March 2009

What Makes a House a Home?

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

While many people use the words “house” and “home” interchangeably, a house is really just a physical structure made up of walls, a floor and a roof. A home, on the other hand, is a place of comfort. It’s personal. It evokes a feeling that’s easy to recognize but hard to define. Whether you live in a tree house or the White House, there’s no place like it on earth.

So what does it take to transform a house to a home? According to Michele Wood, interior designer and president of Fine Furniture Galleries/Coastal Living Interiors, LLC, a house becomes a home when you make it your own, surrounding yourself with people and possessions you love. And that is exactly what she helps her clients do, by offering furnishings and accessories as unique as each individual who passes through the doors of her showroom in Bluffton or her newest location at Palmetto Bluff.

Wood grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and visited Hilton Head Island many times as a child. Coming back to the Lowcountry as an adult, it seemed like the right place to call home. Moving to the island at age 22, she began her interior design career at Sea Pines Interiors, known today as Plantation Interiors. Over the years, she developed an eye for fine furnishings and longed to bring something new and different to the Lowcountry. “That’s what eventually led me into the furniture business—to be able to bring beautiful things to people,” she said.

More than a place to buy furniture
Five years ago, Wood opened a 3,000-sq.-ft. showroom in Bluffton, distinguishing herself by offering full design service at no additional cost to the customer. “We are a retail furniture store, but we are interior design driven. This is a service we provide, because we want our clients to be happy with the result,” she said, explaining that Fine Furniture Galleries offers window treatments, fabrics and access to over 400 furniture and accessory lines.

Wood describes her showroom collection as an eclectic mix of upholstered and leather pieces and a dazzling array of exquisite accessories for the home. “The feel is classic and elegant with sophistication perfect for the Lowcountry,” she said, pointing out fine fabrics of mohair and silk, classic lines of furniture as well as streamlined, updated designs. “This is an ‘acquired look,’” said Wood. “It’s tasteful, it’s elegant—it’s not ostentatious.”

Sitting at her Barclay Butera ebony desk in the satellite location at Palmetto Bluff, nestled in the center of Wilson Village, overlooking the banks of the May River, she said, “This is a magical place. Interior design service is just another amenity that should be out here.” Wood uses the small retail space, which is open to property owners as well as the general public, to serve the area and also to showcase her design skills. “I knew I would be using certain pieces, but I didn’t want it to look like a furniture showroom,” she said. “I wanted it to look like what I can do in someone’s home.”

Using a mix of period pieces, a warm, but neutral color palette and an array of accessories, including property owner, Marge Agin’s spectacular Lowcountry photography, area resident, Dr. Bill Katz’s intricately detailed bronze sculptures, and local artist, Linda Rorer’s oil paintings, the store does, indeed, invite customers to make themselves at home. “When you come in here, you get a feeling of belonging,” said Wood, who encourages her Palmetto Bluff clients to visit the larger showroom, as well, for a more complete picture of what she has to offer.

While Wood carries a high-end line of furnishings, she emphasizes the enduring value of her merchandise. “The economy is on everyone’s mind,” she said. “Our customers are highly selective and have a tendency to deplore the disposable.” Staying away from fads and trends, she works within each client’s comfort zone to offer them the lasting quality they expect. “Because mistakes of any kind are costly, from that standpoint, we wind up saving our clients money,” she said.

The world according to you
Wood understands that furnishing a home is a very personal process. Along with her team of talented designers and consultants, she believes strongly that the home must reflect the individuality and lifestyles of the owners. “We take pride in listening to our clients and interpreting their needs and desires,” she said. “We’re not trying to put our stamp on a client’s house. Our job is to help with their vision.”

Having studied psychology in college, Wood says that her educational background helps her relate to clients. “I think that you have to have a very creative, different kind of mind in the interior design business,” she explained. “You have to think outside the box, because it’s not your work. You are the vehicle. It’s all about the homeowner.”

According to Wood, it’s not unusual for her clients to become friends. “You literally become a part of their family,” she said. “It’s important to connect, just like with a doctor or hairdresser. That’s why the psychology part is so important. Not everybody has the same style, and it doesn’t mean that one style is better than another. You really need to get inside the client’s head and figure out what is going to make them feel good about their space.”

Ready to make your house a home? Fine Furniture Galleries has two locations to serve you. The Bluffton showroom, located at 19 Buckingham Dr., is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call (843) 837-9999. The Palmetto Bluff showroom, located at 78 Boat House Street, is open Monday-Wednesday by appointment only; Thursday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call (843) 815-7898.

  1. Beautiful,
    I’ll try to stop in next month. Tell Kathy I said hi.

    — Bill Rupp    Mar 27, 07:07 am   

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