Creating that one of a kind piece…

Happy Wednesday! Today we are going to show you Charles’ full design process. We are going to make a coffee table from start to finish. There is a certain element going into this process that is close to Charles’ heart and something he has had for years….let’s say about 28 years. We estimate the time how long he has had the design element according to my brother’s, Luke Phillips, age and when my parents opened Cotton City Antique Mall.

Fun fact. Charles and Sue Phillips opened the first antique mall here in the Port City of Mobile, Alabama, Cotton City Antique Mall. It’s still located in midtown Mobile, “The Loop” area. It was an old bowling alley when my parents started working on it. Much of the same staff, including the current owner, is there from the original crew. Go check it out. You will most likely run into my husband. He is always in there just looking around, mostly for a new bottle to add to his collection.

Back to the cool element added to my dad’s design. It’s a fireback dated from year 1632, a true piece of history. It’s French cast iron.


This particular design came about for a customer who wanted something special for her home. My dad was in the perfect mood to give it to them! He has been holding on to the fireback for years in hopes of using it someday. Most likely in his own home, but sometimes things don’t necessarily come to fruition and as any business owner knows, sacrifice comes with the territory. My mom knows this all too well. In the early days of Charles Phillips Antiques (it was called American Antiques waaaaayyyyy back), she would often come home to find Charles had sold the family dining table! Someone needed a dining table and my parents needed the money to feed their growing family.

The customer bought that fireback, and now we are going to make it into a coffee table. It takes some imagination and math skills to get the sizing right when using antique architectural parts. Shutters don’t always have breaks in the louvers where you need them to be. Simply put, it takes a little longer to build a custom piece than a regular piece. Charles likes to pick out doors and window units and let the units lend themselves to a particular design. That said, the best designs are made on Mondays when no one is around.

Once the right parts are chosen to achieve the ideal size for the client, the building happens. Tray is our main builder in the shop. He has been with us for about 5 years or so. This project, like many others, starts with a frame. It then develops from there. The shutters used are from the Mediterranean area, dating around the 1880’s. The legs are newer pine and turned to replicate an antique leg.

Once a design is built, it is sent off to our finish shop. The piece and parts determine what need to be done first. The coffee table needed to be prepped with wood pegs for the screw holes and a little sanding to smooth down the edges.

The legs and raw parts were stained to match the older wood of the shutters and molding and then a thinned out wash of white dove (Benjamin Moore) was applied.

Once the paint dries, it is hand sanded to create our signature washed finish. It gets a final coat of wax and viola! We are ready to send off with a happy customer!

It is always fun and a little challenging to build custom out-of-the-box designs. It’s one element of our business, and one of the parts we love the most. A lot of designs on the shop floor are original designs from the mind of Charles Phillips. The rest are actually antiques from around the world. All parts we found for this and all projects are onsite in and around our warehouses.

I hope you enjoy a little behind the scenes action! Stay tuned for more fun projects.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s