Furniture With a Twist
08 May 2015
Steven Shell Living offers unique furniture with appealing designs and an array of finishes and color options
By TERI ERRICO » Photos by BETTE WALKER
Two and a half years ago, Steven Shell drove 4,000 miles around the United States to find the perfect city in which to build his factory furniture store, and to bring his family over from London. He stumbled onto Mt. Pleasant by chance on his way to North Carolina, and ever since, Steven Shell Living has been a successful lowcountry store, and it’s the only one there is.
At the young age of 21, Shell began work as an antique dealer, and his love of furniture and of design only grew from there. He went into business for himself years later, designing his own product line in England, and finally found his niche in the beauty of Indonesian furniture. “It was a few years before my business picked up in England because I was one of the first to bring over Indonesian furniture,” Shell says. He now supplies stores around the U.S. and more than 20 countries. He has trade showrooms in Las Vegas, NV and High Point, NC, and the UK. His Mt. Pleasant outlet store, however, is the only place here in the lowcountry you can purchase his original work.
The London-born furniture designer says America has always been his dream. “When I was 14, I traded a guy for this little trinket, an American antique at the time, and I thought, ‘One day, I’m going to be an antique dealer in America.’ And I’ve always had that vision,” Shell admits. Upon learning that his daughter was expecting her first child two and a half years ago, he decided it was the perfect time to relocate to the U.S. and settle his family and his business for good. Even more ideal, his son-in-law Paul Tinkler, Shell’s trustworthy partner now, worked in furniture retail as well and could manage the business.
Hand-crafted, hand-finished and made of solid mahogany, every piece of Shell’s furniture is unique. “Lots of what I learned in the antique business, I bring into this. I also follow the trends in women’s fashion, all the colors and styles,” Shell explains. “I’m not a great designer. I’m self-taught. But I have a great team who helps me do everything, who helps me when I have a vision. Maybe I’ll be walking down King Street and see an old Swedish farmhouse table and think, ‘Well, that’s cool.’ And then I’ll add the legs onto a modern cabinet I’ve seen.”
Steven Shell Living has more than 1,000 pieces to select for your home, including items the owner purchased in Indonesia, antiques from England, 100 chandeliers and more than 150 types of artwork. Love the teal dining table, but not the color? Since all of Shell’s pieces are all hand-crafted, he offers customers the option to request custom-colored work, with 200 different finishes. “I think I have a need to express myself, and since I can’t sing or play an instrument, I find designing furniture as an outlet,” he says, priding himself on selling traditional furniture with a twist. “It’s all a bit contemporary, a bit funky. I’ll take a traditional dining room table, but give it a tin top,” Shell says. He adds that the greatest compliment his store receives is being called the “Anthropologie of Furniture.” “My designs are for people who think outside the box, for free-thinking people,” he notes. Even more appealing is that his designs are attainable for everyone with virtually wholesale prices. Great designer and great business owner, Shell is also an upstanding boss. The factory that creates his work employs more than 2,000 individuals and all receive minimum wage or higher, plus health benefits. “We also plant a tree for every piece of furniture we sell,” he adds.
When asked what his favorite piece in the store is, Shell laughs and says the first thing that comes to mind. “My grandson Oliver!” A proud grandfather, Shell couldn’t be happier to have his business family-run, and have it be such a success, too. “Everything I do, I do with a great deal of passion. I love the stuff I make. It doesn’t mean it always sells, but I go with what I’m really passionate about and enjoy making,” he says. Shell is most definitely a man of passion, both for his family and his store, stocked wall to wall with his ideas. He has no doubt that shoppers will fall for one of those ideas, too, and enjoy filling their homes with something uniquely made by Steven Shell. One just has to think outside of the furniture box. 843-216-3900, stevenshellliving.com