Shop Talk: Uptown Modern in Austin

Uptown Modern
Jean Heath
Address: 5111 Burnet Road, Austin, Texas

This week, we begin our Shop Talk series with one of Austin's most popular midcentury-modern stores, Uptown Modern, and its owner, Jean Heath, a 20-plus-year veteran of the antiques business. Heath handpicks each item from estate sales and auctions and restores the merchandise to perfection before adding it to her gallery-like, 6,000-square-foot space.

1. What are your current best sellers?

Current best sellers are 1960s Danish Modern teak or rosewood credenzas with sliding doors. People are loving these for their flat screens and components. And probably the biggest request we receive is for pairs of nightstands, anything walnut or teak from the 1950s through the 1970s. A close second is vintage queen or king teak Danish modern headboards or platform bed systems with floating nightstands.

I've also seen a big increase in requests for midcentury-modern lighting, such as big drip-glaze lamps, West German lava-glaze lamps, and Danish teak lamps. Customers also regularly ask for pendant lighting, either vintage bare-bulb style or the wonderful 1950s glazed turquoise-and-orange pierced pottery shade style.

2. What are your favorite materials or textures to use when reupholstering furniture?
Several years ago, my favorite fabrics were velvets and mohairs; however, customers have begun requesting more woven fabrics, such as linens and nubby cotton/poly blends, so my favorites have changed right along with my customers' desires.

3. Favorite vintage and antique stores in Austin?

There are some wonderful antique and vintage stores in Austin, and I love them all. For sheer size, there is the Antique Gallery off I-35 in Round Rock and the Antique Marketplace on Burnet Road. Gypsies Antiques, across from our new location, has fabulous English antiques and collectibles.

Because I started out as a jewelry dealer 30 years ago and I love vintage jewelry, my current favorite store is probably Bell and Bird on 38th Street. But no one should miss Room Service Vintage, Hog Wild Vintage, and all the other great shops on North Loop. Another all-star shop is Uncommon Objects on South Congress Avenue. Two new midcentury-modern shops have recently opened, and they are also of the don't-miss variety: Remixologie on Burnet Road and Vacancy Road on Manchaca Road. 

4. Design blog, website, TV show, or magazine you would be lost without?
I love HGTV, especially Property Brothers and Income Property. My guilty pleasure when it's on is Design Star and I also like David Bromstad's Color Splash.

5. Favorite buying trip or design errand?
My all-time favorite is the twice-yearly pilgrimage to Round Top, which is the catch-all name for the group of shows in late March and late September in the Round Top, Texas, area. I love to go there because of the sheer variety of goods. The show began 40 or so years ago as a "high" country show with fine country antiques from New England, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. While "high" country is still the mainstay of the big shows, things have expanded wildly beyond the original. Imagine the biggest flea market possible and multiply that by 10, and you'll have a good idea of the possibilities.

While quality varies, you can find beautiful garden and architectural goods from every era, lighting from the 1800s through the mod 1970s, and more rusty iron than you can shake a stick at. Vintage jewelry, peeling painted furniture, and fabulous textiles mix amiably with imported English antiques, DIY projects, old art, new art, and just about anything you can imagine. It's exciting, sometimes frustrating, and always a treasure hunt. 

6. Biggest design influence?
I'm not sure I can pinpoint one major design influence. I'm most influenced by what my customers want, which is currently clean lines, sculptural but comfortable furniture, bold colors on neutral backgrounds, unfussy rooms, warm woods, and natural/organic materials.

7. Favorite coffee-table book?
A book about the Big Thicket, an area of dense forest (now decimated) just north of my hometown, Beaumont, Texas. It reminds me of walks through that lush, wild area with my biologist father and of the majesty and mystery of nature (the Big Thicket), which took thousands of years to develop, and the frivolity of man, who has all but destroyed it in the span of 80 years.

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