Hunting for Treasures in Bluffton

From antique shops to estate sales, Bluffton offers plenty of opportunities to discover cool finds.

By Randolph Stewart, Photography by Alec Bishop

Have you ever heard the story about the couple who bought a ceramic bowl at a garage sale for $3? They later had it appraised, and it turned out to be a rare 1,000-year-old Chinese bowl that sold at auction for $2.2 million.

Years ago, a man bought some old photo negatives at a garage sale for $45. They ended up being priceless Ansel Adams negatives believed to be lost in a fire. In the end, the negatives turned out to be valued at more than $200 million.

Even if you don’t find a priceless treasure, it’s always a fun adventure to go hunting for neat stuff. Garage sales, flea markets, antique shops, thrift stores, Goodwill stores, auctions and estate sales are places where Bluffton residents can search for treasures at bargain prices.

Photographer Alec Bishop and I recently decided to have some fun, visiting three local Bluffton shops one rainy day in search of treasure. Our first stop was Al-Harry Furniture Design on Calhoun Street.

Right off the bat, we found some great stuff, including a large mirror made from old metal ceiling panels, repainted louvered shutters, a flower pot mounted on a piece of driftwood and a worn metal book cart. The reflections in the mirror revealed all sorts of treasures. Previously unwanted furniture has been transformed into beautiful pieces for your home or office, ranging from a chest of drawers and pie safe to armoires, tables and chairs.

All items have been expertly repurposed by Joe Fargione, who makes all the repairs or changes needed. Joe adds appliqués and the proper hardware, along with Allison, (left) his wife of 35 years. Al has a great eye and a talent for refinishing, painting, distressing and glazing, so you have a piece that will long be enjoyed and admired. A true treasure.

Look around closely at Al-Harry Furniture Design and you will surely find something you can’t live without. However, we weren’t ready to stop shopping for treasures yet, so it was on to Coastal Exchange, located next to Scott’s Meats on May River Road.

We didn’t have to look too far for more treasure. We spotted a set of vintage leather luggage. What a great find! And have you ever seen textile mill wooden wool spools, over three feet tall? Just place them anywhere, and they will become an instant conversation piece.

What draws your attention? Was it a memory from your grandmother? Did you think about that perfect spot in your home that needs to have just the right piece?  One thing that caught my eye at Coastal Exchange was a small brass kettle nested inside an old oak wall cabinet, sitting on top of an Eastlake-style table.

Some things you see are simple forms that invite you to imagine what they can be used for now that they have been transformed. I saw a wonderful painted table that looked like it could have originally been used by a cobbler or a mechanic, but now looks like a cool folk art bar.

There is something special behind every little treasure. Nostalgia, a memory, the right color. Everywhere I looked, there was something new to experience at Coastal Exchange, including prints, lithographs, lamps, books, porcelain, tables, furniture, gadgets and gizmos.

Now, we still had a little money left and a day of treasure hunting would not be complete without a stop at Stock Farm Antiques, located just up the street between Four Corners Framing and May River Grill.

Emmett and Teddy McCracken always have new old treasures. My last trip in there, I bought a collection of Presidential campaign pins proclaiming “I Like Ike,” as well as pins supporting Kennedy, Taft, Wallace and Dewey/Warren. Dewey/Warren! Who remembers the runner-up?

Don’t forget to look down, as there are great treasures to be found under tables and just below the typical line-of-sight. Then, look up. Cool stuff can be found on the walls or on top of a display cabinet.

Sitting in a basket on a Victorian oak chair, I discovered a set of glass balls, which were originally floats from Japanese fishing nets. How unique! Fine crystal, china and silver, children’s furniture, early brass candlesticks. Hey, will you look at this? An old Chinese pipe with a finely carved wood holder and the intricate burner that held the embers to light it. That’s a treasure—you won’t find one of these often.

We collected some real treasures in Bluffton, but on the way out the door at Stock Farm Antiques, I saw something very interesting: a beautiful rosewood with applewood inlaid lady’s sewing table. English perhaps? Early for sure! Wonderful condition. 

Maybe it’s Austrian and belonged to Duchess Elizabeth of Hungary, who married Emperor Franz Joseph. Maybe, like the ancient Chinese bowl and the Ansel Adams negatives, it’s worth a fortune. You never know. Happy hunting!