CHIC ANTIQUE: A Conversation with Austin Martin

Text | Photograph: Erin Vanderberg

 

Our Country Home had the opportunity to speak with Austin Martin (bleauxboy724@aol.com), a consulting designer specializing in residential and commercial interior design and special events, and formerly the Creative Visual Presentation Director for Polo Ralph Lauren. Martin got interested in antiques as a young man living and traveling through Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. After moving upstate, he started holding occasional barn sales to sell leftover pieces from projects in Manhattan.

OCH: Where did your appreciation for antiques begin?
Martin: My father and my mother are both highly creative: for my father it is the garden and for my mother it is painting, knitting, sewing and cooking. At an early age, my brothers and I were taught to identify and respect the arts and fine craftsmanship. I have been surrounded by antiques my entire life; everything around me was beyond old. As a very young boy, I can recall going to church with my great aunts America and Gloria and being entranced and fascinated by the beauty of the cathedrals which we would attend for mass.
OCH: You’ve traveled extensively; how has that affected your design aesthetic?
Martin: When you live in countries with hundreds of years of history, it awakens something in you. For me, it made me want to know everything about these things: What was the artist or craftsman thinking at the time he or she made the piece? How did they live? Did they have some of these pieces in their home? If one really takes time and quiets themselves, one can see the love and passion the artist had for each piece they created.
OCH: In terms of objects, what era of history commands your attention, and why?
Martin: I love the mid-century modern period. It was good design based on form and function. Architects and designers were using rare woods, glass and metals in very wonderful ways. The homes and the lines of the furniture of that era still hold up as clean and fresh today as they were then.
OCH: What objects are you most drawn to? Is there any object in particular you collect?
Martin: Whenever I enter a shop, I am drawn to organic objects first. If it is made out of rare or exotic wood such as ebony, rosewood or teak, I am looking it over. Then I move on to clay, stoneware, porcelain, ceramic, silver, cotton and wool. I collect so many things: antique and vintage bed linens, quilts, rugs, primitive furniture, mid-century furniture and dishes.
OCH: Where do you shop for wares in the Upper Delaware area?
Martin: In Sullivan County, I love to shop at The Delaware Furniture & Home Co. (39 Lower Main St., Callicoon) and BridgeWater Mercantile (4917 Main St., Jeffersonville). In Pennsylvania, I like to shop at Miss Elly’s Antiques & Such (518 Church St., Hawley). These shop owners always greet me with a sincere and warm smile and display a generous interest in my projects.
OCH: Where is your favorite place to shop in the world?
Martin: My favorite places to shop are in this order: Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Monte Video, Mexico, Morocco, Palm Beach, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Venice.
OCH: What are your tips for finding authentic antiques?
Martin: Do your homework. Go to the library, watch TV programs, read magazines and get online to research the piece you are interested in. Hit the pavement and visit museums and as many shops as you can. Once you have done your research, remember to have fun and enjoy yourself. Look at everything, keep your focus wide and then narrow it. Always be nice and do not be a snob—you would be amazed at all the good pieces you can find for a few dollars in out-of-the-way shops. I purchased an original Cherner chair, in mint condition, for $20. Be aware that if you love a piece and must have it, if that piece has been refinished or repaired, it will not command top dollar or hold its market price, so do not be afraid to fairly negotiate the price. Ask the dealer for a history on the piece. See if the dealer can provide you with solid documentation of prior ownership. Knowledge is power, and that should be your motto when buying antiques.
OCH: What does any country home need to be complete?
Martin: A country home is not complete until it has a few of the following: an amazing side board, pie safe, farm table, antique or vintage dishes, textiles such as rugs, quilts and blankets—and at least some pieces of antique or vintage bed linens to mix with the new linens.
OCH: Is it okay to mix antiques with contemporary furniture?
Martin: Absolutely. Just keep in mind that you might want your antiques to have the major focus. Look for contemporary pieces made of solid natural materials and furniture with simple design lines and subtle finishes. Less is more.
OCH: Tell us about your barn sales.
Martin: So many of my New York clients just wanted to get rid of things after a design shoot. They simply said to me, “Dump it, get it out of here!” I persuaded them to let me bring these pieces up to a barn on my property where I would try and sell them for these clients. Luckily, I had a friend with a large truck who helped me move up my very first shipment.
OCH: You have become known for your mannequins. Where did they come from?
Martin: I had nine fantastic Roostein mannequins, top of the line in mannequins—which, I might add, I rescued from a dumpsite. I would dress them up and create a lifestyle setting, placing them on my front lawn and featuring them in a vignette of country living. It was just so much fun to do this. My enjoyment was to see how the local traffic would smile, laugh, stop by to take pictures with the mannequins—and shop. It was a simple and fun way to advertise.

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