July 13, 2010 by sheacarver
5323 Oleander Drive • (910) 399-7068
A quarter mile or so past College Road on Oleander Drive, heading toward Wrightstville Beach, begins an eco-corridor where environmentally friendly businesses reside. Tidal Creek, Wilmington Yoga Center, Oleander Produce, Seaside Yoga and Progressive Gardens only mark a few of the ilk. Newest to their greenway sits Re-Eco, a business ran by the Holst family, a group of artists and eco-conscious citizens whose call has always been making functional art, all the while leaving a very small carbon footprint behind. Its matriarch and primary business owner, Mary Holst, stands firm on her belief that “the greenest product is the one that already exists.”
With the help of her husband, painter and graphic artist, Robert, the two have opened a shop selling … well, a little bit of everything. From jewelry to handbags, onesies to art work, their unique boutique has quirky items perfect for the home, an art collector and even the standard tourist looking for interesting handmade souvenirs. Though, the most impressive items sold in Re-Eco remain the refurbished furniture, which Mary and Robert coddle from thrown-away or unwanted items, and revive into beautiful works of colorful function.
“Mary’s the mind, I’m the hands,” Robert says. “She has a great sense for design and color.” A hutch painted in purple and bright cobalt blue hues with antique knobs proves his point. It could artistically highlight the most unusual family heirlooms.
Humble and endearing, Robert and Mary feed off each’s contribution to the shop. Re-Eco showcases Robert’s serene watercolors of marsh pools around Wrightsville Beach or graphic, retro images of Johnny Mercer’s Pier, while Mary’s textile work comes in the form of handbags, laser-cut repurposed leather earrings or linen-covered journals. Together, they have raised two artists, as well, Miles and Laura, each of whom have their own talents to boot. Miles studies art design and communication media at NC State and makes many of the T-shirts sold throughout Re-Eco. Laura, a UNC Asheville student who studies psychology and health and wellness, flexes her creative muscles in pottery, showcasing ceramics like clocks, sculpture and small bowls all over the shop. They also help run the store when school doesn’t beckon their attention.
Yet, the impetus to start Re-Eco began from Mary’s success selling her “re-bags” to the public, thanks to local shops like Edge of Urge, Hallelu and Sambuca who carried them. “People would always stop me and ask, ‘Where did you get that bag?’ After I told them I made it from old fabric, they would want one, too,” she explains.
Having studied fabric art at the University of Hawaii, Mary’s foray into eco-art came naturally, as she always appreciated Mother Earth thanks to her love for surfing, which also lead to her helping rescue loggerheads and lifeguarding. “On campus of UH, they had trees planted from everywhere in the world,” she recalls. “One tree called ‘Tree of Life’ had more animals sustain themselves there than any other place in the world, and they had these pods inside where turmeric grew. It was breathtaking.”
When she met Robert, after he graduated from college in Denver, they had a lot in common, including their passion for art, the environment and the sea. Settling in Wrightsville Beach, Mary worked as the day manager at Tidal Creek, and Robert painted murals around town, as well as designed logos for places like Bridge Tender, Fish House and even Wrightsville Beach Park and Recreation, before landing a job at Star-News. Though his print career took them to Atlanta, the city couldn’t keep the artists and surfers forever. So, back to the beach they moved.
While Robert’s visual journalism career was getting afoot, Mary reared Miles and Laura, teaching them to “recycle, eat healthy and be nice to others.” Aside from finding crafty ways to redesign her home, she also would teach soap- and book-making projects at Miles’ and Laura’s schools.
“She was always making something out of nothing,” Robert says.
“Yeah, I had a friend who would ask me, ‘How do you come up with all of this stuff?’” Mary explains, referring to a lamp she would revise from bare bones or a table that looked like nothing more than junk to the common eye. “I just responded, ‘No money!’ It was born in me to work with what I already had—that ‘70s mentality, where we taught ourselves to do everything.”
“Mary has a really great flair for taking things usual and making them unusual,” Robert continues.
The couple’s resources come as organically as their ideas to transform them into treasured items. Today, people offer them a surplus of materials frequently.
“So much fabric gets discarded,” Mary exclaims. “We have an interior designer friend who gave us tons of remnants of linen to make aromatherapy pillows—just really beautiful fabric that I can’t believe would get thrown away!”
“Yeah, we have neighbors and friends calling, giving us what they no longer want,” Robert chimes in.
Robert’s and Mary’s passion seeps through each adorned corner of Re-Eco, located in the old Larbiola’s Antique Shop. “We still sell Labriola’s vintage postcards,” Robert assures, referring to a hot-ticket item sold from the old family store. “But, once they’re gone, they’re gone!”
Also reminiscent of Labriola’s: the many glass jars that laid about its front stoop. Only they reappear aligned across the roof of the building that the husband-and-wife team diligently worked on for a year to transform from a cement block into a cottage of whimsical fantasy. Ceramic owls look over the place, nestled next to robot images on T-shirts or bottle openers made out of discarded bamboo flooring. Visions of the sea appear at practically every turn. It’s apparent that’s what the Holst’s feel connected to. “We’re so lucky to live in such a beautiful place,” Mary says. “How can you not want to protect and preserve it?”
“We have always believed in preserving nature and communities,” Robert interjects. “And it doesn’t take much, you know? Made in America is good. Made in NC is great! But made in Wilmington is even better!”