Venue invites hours of wandering in search of that special piece
At 24, Asheville’s Screen Door has matured into an inventively curated labyrinth of vendor booths, with everything from quirky-cool merchandise — think the perfect retro throw pillow or one-of-a-kind hanging bed frame — to unpretentious but elegant furniture pieces whose provenances are decidedly straightforward. “We purposefully mix reproduction pieces with bonafide antiques,” says owner Joanne Klappauf, whose passions are interior design and gardening. “I believe that as long as either path gets you to the look you want, then it’s good. The important thing is getting the opportunity to feather your nest in a way that’s exciting to you.”
Klappauf and her husband relocated their business and home to Asheville from the DC suburbs in 1991. The Screen Door was born in 1998 when they bought the building that houses their company Common Ground, a specialty book-distribution outlet. At 22,000 square feet, “this space was so cavernous, and there was so much room left over after we stocked our books,” she explains. “When I lived in Kensington [Maryland], I’d often walk to an area with a bunch of antique stores to clear my head and relax, and that’s what the Screen Door has become for customers.”
Long before the pandemic, visitors considered the store a kind of refuge — a place to spend pleasurable hours alone or with friends, “just relaxing and having fun, like a treasure hunt,” notes Klappauf. “Over and over, folks have told me that they come to the Screen Door to de-stress and reset. People have said this is their little treat after they’ve been to the dentist, and even after more serious events, like a chemotherapy treatment or the loss of a loved one. That’s incredibly rewarding.”
Aesthetically, though, “we’ve evolved a lot over time,” she notes. Screen Door is still a place to wander, “but we’ve become more design oriented, offering more furniture, art, and accessories, in addition to found objects, salvage pieces, and other ephemera.” The curated vibe, she says, is driven by the collective energy of all their dealers.
But Screen Door also benefits from some natural feng shui. The store capitalizes on its rare lot, which is spacious and flat and full of parking spots. “We put all our garden furniture, statuary, and other accessories outside there, so before you even enter the store, you can meander through all those offerings,” she explains. On the back end, she notes the sense of community between staff and “our amazing dealers,” remarking that “we’ve probably had half of Asheville work here at one time or another.”
Klappauf is honest about being a big-picture person, and happily leaves the Screen Door’s day-to-day logistics to long-time manager Frank Capps. “We’re so fortunate to have Frank. He’s got an incredible eye, is really great with people, and knows how to create the just-right balance stylistically among the many dealers’ spaces at the Screen Door … that’s no easy feat, [since] each [space] has a wonderfully unique feel.”
The store closed down for three months in the midst of the pandemic, which was scary, she admits: “Talk about a cash-flow crisis!” She was stunned by what happened next, though. “After we reopened, sales went bananas” — and they remain at that level.
“We’re lucky to have this big, airy space with fans constantly recirculating the air, so we can offer people somewhere safe to come.”
Though customers can buy packaged snacks in-store now, Klappauf fantasizes about getting a café of some sort into Screen Door. “It seems like a natural partnership, because people build up an appetite after covering all this square footage. They need sustenance, and I’d love to partner with a local restaurant.”
Such a prospect seems likely, given the venue’s consistent high profile. “We were in the Asheville Citizen Times as one of the top three businesses in Asheville, along with the Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore House,” notes Klappauf, who still seems surprised to be included with these venerable tourist icons. “We also scored third on Southern Living’s ‘Best Shops’ list in their April 2017 issue.
“These recognitions mean we’re doing what we set out to do. I know I’m lucky.”
Screen Door, 115 Fairview Road, Asheville, 828-277-3667, open Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm and Sunday, 12-5pm. See “The Screen Door” on Facebook.