Crafters help define Lowcountry life
There are certain assumptions that outsiders often make about the Lowcountry and its people. They see our relaxed pace of life, laid-back personalities and the way we can make a simple conversation stretch for hours and think that we’re, well, lazy. It’s as if the salt air and sunshine had sapped us of the hard-working determination that typifies the American spirit.
LOCAL Life and Hargray launched the Crafted in the Lowcountry Awards to salute these hard-working makers who are helping to define our region through food and drink, arts and crafts, home and style, domestic and sartorial.
The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. We might look like we’re unwinding and enjoying the good life, but we’re a community of doers. That unwinding you see is just the tail end of the classic work hard/play hard doctrine. That relaxation, have no doubt, has been well earned.
This is, after all, a region that was largely rural and wild just a few generations ago. Everything you see around you was crafted by the hard-working people who call it home. And we’re just getting started. LOCAL Life and Hargray launched the Crafted in the Lowcountry Awards to salute these hard-working makers who are helping to define our region through food and drink, arts and crafts, home and style, domestic and sartorial.
A panel of experts had their work cut out for them in selecting a winner out of 61 entries. In the end, they selected an ingenious bit of home décor that brings the ocean waves of the Lowcountry to the clean lines of mid-modern flair.
THE RULES: The Crafted in the Lowcountry Awards, in partnership with Hargray, are a celebration of Lowcountry craftsmanship. The awards highlight the best locally made products in six categories: home, food, drink, style, crafts and art. Businesses in Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort and Okatie were allowed to enter, as long as their items were made in the area and were already sold here. A team of local experts determined a winner in each category. Judges and LOCAL Life team members then voted to determine the overall winner. The grand prize includes being featured on the cover and inside of the September issue of LOCAL Life magazine. The prize, valued at more than $5,000, also includes advertising and promotions, professional photography and videography, potential additional distribution and more.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
If you’ve dined out in the Lowcountry at all over the last few decades, odds are good you’ve seen William De Torre’s work. You just didn’t realize it. Through K Company, the construction firm he runs with partner Jimmy Kicklighter, he’s had a hand in countless buildings, but his favorite projects are restaurants. According to him, that’s when he really gets a chance to stretch his creative side.
His is a subtle artistry that has helped define the look of SERG Group restaurants as the company grew into the area’s restaurant powerhouse. His work has graced everything from the multi-dimensional walls at Wiseguys to the rippling waves on either side of Poseidon’s stage. When you look across the vast portfolio of SERG properties, you’re seeing a series of blank canvases that he filled with eye-catching woodwork and artistic designs. And soon, he’ll be moving along to his next great project.
“Frankie Bones in Bluffton is going to be my swan song,” he said, with equal measure excitement and nostalgia.
With “retirement” looming, De Torre is pouring himself into an interest that sits comfortably in the middle of a Venn diagram of “hobby,” “passion” and “side hustle.” It’s everywhere amid the sprawl of his Hardeeville worskshop – stacked vintage furniture awaiting restoration, scraps of wood carved into geometric shapes as tests of his CNC machine, and shelf upon shelf of mid-century modern-style lamps he crafted by hand from wood.
But the centerpiece of this thirty-year passion sits in a place of honor in the back office of his workshop, surrounded by photographic reflectors as it awaits its close-up. The Credenza-Za’s clean lines place it clearly in the mid-mod aesthetic that De Torre favors, but among the spalted maple planks of its tambor front is a true innovation that took him three years to perfect.
“The process of making tambor has been around forever,” he said. “What’s not been around is the pattern.”
The genesis of the Credenza-za came at Poseidon, where the signature wavy walls of the rooftop bar first captured his imagination. He kept four sheets of the original material, 4×8 sections carved from medium-density fiberboard (MDF) that went into what he called his “wave collection.” Sharing mid-mod sensibilities with the Credenza-Za, this collection included a coffee table, couch and most notable a bookcase console.
But with the Credenza-Za, he wanted to include the natural grain of spalting in maple, something MDF couldn’t provide. When he couldn’t find anybody willing to provide the wavy texture he needed, he decided to do it himself. All it took was $10,000 for a CNC machine, a few software upgrades and the willingness to teach an old draftsman new tricks.
“At first I couldn’t do it. It was talking about vectors and things and I’m like, ‘what?’ Put me on a drafting table, I’m a draftsman. You put it on AutoCAD and it just stops me cold. I bought this software and I couldn’t use it,” he said. “I don’t know what happened, but eventually I got it. You ought to see me now.”
It was three years of trying and failing and trying anew before De Torre had the Credenza-Za exactly like he wanted. Or at least close. He’s already brainstorming improvements he might make and other patterns he might try down the road. It’s not quite retirement – in fact, it might just be the start of William De Torre’s next big adventure.
AND LOCAL HOME WINNER
The product: The Credenza-Za
Where it was crafted: Hardeeville
What makes it great: This stylish and functional piece is an original design by William De Torre. It is truly one of a kind, made almost entirely of re-claimed barn wood (black walnut and spalted maple) that was sourced locally in Levy. The doors track all the way around to the back and appear to be floating. The tambour doors and solid walnut dovetailed drawers have shark fin pulls.
“We think from our search online that the solid wood, wave wall and tambour doors have never been done before,” De Torre said. “Creating anything truly unique is very difficult.”
