Uptown Modern is an antique furniture store specializing in mid-century home goods and unique jewelry. The store is bright and airy, decorated by theme, each visual set up has a suggestive room display. I was quite enchanted by the jewelry display case at the register and inspected each shelf for…too long. Long enough that an unexpected interview with owner Jean Heath was conducted. (She’s a busy lady and I thought I would be missing her on my trip to Austin).
INTERVIEW: UPTOWN MODERN 5111 Burnet Rd. Austin, TX 78756 (512) 452-1200 Hours: Mon-Sat 11-6 Sun 12-5 UptownModernAustin.com Facebook: Uptown Modern Twitter: @Uptown_Modern Pinterest: Uptown Modern
RNR: This store wasn’t here when I lived down the way 8 years ago. How long have you been here?
UM: We started the store seven years ago and in a different location. It was four blocks down the street. The owner of the building sold it and they’re now building a huge apartment complex. So we had one, maybe two months to find a new place. It was VERY traumatic. This place was in horrible shape and I did a ton of work on this building.
RNR: Earlier when I was drooling over the jewelry collection you mentioned that’s where you got started in the business?
UM: Yes, I started 30 years ago, the funny thing was, I never liked antiques…hated them. I never liked jewelry, ever. I didn’t even like wearing it. My oldest son is very active and energetic and we were on a trip to San Antonio and needed to get out of the car for a while so, we stopped in Gruene. I went into this antique store to get a Coke and there was this woman there working on a display and it was all Mariam Haskell jewelry. Now, I’m not real girly-girly or anything but, I just took one look at that and was like “This is the most gorgeous stuff I ever saw”. I looked at it as art. She educated me about Mariam Haskell and about costume jewelry back in the day. So, I bought the pieces and started reading the Antique Trader and going to antique shows and there were a couple of jewelry dealers that would come through and I would just be waiting with bated breath. So, I still looked at it as art, not as any type of embellishment or anything like that.
RNR: What did you do with these pieces when you took them home?
UM: I would just look at it. I would just lay it out on my dresser and (gasps) think, this is gorgeous. So, I started to get into the costume jewelry as a collector and then….well, its expensive and I thought, I can’t buy anymore jewelry, I can’t afford it!
RNR: What were you doing for money at the time?
UM: At the time I was working part-time at UT. I worked at the union as a student development specialist. We would have a lot of art shows in the 70s and students would bring in their pottery and art to sell. It was very unusual back then. I also started a thing called Informal Class Program, which was non-credit classes. I hired people to teach belly dancing and things like car repair, always a lot of arts related type things. After I had my child I worked part-time for the first couple of years and then I went back to work, I had a line of women’s clothing.
RNR: Really? Okay. (Is there anything this woman doesn’t do?) So, did you sew the clothes?
UM: No, I had seamstresses who worked for me. I bought a bunch of sewing machines for them and I designed the clothes. I also had a pattern maker. RNR: What made you want to design clothing?
UM: I don’t know, that’s just the kinda thing that was coming… I like to design very hippie-ish prairie clothing with lots of embellishments. Kinda like a lot of the stuff that’s going on today but, this was in the late 70s. I just like them as art.
RNR: Who did you sell these clothes to? You’re students?
UM: No, I was out of the union by then. I was doing my own stuff, like painted shirts. Silk screens.
RNR: So, you’ve always had an artistic knack for things.
UM: I guess, I don’t see myself as artistic but, yeah, I like it and I have fun. So that’s what I was doing and then I got into the jewelry and started selling it on the side. Then I started selling through the Antique Trader. I developed kind of a network of dealers I knew across the country. One of them is still my really good friend. She’s a dealer in Wisconsin. I know a lot of people like that actually, it’s like a big extended family.
RNR: Do you get involved in any markets?
UM: I was invited to be at Uncommon Objects early on. But my first store was in San Antonio at a place called Antiques on Houston, it’s not there anymore. Then I was in Austin Antique Mall and had a case or two of jewelry and smalls. Then I got a booth in Antique Gallery and had a big space and had to fill it up so, I started buying furniture. I was also in City Wide Garage Sale…I was in like six places at one time. And then once my son turned 16 and I was able to spend more time on the shop I opened up Uptown Modern down the street and here we are today.
Beautiful and magnificent lighting. I am so jealous of people who really know how to use a camera. Great picks!
That’s very kind, thank you. I always shoot manual so I can practice using the best settings to achieve the right look. Sometimes I’ll take 6 snaps of the same shot just to get it right.
I love Uptown Modern. Your photos are great and you can see in them how well Jean and her team merchandise the store.
Thank you! This was my first time in the store, its now one of my new favorites! 🙂
lovely interview–Uptown Modern is one of my favorite stores in Austin–just purchased some more mid century pieces this past weekend!
I know right! What a lovely shop Jean has!
Hip Hop Karaoke time. Going off.