Friday 27 April 2018

An antique loo, a hidden house and a movie star

Since discovering a restroom relic at the age of 14, Joe Martin has had a keen interest in antiques, says Lucinda O'Sullivan

'I was just 14 years old or so when I bought my first antique - and I arrived home to my mother with it. It was a commode.

"Now, I didn't even know what a commode was...but I was fascinated that when you lifted the seat there was something underneath!

"And that was it. I was hooked. I was always fascinated with antiques and old buildings."

Ever since then, Joe Martin developed and continued with his love and fascination for antiques. Finally, two years ago, he opened Waterford Antiques on O'Connell Street in Waterford City.

Originally from Roscommon, Joe worked in Dublin in the civil service from 1979 to 1996. "I bought a house on South Circular Road and had to furnish that, which I loved doing. There was an antique shop on Clanbrassil Street where I got a few things. When the lady who owned it was leaving the business, she asked would I like to take it over - and I did, running it for another two years."

Joe and his partner then, almost by chance, moved to live in Inistioge, a very pretty village in Co Kilkenny, which is home to the magnificent Woodstock Estate and where the movie of Maeve Binchy's novel, Circle of Friends, was filmed some years ago.

"We went down to Kilmore Quay for a week's holiday and absolutely loved the place. We had gone for a drive up to Inistioge, to see where Circle of Friends had been made. I got out of the car to go to a newsagents, when I spotted an auctioneer's office. So I called in, and said I was interested in looking at houses.

"The lady in the auctioneers told me they'd just had two houses added to their list - and she thought one of them was very special indeed.

"She told us: 'If you find it, you'll buy it - but I guarantee you won't find it, because it's hard enough for the locals to find. Still, if you do find it, I'll come out and show it to you!'"

Somewhat intrigued, Joe set off on the mystery tour. And it changed his life.

"We found it and when I was driving up to it, I thought: 'Absolutely no way' - it just looked like a dull, white two-storey house.

But when we turned around to come back, we could see the wonderful views over the River Nore and the neighbouring estate - which had featured in Circle of Friends.

The auctioneer came around, brought us inside and said: 'If you look at the photograph on the shelf, you'll know who owns it.'

"I looked at the picture, but didn't recognise the faces," Joe laughed. "When we came outside, she told me the people in the picture were actor Gabriel Byrne and his then-wife Ellen Barkin."

Byrne had relocated to live in the US where his movie career was flourishing and was selling the house.

"It was a typical Irish cottage - half-upstairs, four rooms in total, with two bunk beds for their children. We bought it and subsequently made it into a three-room house.

"We also got to meet Gabriel Byrne about 15 years later, when he tapped on the door and asked if he could have a look around. He said he had years earlier picked out the apple trees in the orchard - and he just wanted to see them. When he was leaving, he asked us if we would ever think of selling? We told him no, because we loved it here. He said: 'So did I -and I hated selling it'."

Joe is now well settled in Inistioge.

"The neighbours here are fantastic," he says. "And we love it."

Having retired early from the civil service, Joe felt he didn't want to spend the rest of his life doing nothing.

"We'd purchased a premises. However, a couple of years ago, one of the shops in the building became free - and with the recession, nobody took it. So we decided to open it as an antique shop."

Indeed, Joe is somewhat modest when he describes his antique shop. It's a very fine and large shop full of all types of antiques and interesting treasures, at what seem really good prices.

I don't like a house that is totally full of antiques - but I love to mix and match contemporary furniture with some beautiful antique pieces. It's a look that works really well - and now is the time to be looking around, snapping up wonderful lamps, side- tables or armoires.

With house prices on the rise, antiques are bound to increase in price too. And if you don't like the 'brown wood' look, you can easily upcycle them (not the very valuable pieces, obviously) by painting them in wonderful faded-chic 'faux chateaux' colours. You will end up with beautifully designed and crafted pieces of furniture, for a fraction of the price of the flat-pack variety and other cheap furnishings. (Which, after a week on your floor, aren't worth the price of the cardboard carton they came in).

"Younger people are buying nice quirky pieces to perhaps fit in between sofas - little tables, that sort of thing," says Joe. "They also seem interested in pairs of fine bedside lockers and fine lighting.

"They usually go for the modern suite, because they are more comfortable. Antique suites were made to sit on, not slouch in - so people tend to go for the modern ones where they can throw themselves down."

They get lots of buyers down from Dublin at weekends. "They pop in on Saturday mornings, which are busy here. Though we also have many local customers of course."

The shop opens from Wednesday to Saturday, as on Mondays and Tuesdays, Joe goes out to houses to value and buy furniture.

On my visit, there was a pretty pair of French marble-topped bedside lockers at €480. There was also a lovely Georgian rosewood and inlay writing table for €1100, and an amazing, very fine, 19th Century fusee skeleton clock (attributed to Evans of Handsworth, Birmingham), standing on its original marble base and covered by its original glass dome at €3,000.

I spotted a fabulously ornate black lacquer and walnut credenza at just €850, and a wonderful hand-carved, painted rocking horse at €280. There was a lovely and very large pastoral painting by John Rawson Walker (€1,700), and a stunning Cuban mahogany grandfather clock.

These are but a few of the pieces that caught my eye, but there is an extensive selection of small pieces including china and glass, rugs, occasional chairs and paintings.

Joe Martin has a great eye and you can benefit from his knowledge and taste.

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life