A Few Minutes With…Sarah & Colby Broadwater of Arsenal Designed
Four years into their marriage, Sarah and Colby Broadwater have had more adventures than most couples have in 40. Their life together began in Germany, where Colby was stationed during his service in the U.S. Army and where the pair cultivated their shared passion for antiques. Today, the young tastemakers’ Charleston shop and HighBoy storefront deliver irresistible antiques to a whole new generation of antiques enthusiasts.
How long have you loved antiques?
Sarah: A long time. Whenever my mom had a chance, she took my sister and me to antiques malls when we were kids. Colby and I both grew up around beautiful things: His parents have an incredible collection of Empire and Biedermeier furniture, and I spent my childhood watching my parents build their collection.
Colby: Truthfully, I hated antiques until I started at Davidson College and had some free time to study them on my own. I disliked the trade because, when I was a kid, my parents—my father in particular—dragged me to shows in the U.S. and flea markets in Europe, where he was stationed in the Army. I don’t know how many weekends my father had me up at 5 AM and put me in the car, half asleep, to get to the markets. It seemed miserable at the time, but now I tell Sarah that 5:00 isn’t early enough. We need to be there before 4:00! It’s amazing how eventually your life resembles your parents’.
So you’ve gone from the grumpy kid at the market to an antiques dealer. How did you decide to open Arsenal?
Sarah: We had such a wonderful time starting our collection in Europe. In Stuttgart, Germany, we’d go to this little secondhand store almost every Saturday. The owner had everything from Ikea furniture and used cell phones to some of the most fabulous pieces. We found an exquisite 18th-century buffet and beautiful antique clocks there. Then, we branched out to different markets across Germany and France, and we were hooked.
Colby: A few years after I returned from deployment to eastern Afghanistan, we decided to move to Charleston. I was tired of being away from Sarah for months at a time and wanted to have a
home—and our families are here. Also, since we both have interest in and respect for entrepreneurs, we decided to give our own antiques shop a shot. I can safely say that Sarah was 100 times more prepared for the challenges of opening a business than I was. Guarding embassy officials in Baghdad or capturing Islamic State of Iraq leaders near Mosul do little to prepare you for marketing a small business or finding inventory.
What’s it like working with your spouse?
Colby: It’s great. She is the boss. I am still busy working for the National Guard so she sets the tone for the store and our picks. While living in Germany, I ran the show as far as procurement because I knew the markets from my childhood, and I speak German and French, both very poorly, but she has always been the tastemaker—and the better driver. She can whip a Sprinter van through a Belgian market better than anyone I know—including me.
Sarah: I just have to say that I love that Colby has these two sides to him: He’s in HALO school jumping out of planes one month and then he’s back at the shop, talking about a 19th-century painting. It’s very charming.
In the big, wide world of antiques, what’s Arsenal’s speciality?
Sarah: We don’t have a narrow specialty. We look for pieces that are well made and have some historical provenance. We tend to buy pieces that are mid-century or feel
industrial in style, and we love Empire and Biedermeier styles. Mostly, we like to mix it up. For example, in one corner of the shop right now, we have Biedermeier portraits over a primitive Argentinian rope bed.
Colby: I guess, like The HighBoy, we want to make antiques accessible. It’s not about a certain style or period. It’s about acquiring items for your home, over time, that add meaning. It’s about the story and craftsmanship. Our generation wants to tell you how our jeans were made of American cotton off looms in Alabama or who designed our T-shirts. That is the market we are trying to reach.
And what do you pick up from Arsenal?
Sarah: Our own personal style is more streamlined than what we have in the store, but it’s definitely tempting to design with our inventory, which is probably a bad business model! My favorite pieces in our home include a pair of chairs that might be from [Danish-American mid-century designer] Jens Risom. We also have a portrait that I bought for Colby from a secondhand store in Germany. It’s a WWI soldier in a beautiful frame, and it looked shockingly like Colby’s father. Just for fun, we named the portrait Gunther.
Clearly, you’re having some fun. Tell us about your favorite experiences so far.
Sarah: The adventure, the figuring it all out one piece at a time. I have the best memories in [the French town of] Lille, near the Belgian border. Walking through the market there with Colby and our dog, Edie, with our backpacks and seeing antique vendors who are now our friends. Beer vendors are scattered throughout, and there’s a little fair with carnival rides. It’s probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.
Colby: I will never forget leaving work in Germany, grabbing Sarah and Edie, racing to Enterprise Rent-a-Car before closing to grab a truck to drive through the night to an amazing market the next morning, or having to cross the Rhine on a ferry because the bridge was out to ensure that a pickup occurs on time. I love the hunt and can’t wait for it to continue.
Photography by: Brittany Callahan and Morgan Livingston