Kevin O’Neill (left) is the vice president of sales and marketing for Water Street Antiques & Interiors, a company opened by his father, Terry (right), and his mother, Christine, in 1972. (Photos by Steve Martarano)

Off the Beaten Track: Making New Look Old

Water Street Antiques & Interiors also specializes in building furniture

Back Article Jan 13, 2021 By Tom Couzens

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Step into Water Street Antiques & Interiors’ warehouse in Jackson, and it’s overwhelming: 60,000 square feet of rows and rows of furniture — about 2,200 pieces, according to Kevin O’Neill, vice president of sales and marketing, with about 75 percent of the pieces listed online.

For those who prefer a more quaint atmosphere, head just 3 miles to downtown Sutter Creek, where the company has a 5,000-square-foot showroom. “It’s more set up for the tourist coming through Sutter Creek,” Kevin says. “It also acts as a funnel for us to get people to our warehouse location.” 

But Water Street Antiques & Interiors, founded in 1972 by Kevin’s parents, Terry and Christine O’Neill, isn’t just an antique store. Kevin says the company sells a combination of antique, newly built and “some-of-a-kind” furniture, with the latter being a larger portion of the business. “These pieces are made using antique elements, such as old doors and windows, with a new case made around these elements,” Kevin says. “This gives items an Old World feel while still functioning (as) new.”

The business is best known, Kevin says, for the custom tables it makes and ships across the country. “We handmake our tables in Jackson. The guy who makes the tables, Salvador Aguilera, has worked for us 25 years. … You can show him a picture of a table from a magazine, give him some wood and tools, and he will make it exactly as it is in the photo.” Kevin says the tables are mainly made in pine and alder, though any type of wood can be sourced, and no nails or screws are used. The company also builds vanities, kitchen islands, and coffee and sofa tables, and imports tables, chairs and bedroom sets. 

Water Street Antiques & Interiors’ warehouse in Jackson is 60,000 square feet and has about 2,200 pieces of furniture.

In the spring of 1972, Terry and Christine were heading from Southern California to Canada to buy 240 acres of land and stopped along the way to visit relatives in Pioneer in Amador County. When word came in April that there was too much snow in Canada, and they would need to wait until late May to go, the O’Neills decided to pass on the purchase and settle in Amador County, where they opened an antique store in a 20-foot shipping container on Water Street in downtown Jackson. 

The couple still owns the family business and remains actively involved: Terry’s passion is woodworking, and he oversees the construction of the custom tables; Christine does the bookkeeping and runs the showroom in Sutter Creek; and son-in-law Cruz Luevano works in the workshop. Daughter Kelly Luevano used to work in the warehouse but is now a teacher at Sutter Creek Elementary and is no longer involved in the business. In all, the company has 14 employees, including four woodworkers who have been with the O’Neills for more than 25 years.

“Our customers are not necessarily from around the Jackson area. It would be hard to sustain a 60,000-square-foot warehouse on a population of 39,000 (in Amador County). … We are lucky … that customers from (across the region) can all reach us in 1-2 hours.”

Kevin O’Neill, vice president of sales and marketing Water Street Antiques & Interiors

Kevin says the company’s location has been perfect. “Our customers are not necessarily from around the Jackson area,” he says. “It would be hard to sustain a 60,000-square-foot warehouse on a population of 39,000 (in Amador County). … We are lucky … that customers from (across the region) can all reach us in 1-2 hours. … (But) you need something to entice the customers to take a day out of their lives and drive up to us. We are lucky because Amador County is an amazing place to visit.” One big reason to visit, he says, is the abundance of wineries in the county and the many other unique shops in Sutter Creek and Jackson.

Water Street Antiques & Interiors has done well during the coronavirus pandemic because, Kevin says, people are staying at home more and want to add furniture and other decorations to their homes. But the O’Neills have been unable to travel as they have in the past, to countries such as India and Vietnam, to purchase furniture. “We buy everything in person so that we know exactly what type of product we are getting,” Kevin says, “because photos can be so hard with furniture. We’ll see what the next couple of months holds as far as getting more items.”

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