Building Blocks of Charleston


This weekend I paid my first visit to Charleston. I was on a mission not only to drink in all the scenery, but to dig up some local handmade treasures.

What I found ended up having more of an international twist.

The friends I was traveling with knew I was on the hunt and sent me a mysterious text instructing me and my fiancée to head down Market Street.

“You’ll know it when you see it.” They said.


Intrigued, Cam and I moseyed back a few blocks, scanning store windows for handmade jewelry, or perhaps another vintage shop. When we saw the colorful-wood-plank-toy-filled windows of the KAPLA Store, we did not care if we were right or wrong. We had to go in.

We walked up a short set of stairs into a quiet shop filled with the muted clacking noises of wood on wood. It smelled of pine. The sweet woman behind the counter welcomed us to the United States’ only KAPLA Store. She explained to us that all of the magical sculptures in the shop were made completely from small KAPLA planks and all but two were standing because of gravity and good engineering alone.

We were filled with awe. There was an Eiffel Tower, a lion, a clown and dozens of buildings. All were majestic tributes to physics, architecture, and engineering.

And they were pretty.

Then we turned to our left and saw a dozen of our friends seated cross-legged on the large grey rug in the center of the store, building alongside parents and their children.


There is something magical about watching engineers play with building blocks. We all shared a semi-silent, blissful half hour in the little shop. That is, until the very end when everyone knocked their creations over to the sound of clapping and cheers.

KAPLA blocks were invented in 1988 by Dutch art historian Tom Van der Bruggen when he was renovating a farm in France into a castle! He made a small scale model of his dream castle from planks of his own invention that followed a 1:3:5 ratio. He named them “Kabouter Plankjes,” meaning “gnome planks.” But he later abbreviated them to KAPLA. Cute origin story, am I right?


Well, it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, but the KAPLA Store was my favorite gem in Charleston. I want to go back, especially because the store displays rotate on a weekly basis. My fiancée certainly wants to go back and stock up and asked if we could add them to our wedding registry. We’ll see how many crock pots we get first!


-Rachel Eleanor


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