This huge N.C. antique store handpicks all of the items it sells
By Leena Dbouk
When one thinks of “going antiquing,” images of trinket shopping or thrift store diving are what come to mind. However, there are the occasional rare gems, antique shops that transport you to the past.
They are like little museums where people can go to relive their past and also gaze in awe at the beautiful artistry of old stained glass windows, chandeliers or grand doors that once belonged in opulent houses thousands of miles away.
The Architectural Warehouse in Tryon, N.C., is one of these hidden gems. Stepping through their front doors is like taking a peek into the past.
Owner Jim Strausbaugh and manager Pamela McCarthy will go to any length to preserve that little piece of history.
“Partly why we’re in business is to save pieces of history,” McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, people are unaware of the value of the heirlooms they have grown up with or inherited. Often they will unknowingly destroy or dump them.”
That’s where McCarthy and Strausbaugh come in.
Strausbaugh opened his first location nearly 13 years ago in Landrum, S.C. (now closed), and McCarthy joined him a few years later, first working part time.
“I have a background in interior design, so when I first started working here around six years ago, I would move things around the store, pairing items I thought belonged together,” McCarthy explained.
And her eye for interior design can be seen throughout their new store.
For example, a particularly charming model in the back of the store is (what could be) a little girl’s room.
A beautiful white bed with gold varnish and pink cushion lining sits catty-cornered; next to it a desk/vanity, a soft Persian-style rug cools down the room while a striking painting of a sleeping cat draws the eye and brings the whole room together.
It was her attention to detail, knack for interior design and love of history that led McCarthy to become Strausbaugh’s right-hand woman. And indeed, she is the yin to his yang.
“We both love architectural stuff, stained glass, hardware. But Jim and I have different tastes, so it makes our store more eclectic,” McCarthy said.
Strausbaugh has an eye for unusual items, like big brass doors that he brought up from Argentina or an old statue of Saint Roch (San Roque) that once stood in a church in Bolivia (before it was allegedly stolen from its home in Bolivia and brought to Argentina, where Strausbaugh eventually recovered it).
His office is full of peculiarities like old books and intricately carved powder horns, and an old Victorian dictionary stand that is calibrated to stay level even when you flip the pages.
Strausbaugh likes things to be well kept and in order, while McCarthy likes items that are chipped and dinged on the corners.
“I love old fireplace mantels or garden gates,” McCarthy said. “Old hardware pieces, like door handles or hinges, also will catch my attention.”
And while Strausbaugh enjoys many of the pieces that come from Argentina or Peru, McCarthy has more of a local flair, favoring the pieces that come from Charleston or Florida.
“No matter where it comes from, we try to learn the history of every piece we buy, whether it’s from South America or right up the road. And that’s one of the reasons I love working here; you learn something new every day,” she said.
That’s one of the many reasons the Architectural Warehouse is unique. Strausbaugh and McCarthy will more than likely know the history of the pieces they are selling. All you have to do is ask, and one of them will probably know the answer.
More importantly, Strausbaugh and McCarthy both emphasized that the Architectural Warehouse does not buy in bulk.
McCarthy explained, “Everything in this store is unique and handpicked by either Jim or myself. We don’t do bulk buys. Some of the items in our store aren’t necessarily antiques, like some artisans bring in their furniture, but even those are unique, and you won’t find anything else like it.”
The 40,000-square-foot space holds mostly 19th- and 20th-century artifacts, although there are a handful of items that are older.
And they encourage everyone to explore the store, even if you’re not interested in buying.
“We really are a destination place, and it’s exciting that people know who we are and are seeking us out. Our goal is to preserve history and help it find a new life.” E