Hay Hill Garden Market isn’t what you might expect, or where.
The innovative minds behind the shop, which opened this weekend on Bluff Road, have turned a gritty industrial building into a high-end retail establishment. If Garden & Gun, the eclectic Southern lifestyle magazine, were a store, it would look like Hay Hill.
Owner Fred Gantt originally went looking last year for a Columbia office for Hay Hill Services, his St. Matthews-based landscaping and design business. The 1950s era, brick Southern Pump and Tank property at 1625 Bluff Road was on the market and appealed to his passion for recycling old buildings. When he went inside, he envisioned much more than an office.
“It just felt like a garden center,” Gantt said. “I fell in love with it immediately. It had good bones.”
He is using the building’s existing office space as home for Hay Hill’s landscape architects. The remainder of the hangar-like building (it has 9,694 square feet) and the covered patio out back is retail space. The back of the nearly two acres of property is ideal for displaying rows of container plants.
“With the economy, getting new work has been harder,” said Gantt, who employs about 50 people between the two businesses. “This way, you come (to the store) to look at a fountain and wonder about how it would work into your yard. I can say, ‘Hold on. I can bring an architect out here to talk to you.’”
The process of turning gritty into Garden & Gun would have made for an interesting HGTV show. The arched pine ceiling hadn’t been painted and needed nothing more than a pressure wash. The orange steel trusses were painted basic black and now serve as the base for hanging lights that brighten the formerly dark space.
One of the walls to an office was reworked to turn the space into a meeting room that can be opened up to the retail center. Faux cabinets cover some heating and air conditioning ducts along the front wall. The other walls are lined by special display systems built of timber harvested from Gantt’s Calhoun County farm, either from trees cut in clearing land or from the remains of old farm structures.
“We wanted an informal, Southern feel to it,” said Jeffrey Hall, the market’s creative director. “We didn’t change the footprint. We worked with what we have and designed around it.”
Some of the old timbers were re-crafted into an oversized sideboard used to display Italian pottery. Wood and window frames came together as a wall that looks like the side of a farm building. Placed on wheels, it can be moved to break up the warehouse space in various ways.
“It was a fun project in that Fred would show us a pile of lumber that he had collected and we would come up with some way to use it,” Hall said.
The high portion of one end wall is filled with hunting trophies – deer and boar heads and stuffed ducks – collected by various members of the market’s team. They don’t seem out of place among the Batik-patterned pillows, the designer plates and the Pawley’s Island hammocks.
The patio is filled with top-of-the-line outdoor cooking equipment, including a line of oyster steamers built by a local company. There’s a small test kitchen, because the best way to sell a grill is to cook on a grill, Hall said.
The shade roof over the rows of container plants is made of recycled conveyor belt fabric Gantt picked up from a local manufacturer that was discarding it. Hall is still toying with the best way to incorporate a large steel structure and winch once used for loading heavy pumps onto trucks.
A garden center might have made more sense in that spot a few years ago, but with the move of the State Farmers Market, a couple of plant-related businesses in the area have closed or moved. The section of Bluff Road just south of Williams-Brice Stadium now is populated mainly by warehouses and student apartment complexes. But the Hay Hill team thinks shoppers will return to the area for a good product.
“A lot of (Gantt’s landscaping) clients loved the fact that when they dropped their kids off at school, they could pick up some plants at the Farmers Market,” Hall said. “Maybe we can get in that flight pattern again.”