Biking up North King Street in Charleston, South Carolina, where run down delis and rickety old wig shops are slowly getting turned into slick bars and restaurants, I discovered a languorous store front filled with a passel of old mirrors, gilded frames and a light film of dust, giving the tall old windows a look of mystery and decay. Naturally I hopped off my bike and took a peek inside.
The interior was a treasure trove of old and new mirrors, frames and clocks. It was as if I had entered the attic of a once grand plantation owner who had stored everything, never to return. Fortunately this is exactly how the proprietor, Robert Hines likes it to be. He is one of the last old school tenants on North King Street and his craftsmanship is second to none. He greeted me with a warm voice and firm handshake and took me though the store showing me his work consisting of mirror glass, handmade mirrors and mirrored furniture. I soon realized that many of these mirrors are actually new and he and his team have painstakingly crafted various patinas and colors on them for clients around the country from Harvard to New York and Santa Barbara.
We spoke to Bob to learn more about his work, trends in glass making and his favorite projects.
How did you get started?
I have been an artist all of my life. The glass part of that started when I was at the University of Texas in Austin pursuing interests in Art and Architecture where I was awarded an apprenticeship in Stained Glass. I ended up doing three apprenticeships – two in architectural stained glass and one in a hot glass shop- before starting my own glass shop in 1988.
Have you seen a spike in sales with people who want original work and quality and who are tired of that ‘Pottery Barn’ aesthetic?
I have seen a growing interest in a high quality level of workmanship over the years. But no – not a spike in sales. I think the illusion of handmade quality offered by large companies who outsource overseas has diluted or offset the real interest. I am lucky to have a good selection of returning professional clients who appreciate our work. For us, the artists and craftsmen who imagine something from nothing and skillfully create beautifully crafted objects, it is a difficult world to live in. This process is almost always undervalued as it is compared to the price of objects mass produced.
Tell us about some of your favorite projects.
We were recently commissioned by a second generation New York antique dealer to exactly reproduce a large 1920 art deco mirror with cast and cut crystal prisms. It had been previously reproduced in a New York workshop who had to send it off to a Chinese company to cast the crystal prisms. We were very proud to be able to do everything in our South Carolina workshop. We installed it in his client’s home in The Hamptons Long island. He has since ordered three more.
Are there certain trends in mirrors and glass that you are noticing?
Mirrors that are actually old and gently decayed will always be beautiful and sought after. They have stories. Living in a gently decaying old city like Charleston has a way of growing on you and getting into your soul. And it is the reason why we make mirrors. The trend is not a trend . I think it is a desire to be connected to things that are genuine and to things that last through time. If there is just one thing that motivates a deep level of care and respect for what we do while we are doing it, and what we have done, it is the knowledge that these beautiful objects will be around long after us.