A Few Things You Didn’t Know About the 1960s Charleston Design World

June 20, 2014

After our fun Designer Spotlight on Jimmy Evans last month, we decided to sit down with our 80-year-old friend and colleague again for more time travel to learn about the 1960s Charleston design world. We learned a little more about who’s who of interior design, and Jimmy also told us about his adventures back then in sourcing for his very own antique store.

The 1960s Charleston Design World, According to Jimmy Evans

If you wanted to be an interior designer in Charleston 50 years ago, you had to compete with three different big-shot ladies: Sue Sanders, Marguerite Valk, and Virginia Chisolm. Sue had apparently attended the New York School of Design, while Valk and Chisolm were able to find success with only their innate knowledge of how design is done. “The other two were very talented I must say. Knowing how to decorate is one of those things you’re kind of born with,” Jimmy says. “And those all had it. People like Mrs. Valk weren’t bored doctors’ wives who suddenly decided they’d like to be ‘decorinas,’ like you see today.”

Jimmy says that the style back then that Charlestonians wanted in their homes was an English country look, or a colonial style. As far as furniture and decor go, he recalls Copper’s Wait and Southeastern Galleries as the go-to places — if you even needed to buy furniture.  “In those days, you didn’t buy a lot or have a lot of new furniture put in,” he says. “It was mostly antiques.”

Jimmy goes on to compare the home fashions then compared to 2014. “Younger people now don’t seem to be interested in antiques these days,” he says. “Brown is out. Nobody wants a lot of brown furniture. Now, you open up any magazine, and there’s a big white sofa and a big, fat white chair.”

Jimmy says it was a little more imaginative back then. He had to really step outside the box, and the country, to find the kinds of things that were of the standard he himself had. In addition to his design career, Jimmy also owned an antique store here in Charleston. The two careers really complemented each other.

To stock his store, Jimmy went on searches galore, traveling as far as Florence, Italy to find just the right items. In England, he loved the antique shops in Brighton, but he found most of the antique furniture he loved in London. He recalls Church Street in Kensington and the Portobello Road flea market there as good spots for digging, also mentioning his fondness of Parisian flea markets. Jimmy became familiar with the latter when living and studying design in Paris, and so that also became a great shopping spot.

All of his finds were shipped to SC and then used to decorate homes and stock his own store here in Charleston. We wonder how many buildings here could still house some of those special items he handpicked from across the pond. Hopefully, they’re in the hands of people who appreciate things that hold such nostalgia.

Kelly Rae Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Charleston, S.C.