The City Magazine Since 1975

Have a Seat!

February 2015
Have a Seat!
PHOTOGRAPHER: 
Traditional Charleston Battery Benches are still crafted on King Street

You’ve rested on one, enjoyed a conversation, perhaps even smooched on one. The Charleston Battery Bench, with its slats of indigenous cypress braced by decorative ironwork, is a familiar site on our porches and in our parks, and has been since soon after the Civil War, when it was commissioned by the city to help beautify White Point Garden at the base of the Battery. In the 1940s, antiques store proprietor George Birlant bought exclusive rights to the pattern and has been manufacturing benches ever since.

“It’s one of the truest pieces of Charleston memorabilia that has been consistently made since the 19th century,” says Andrew Birlant Slotin, who along with his father, Phil Slotin, oversees production at George C. Birlant & Co.’s antiques gallery at 191 King Street. The 93-year-old store fronts a warehouse, its door often ajar, offering passersby a glimpse at the quirky workshop within. Supervised by Nathanial Collins, who has been with Birlant’s for 44 years, a small team culls and sands slats of Lowcountry cypress, dips them into a tank of “Charleston green” paint, and hangs them on metal hooks to dry.

Once completed with cast-iron supports, the benches are sold locally or shipped out, bringing Charleston charm to schools, town squares, shopping malls, golf courses, and homes around the U.S., Canada, even England and beyond.


On the Bench
A few fun facts about our favorite love seat
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➼ By the numbers: Initially, Birlant’s made about 12 per month. In the late ’60s, they ran small ads in Southern Living and other national magazines and have since averaged 800 benches a year.
➼ Making history: The benches were crafted locally by J.F. Riley Iron Works from the late 1800s until the 1940s, when George Birlant bought the pattern and rights.
➼ Lowcountry imagery: Within the ironwork, you’ll see a now-extinct Carolina parakeet, a fox’s head, a stylized palmetto frond, and more.
➼ Take your pick: Styles range from the 30-inch single bench ($369.50) to the 96-inch double ($749.50).

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