Judging notes: “I’ve never seen anything like it — the tooling, the rolling of the wood, the ingenuity, the craftsmanship. (De Torre) nailed it, from the inside out. He started with rough wood and transformed it into a smooth, wavy, amazing piece. It’s really incredible.” — Kelly Caron, Kelly Caron Designs
Find it: 843-816-6162, wdesignstudiolighting.com
LOCAL FOOD WINNER
The product: Sprout Momma Breads
Where it was crafted: Hilton Head Island
What makes it great: These artisan breads are made from select ingredients, such as King Arthur organic flour and super sprouted flour from Lindley Mills. Sprouting greatly enhances the nutrition and digestibility of wheat. Many other ingredients come from their garden and local farmers. The bakery is owned and operated by Kim Tavino and her children, Abby and Ryan. The family was born and raised in the Lowcountry. “We handcraft all of our bread with love,” Tavino said. “The Lowcountry runs in our blood.”
Judging notes: “To start, the bamboo charcoal bread is really an aesthetic treat, from the deep brown crust into the gorgeous chewy black bread underneath. Not surprisingly, it has an earthy, almost nutty flavor that pairs perfectly with a good quality butter or a tangy fruity jam. Overall, this is a truly artisan product made with care and pride that is typical of our friends at Sprout Momma.” — Lloyd Alberson, Old Oyster Factory
Find it: Farmers Market of Bluffton, Port Royal Farmers Market, The Market at Village at Wexford, local restaurants, 843-715-2649, sproutmomma.com
LOCAL STYLE WINNER
The product: Indigo dyed 100% silk scarves
Where it was crafted: Lady’s Island
What makes it great: Island Indigo textiles are individually designed, intricately bound and hand-dyed in a natural indigo vat on Lady’s Island. Each piece is unique. The mother-daughter team draws inspiration from the surrounding water and from local historical heroine Eliza Pinckney (1722-1739), who perfected the intricate process of extracting potent blue dye from the green leaves of the indigo plant. The project is a creative outlet and brings purpose and joy to the mother, Lydia Beason, who continues her battle with brain cancer. A portion of each sale is donated to brain cancer research.
Judging notes: “Of all the unique items in my category, this one screamed ‘Crafted in the Lowcountry’ the most. The making of the dyes and the manipulation of natural fibers create intricate designs that are all one of a kind. The thought and imagination that Lydia puts into each creation touches my heart, and the many whom benefit from her charity.” — Roxanne Gilleland, Shop!
Find it: [email protected]
LOCAL DRINK WINNER
Hilton Head Distillery
The product: Mountain Peak Espresso Flavored Rum
Where it was crafted: Hilton Head Island
What makes it great: Created from pure molasses and real, fresh-roasted coffee, this spirit is the perfect marriage between West-Indies-style rum and robust espresso. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans are some of the rarest and most desired in the world. To create this drink, the team at Hilton Head Distillery hand steeps the beans in its Platinum White Rum, resulting in bright, bold espresso flavor with a subtle creamy sweetness. It’s the perfect rum for coffee lovers.
“We use cloud-sourced alkaline water to proof down the spirit to 40 percent alcohol (80 proof), giving it a smooth mouthfeel and unbeatable drinkability,” distiller Peter Thompson said.
Judging notes: “The winning entry needed to demonstrate excellence in five characteristics: appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish. Additionally, the winner should showcase the creativity and exceptional craft we have come to expect in the Lowcountry. While all of the entries did their creators proud, the Mountain Peak Espresso Rum from Hilton Head Distillery rated highest in virtually every category.” — Terry Cermak, Rollers Wine & Spirit
Find it: Most liquor stores, hiltonheaddistillery.com
LOCAL CRAFTS WINNER
Wild Wood Rescue and Designs
The product: Driftwood cheese board/serving tray
Where it was crafted: Bluffton
What makes it great: This unique serving tray is made with locally harvested driftwood. It has a metallic blue inlay, where a wormhole tunnel used to be and Lichtenberg figures made with 12,000 volts of electricity that resembles lightning. The handles are also driftwood that were shaped into the piece.
“It’s wherever my imagination takes me when I look at a piece of wood,” Roberto Rodriguez said. “Ninety percent of the wood I find has potential.”
Judging notes: “The work of Roberto Rodriguez incorporates all of the elements of the Lowcountry that draw people to this area. He uses locally found materials and manipulates those materials to create beautiful, organic yet functional pieces. His cheese tray is beautiful and interesting to look at, yet functional. His craftsmanship is superb. I could envision this piece in any of the homes in the Lowcountry. His story is also one that is familiar to many that have relocated to this area. The natural beauty of the area and the low key lifestyle enjoyed by so many is reflected in his work.” — Wendy White, Pyramids Home Store
Find it: Palmetto Bluff Provisions, wildwoodrescue.com
LOCAL ART WINNER
Julie Jones artwork
Where it was crafted: Hilton Head Plantation
What makes it great: Jones is a native of Hilton Head Island. Her love of the island shows through in her colorful, oversized art. Her most notable works include oysters, marshscapes and marine life. “My works represent the vibrancy of our island environment through subject, color, style and form,” Jones said. “I love to paint and I love where I live. The two have come together harmoniously.”
Judging notes: “I was impressed with the artist’s approach to light on water, which is difficult to master. Given Julie’s background, born and raised in the Lowcountry, her art is ideal for our little part of the world. We enjoy a very robust art community, visual and performing. It’s nice to recognize an artist that is home grown.” — Ben Whiteside, The Red Piano Art Gallery
Find it: Copper Penny, So Sandra, Etsy, juliejonesartwork.com