September 2019

Treasure Hunting: Branches designers see art in everything

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Celia G Photographie


Lauren McAvoy and Sarah Perry on a recent treasure-hunting trip across Georgia to find items for their store Branches, located in the Village at Wexford.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The world is but a canvas to our imagination.” Do you look at everyday items and see potential for beauty or art? Sarah Perry and Lauren McAvoy do. For the two sisters, co-owners of Branches in the Village at Wexford, navigating rural roads, scouting small town antique collections and rummaging through junk piles is all in a day’s work.

While most people look at rusty tackle boxes, beaten up wood, old bicycle wheels, bullet casings and the like as trash, McAvoy and Perry see opportunities to repurpose them as planters, wall sconces, light fixtures, wreaths, candle holders, bud vases and more. And they are willing to venture off the beaten path to find their treasure.

Hitting the backroads to small, one-stoplight towns, they seek out little mom-and-pop antique stores and junk piles. “We’re embracing the South, homing in on authentic pieces, digging through the history and stories told,” McAvoy said.

Originally from Tennessee, McAvoy and Perry say their Southern upbringing gives them an edge when on the hunt. “You meet those old gentlemen that can only hear out of one ear; you sit there on that one side and you listen, ‘yes, sir and no, sir,’ showing respect. Many of them have been collecting for years. They’re proud and want to share it with you,” Perry said. “I got a free item one day because I took the time to listen to the story.”

It was a piece of driftwood that had been whittled and looked like a crutch. But Perry was drawn to the distressed wood. “I was thinking it was a beautiful art piece,” she said. “The guy was like, ‘You know what that is?’ And I said, ‘I’m guessing it’s a crutch.’ He told me the story: it was from a soldier that got shot in the buttocks.” He went on to tell a tall tale about the wounded man walking six days to get back from the battle site to his hometown.

“We saw it as a unique element—something pretty you could hang over a sofa,” McAvoy said. “It does wind up being a conversation piece.”

Perry chimed in: “Someone sees it and says, ‘That’s pretty.’ And then you can say, ‘That’s from a soldier shot in the buttocks!’”

Another memorable item is the old metal milk jug Perry spotted, “the coolest item ever,” McAvoy said. “The bottom was rusted out. [The owner] asked Sarah, ‘Why would you want this? There’s a hole in the bottom.’ And Sarah said, ‘If I hang that and put a light in it, it could be a really amazing lighting piece.’” (It’s in the front window at Branches now.)

Perry once let a woman’s cat out in Alabama and noticed that she had a huge junk pile out back. “I asked if we could go out there and she said, ‘Sweetie, there’s nothing out there but rust.’ And I said ‘Yes, ma’am. That’s what we like.’ We wound up buying great stuff,” she said.

“It’s dirty, sweaty and nasty, but we always find joy in it!” McAvoy said. “And there is often some good fried chicken and Southern cookin’ around the corner!”

While the Branches ladies enjoy their adventures, it’s not exactly a tea party or even antiquing in the normal sense. They recall one exciting day when the landowner led the way to pile of iron and wood pieces in the back of the overgrown property and its old farm buildings. As the girls started to pick through the pile, the gentleman, with no warning, shot a huge copperhead stretched amongst the metal. “We are literally out in places no one would go, sporting our snake boots, among colorful characters with Southern accents, beards and shotguns,” McAvoy said.

You could say that the girls inherited their creative genius and gift for imagination from their mom, the founder of the original Branches. They recall childhood adventures, driving around looking at old buildings. “Back in Tennessee, sometimes there would be abandoned houses that were falling apart. You might run across an old column with a finial. Those kinds of pieces are incredibly artful. You just look at it in a new way and imagine a new way to use it,” McAvoy said. “It’s so much more exciting than going out and buying something at a brick and mortar store.”

Now that their mom is retired and the two sisters are running the show, they are using their art school education and years of experience to make the business their own. Who thinks to make art out of a beaten-up old Ford truck door? They do! And what about those vintage coffee grinders, and rotary phones? Why, they’re perfect as planters and statement pieces for kitchens, offices, built-ins and more.

Lucky for you, McAvoy and Perry have done the trailblazing and snake dodging. The treasure hunt awaits at Branches, where you will meet the faces of real Southern hospitality. Mosey about and ask to hear the stories. Prepare for surprises in every nook and cranny, including the restroom, where a rusty 1950s feminine hygiene dispenser displays a staghorn fern.

Branches is still in the business of faux arrangements, and they are happy to fill your traditional container with beautiful botanicals and the finest quality permanent florals. They also welcome the opportunity to create something new from something old. Come in with your own vessels and stories (think tarnished silver, a seldom-used soup tureen, a chipped china cup, or your grandma’s old mixer) or gain inspiration from items in the store and the stories behind them.

“The beauty is in the imperfection,” Perry said. And the possibilities are endless when you see art in everything.

Branches is located at 1000 William Hilton Parkway, Suite E6, in the Village at Wexford. Learn more about their many services, gift items, special events and more at www.branchesdesigns.com.

What you see
Grain scoop
Artillery shell
Ammo box
Broken terracotta roof tile
Candle mold or bullet casing
Bull pull
Rusty mattress springs

What they see
Candle sconce
Floor vase
Storage container or lift for arrangements
Wine bottle holder or wall hanging with air plant
Bud vase
Plant hanger
Light piece

  1. I love the video, just as much as I love visiting your store. We come down Feb/March and 1st week of Nov every year, we come to your shop every time. Love it.


    — Brenda Myers    Sep 11, 10:38 am   

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