards on display in Encore Salvage’s showroom, once created by the skills of master craftsmen, have been carefully and thoughtfully plucked from the scrap heap to be appreciated anew. With each creation, Bryant Dyess tells a story of tall trees and fertile ground, and reminds us to look for the uncommon value in things we might otherwise discard as unredeemable.
And, if you listen closely, as loving hands run along Dyess’ freshly smoothed surfaces, tiny feet take wobbly steps across timbers of ancient strength, and families gather around the many polished corners of the past, you will hear the wisdom of the wood.
Visit Encore Architectural Salvage Company’s showroom at 650 King Street, Charleston, SC or encoresalvage.com.
By Susan Frampton