By Katie Thompson
Photography Erin Turner
How Steve Lesniak’s wanderlust created an emporium of global design
Have you ever wanted to just start over—pick a place on a map at random, pack everything up and move your entire life there, completely by chance? It sounds like a big risk, but a sailor craves new and unfamiliar shores. Just ask local entrepreneur Steve Lesniak, who took off to Charleston on impulse and built his own success.
Lesniak, who grew up in England, found himself divorced and living in London at 33 years old. “I decided I needed a change. I came to the United States and spent a year traveling from state to state, staying with friends and family. I eventually settled on Charleston by literally pointing to it on a map. I didn’t know anyone here, but it fit my criteria of somewhere warm on the East Coast but not Florida!” he explained.
After settling in, Lesniak found a business partner, and they spent two years searching Charleston for ideas. Unlike his choice to relocate halfway across the world on a whim, Lesniak’s business decisions were based on solid research. Eventually, they found a gap in the home furnishings market.
“Nearly every furniture store in Charleston 27 years ago had a traditional aesthetic. I saw an opportunity to introduce something more European, with clean lines and a modern style,” Lesniak said.
They took their chances and opened Celadon in 1994, an eclectic furniture and lifestyle shop in Mount Pleasant. At the time, there were mainly antique stores lining the downtown streets and nothing much else to speak of, beyond big-box furniture chains. Celadon offered something new and different. Lesniak traveled to Mexico to source furnishings that were rustic, vintage and sustainable. There was nothing else like it in the area, and certainly not in Mount Pleasant, which was another strategic choice, as the East Cooper market was projected to grow exponentially.
Along with the area, Celadon also thrived, and Lesniak bought out the business from his partner in 1996. It eventually moved to the current location at 1015 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in November.
Also true to projections, Charleston is now a cosmopolitan city that takes pride in its history. Celadon continues to provide high-quality and even one-of-a-kind home furnishings from around the world, working with many fair trade and women’s co-ops to source products.
“It’s as simple as when we started selling modern designs in 1994 — people responded, things sold well and we have continued to provide something that people want. I think Charleston is now a very modern, sophisticated and eclectic city, and people want their homes to reflect that,” Lesniak said.
Though now successful, the business has not always been easy. When asked what challenges he has faced as a business owner, Lesniak replied, “I have definitely spent too much time working in the business instead of on the business, which is pretty typical in retail. I’m also somewhat of a loner, and wish I had polished my interpersonal skills a little more.”
A positive lesson Lesniak has learned throughout the years is to appreciate the benefit of engaging the local community. Celadon is known for providing opportunities to local artisans through trunk shows and pop-ups, and special events bring in food trucks, local musicians and an atmosphere that feels like a modern version of a traditional neighborhood block party. Celadon is also a member of Lowcountry Local First and regularly donates to local schools and organizations such as Pet Helpers.
Lesniak sees the immense value in his team at Celadon and how investing in his staff only helps the bottom line. “My goal as the leader of my incredible staff, consisting of mostly women, is to build their confidence and provide an inspirational environment, which I hope allows them to take control of the business’ success,” he shared.
Not stopping at the four walls that enclose Celadon, Lesniak has found a passion in mentoring other local small businesses and entrepreneurs as well. He is very active in SCORE, a national nonprofit organization by the Small Business Administration that provides educational and mentorship services.
When asked for his best advice for women looking to make a name for themselves in the home and design industries in Charleston, he answered,“My first piece of advice is always to find a business mentor who motivates you. Join a mastermind or business support group to find like-minded people you can connect and collaborate with.”
While he may have planted roots in Charleston, Lesniak’s spirit for exploration and discovering the unknown continues. He is a member of the Charleston Yacht Club and an avid sailor, even racing competitively. He also has a passion for motorcycles. He currently lives in Mount Pleasant with his wife Kathleen Fox, a children’s book author and the founder of Creative Arts of Mount Pleasant.
You can join Celadon for their 25th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, November 9 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. A curated group of local and regional artisans will be set up throughout the store, and guests can enjoy tarot readings, face painting, live music and refreshments, complete with a birthday cake. Food trucks, including First Name Basis, Life Raft Treats and Tres Palmas, will be on hand to provide food. The event is free and open to the public.