Chifferobe Home & Garden owner Stephanie Wilder moved to Western North Carolina from Charlotte in 1989, noting, “Like many people, I was drawn to this area because of its beauty and its strong arts scene.” She says she also found it to be less pretentious than Charlotte and more welcoming of differences. “I have always been odd, and, in words from the movie My Cousin Vinny, ‘Finally I blend.’”
After earning a Master’s degree in education, Wilder taught high-school English at Charlotte Country Day School for 20 years. “I was confident I could find another teaching job in Asheville when I moved here.” That, however, did not prove to be the case.
Luckily, she found a position at the Swannanoa Valley Youth Development Center, a juvenile detention facility. It was, she recalls, “a strange trajectory from prep school to prison.” However, she adds, “In the eight years I taught there, I grew tremendously as a teacher and as a human being.” When the center closed in 2011, Wilder decided to open Chifferobe Home & Garden. (The name “chifferobe” is a colloquial term for a freestanding wooden wardrobe; it was used in To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel Wilder says she loved teaching.)
Opening the store wasn’t easy. “I am a Quaker, and I try hard to live the testimonies of the faith,” says Wilder, “but the testimony of simplicity is so hard for me to follow. I just love stuff, especially stuff that has been made by hand. But I was able to turn my love of things and of shopping into a retail business.”
Her shop is filled with fascinating, eclectic pieces — dishes, jewelry, folk art, fine craft, and a seemingly endless array of other objects — that she selects individually. “I started with lots of funky antiques, but over the years I carry fewer such pieces, because young people don’t want old stuff,” she concedes. “Instead, I have as many works by local artists and craftspeople as possible … but I supplement them with interesting handmade objects from around the world. … I buy things that I wouldn’t mind keeping if they don’t sell, things that shout when I see them: Yes! You want me.”
Her approach is carefree. “I don’t make plans,” she insists. “I let go of expectations and see where things take me.”
There’s more, though. In addition to her thriving retail business, Wilder loves to write, including a series of stories in her newsletter blog “The Handmade Home,” where she showcases residences in the area that reflect the people who inhabit them. “I am opposed to cookie-cutter houses that look like every house you have ever seen on HGTV,” she remarks. Wilder also offers an interior-design consulting service she would love to see grow. She says she enjoys helping clients arrange things in their homes “in a welcoming and colorful way that best reflects their taste and background.” (Her pet peeves include “plastic crap” and “people who are afraid to be themselves.”)
Several years ago, she started another series of blog stories under the banner 44 Cherry Street, about a collection of fictional characters living in Black Mountain, written in a style reminiscent of Garrison Keillor’s popular Lake Wobegon tales from A Prairie Home Companion. “This way, I can bring up local news and issues in a more entertaining way,” she explains. Pushed to reveal what real-life people her characters might be based on, Wilder demurs, admitting only that one is based on a “kooky friend of mine in Asheville.” Another is modeled after someone who worked for her husband years ago: “But I can’t say more.”
With the pandemic behind her (she had to close her store for a couple of months), Wilder says, “I love what I’m doing now. Even on days when business is slow, I reason that having Chifferobe is cheaper than therapy. I’m turning 75 this summer and have no plans to quit.”
Chifferobe Home & Garden is located at 132 Cherry St., Black Mountain, open every day from 10:30am-5pm. For more information, call 828-669-2743 or see chifferobehomeandgarden.com. (Also on Instagram: @chifferobeblackmountain).
Thanks for such a descriptive article that captures the spirit of Chifferobe, and of Stephanie, whom I have known for many years. I am now living in Winston Salem, and crave trips to Black Mountain. There is, without doubt, something wonderful for everyone who walks through the warm, magic door into Chifferobe. It is a bit like a short visit to Narnia, knowing that numbers of items were made by loving hands.