Hit the road 

OK, so a two-week vacation in Bali isn’t in the cards this summer. I’m a fan of the afternoon-long road trip, myself: no need to pack anything more than a bottle of water, and if you forget that, there’s always the next Shell station.

I’m lucky enough to have a spouse who doesn’t gag at the idea of roaming through flea markets and antique malls, so on a recent Saturday we headed out to Keo, a nice 20-minute jaunt east from downtown, to check out Morris Antiques.

If you’re not familiar, Morris is a 40-year-old business that occupies 60,000 square feet just a couple of blocks off Keo’s main thoroughfare, Highway 165. (The directions on the store’s website, www.morrisantiques.com, say turn right at the stoplight, but there is no stoplight. Fortunately, there is a large billboard that says “TURN HERE,” or words to that effect.)

Keo is a little further down the same highway that runs by the famous Cotham’s in England, so here’s my suggestion for the perfect afternoon. Start with a burger at Cotham’s, then head over to Morris Antiques for a couple of hours (there are also a couple of smaller antique stores in Keo, so if Morris doesn’t wear you out, you can keep going). Once you’re done — or if you just need a pick-me-up between stores — grab a piece of the famous pie at Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets. (You don’t need directions — Keo’s business district occupies basically one single block.)

Morris Antiques is huge, but don’t be overwhelmed by its nine buildings. Several of them are connected, so it’s really only like four, and two of them are small and not particularly worth spending much time in.

The other ones, though, contain multitudes of treasures. Morris, unlike a lot of more centrally located antique malls, is heavy on the furniture (much of it massive) and light on the small things, like old cooking utensils, lamps and knickknacks. If you’re in the market specifically for a beautiful old chair or four-poster half-canopy bed, great; otherwise, go with an eye toward how you’d furnish your 40,000-square-foot castle with the millions you just won in the lottery. “Just looking” is much more fun that way.

If you run out of steam easily, head straight into building three and keep going. You’ll end up in building seven, where the most eye-popping, castle-worthy pieces are.

I’d start with a 17-foot-long, 10-foot-high, beautifully carved wooden bar back — they’d have to use a crane to move the thing — priced at a cool $79,500. And on the other side of the ballroom, I’d install the Lyon & Healey two-keyboard pipe organ ($6,500). In between, although it wouldn’t match: a 1930s dining room set with ashtrays built into the sides of the table ($900). (No smoking allowed, of course. But everyone needs a place to stash uneaten peas.)

Morris Antiques really is as much museum as store — it’s just fun to wander through and admire how much work and artistry went into creating furniture in years past. (There’s even a little demo set up to show you the relative crappiness of anything you’re likely to buy today: what looks like real wood is revealed to be a wood grain painted onto pressed-paper board.)

There’s one building devoted to bedroom furniture that has some absolutely stunning pieces, with carved wooden half-canopies extending out over the headboards. There’s an old copper still, a small functioning canon, a huge white horse-drawn hearse, a 1930s catchers’ mitt … all kinds of treasures. There’s also a good selection of antique jewelry, a lot of old hardbound books, some stained-glass windows and something I’d never heard of before called a mammy’s bench — a bench on rockers, with a railing across most of the front, so someone could sit next to a baby without worrying that the baby would fall out. Sort of a combination crib and rocking chair. The price tag ($2,800) said it dated to the late 1800s, and is apparently a pretty rare find. Unfortunately it looked like it was built for narrower behinds than mine, so my castle will just have to do without.




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