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).
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.