Many people talk about following their passion. Chris and Kadie Signore made it happen.
Leaving successful careers, he in the hospitality industry, she with the University of Virginia, they took a leap of faith and began a new chapter earlier this year in Bluffton, opening Signore Coastal Art, in the Promenade in Old Town.
It’s a light-drenched gallery full of whimsical, colorful fish carved from salvaged pieces of wood and bedecked with fins and tails of copper, aluminum and bronze – “Happy fish,” as Kadie calls them.
Chris grew up in Providence, R.I. It wasn’t a given that he’d end up carving wood. His first passion was cooking, learned from his beloved Italian grandmother. “One of the things that was powerful for me is that she could make all these magical things without looking at a recipe. I wanted to be like her, to make magical stuff without thinking about it.”
He attended the Rhode Island School of Design, which at the time had a culinary program, where he studied under exceptional chefs. Over time, Chris worked his way up the hospitality chain, moving from restaurants to hotels to country clubs.
Kadie grew up in Charlottesville, Va., returning there after graduating from the University of Colorado. She and Chris met in Charlottesville and married in 2009.
As Chris’s work drew him further away from what he so loved about being a chef – creating beautiful and delicious dishes – he and Kadie began to dabble in woodworking.
They lived on a farm briefly, and while they were there, an old barn on the property caved in. Chris built a dining room table out of the reclaimed wood.
In their next home, “We needed a piece of long art for above our French doors,” Kadie said. “We wanted a fish, and couldn’t find one, so Chris made one.”
Thus, happy fish were born. Chris carved and did the metalwork, Kadie painted the vibrant, tropical, sunshiny colors. This work brought them great joy.
In the past few years, they began to seriously contemplate setting up their own gallery. The question was, where? It had to be near the water – their theme was fish, after all.
Kadie’s family had long vacationed on Hilton Head Island. They considered other locations, from Newport, R.I., to Key West, but kept thinking, “Why not Bluffton?”
“We love the area, the town is growing, and the art community was welcoming,” Kadie said.
Signore Coastal Art opened Jan. 26. Not only does it feature happy fish, with the occasional turtle, jellyfish and mermaid, it also features assorted grab-and-go pieces -ornaments, trays decorated with shorebirds, coasters.
Their gallery also has signature furniture pieces, such as a turtle coffee table, end tables and benches, and they’ve done several pieces of custom furniture, including dining room tables.
“Our furniture is unique – rustic and inspired by the coast, and all made from reclaimed wood,” Kadie said. “And we’re up for any challenge from someone who wants something unusual for their home.”
“We use reclaimed wood from the Lowcountry to utilize a resource that would otherwise be discarded. We turn that wood into something that is both functional and beautiful,” Chris said.
And it’s that unique piece of wood that organically gives shape to each happy fish – no two are alike. “People come in here, and make a connection with one that speaks to them,” Kadie said.
“Our goal is to spread happiness through our art,” she added.
Mission accomplished: When you walk into their gallery and see those happy fish, you just have to smile.
The gallery is located at 14 Promenade St., Suite 304. Hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit signorecoastalart.com.
Kathleen Williams is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring her new home, the Town of Bluffton.