A Fashion Stylist Who Found Inspiration in New Surroundings

For many years, Melissa Ventosa Martin, a fashion stylist, and her husband, Walter Martin, a musician, lived in New York City and, as is common in its complex real estate market, in various parts of it. Ventosa Martin grew up on Staten Island and Martin, who grew up in D.C., moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side at 19. When they met, in 2003, they were both living in Manhattan, but at opposite ends of it — he in Washington Heights and she in the Financial District. “It was like a long-distance relationship,” jokes Ventosa Martin. Eventually, she joined Martin uptown, after which they moved first to a condo in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, and then to a rowhouse in Crown Heights. In 2018, the couple, who by this point had two young daughters in tow, purchased and embarked on a gut renovation of a detached two-story home in Windsor Terrace. But the design process dragged on, and then the pandemic hit, which meant that the construction work never really got started. By then, too, the pace of their lives was wearing on them.

Ventosa Martin, the former fashion director of Departures and Travel + Leisure magazines (and a former T editor), was away for about two months out of every year attending fashion week and trade shows. Martin had already wound down his travel schedule, which had long been dictated by the various tours his former band, the Walkmen, for which he was the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, went on, but the pair were toying with the idea of making a more major change still. “I think we were always longing for this slower existence where we could just live our lives together,” says Ventosa Martin. They found it last April, when they happened upon a property listing for a former tavern just outside of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., about a three-hour’s drive north. They’d been looking in the area because, as a child, Ventosa Martin spent summers in the nearby Adirondacks, and much of her extended family moved their full time after retiring.

Built in 1833 from limestone quarried on the property, the Old Stone House, as it’s known among locals, has seen much life over the years. In the 1920s, after its stint as a tavern and stagecoach shop for travelers — Saratoga Springs used to be a booming resort destination referred to as the “queen of the spas” for its naturally carbonated mineral waters — a pair of women purchased and expanded the property, tacking on an addition out of which they operated a cafe called the Singing Kettle Tearoom that, this being the Prohibition era, might have sold other beverages more covertly. The next owner of the house was a restoration carpenter who, in the late ’90s, updated the interiors with fresh wainscoting, arched entryways and built-in shelving that, when the Martins toured the home in person, they realized was perfectly sized for their ample record collection. “We said, ‘Let’s not overthink it and just try this thing we’ve been fantasizing about for a while,’” says Martin, who took it as a good sign when their two city-raised kids fell into the pond on the property while chasing frogs on their first visit. And so the couple put their Brooklyn house up for sale and made the Old Stone House the family’s full-time home.

“We had tons of ideas and were blown away by the expanse of everything,” says Ventosa Martin. Indeed, the grounds also hold several other smaller structures: A crimson-red schoolhouse dating to 1810 is now Martin’s music studio — he’s grateful to no longer be sharing walls with noise-averse neighbors — and a onetime sugar shack that initially inspired now-waylaid ambitions of harvesting their own maple syrup serves as the girls’ clubhouse. There’s also a barn, a chicken coop and a small cabin that, with its raw wooden beams and lofted bed, serves as a rustic guesthouse. In the main house, the rooms are filled with an eclectic mix of pieces. The couple has a shared love of both travel and fine craftsmanship, and would often go in search of antiques and standout contemporary pieces on vacations and during stolen moments on work trips. That’s how they ended up with the Berber rugs, Japanese prints and handwoven geometric-printed pillows, which Ventosa Martin picked up in Sri Lanka, that, along with vintage leather-and-bentwood Pernilla armchairs by Bruno Mathsson, an oversize ottoman and an assortment of Staffordshire figurines from Martin’s mother, decorate the living room.

The adjoining den is also decorated with personal-feeling items, among them artworks by the painter Mark Leithauser, who is Martin’s uncle, and by the artist Nicole Barrick, a friend, as well as some unused furnishings — including a dark-wood thronelike chair with a lion’s face carved into the back that Ventosa Martin’s great-grandmother won at a raffle at a movie theater in the 1920s — that came from Ventosa Martin’s family’s home on Staten Island. These days, members of her extended family, especially her 98-year-old grandfather, who’s partial to chatting by the fire in the living room, are apt to gather at the Old Stone House. Ventosa Martin and her girls also spend a lot of time together in what they call the garden room, which is appointed with potted plants and baskets, a Jenny Lind daybed and a French Provincial desk that Martin inquired about after spotting it in the background of a Craigslist listing for a guitar, and has become a station for work and homework.

The move has also led to a new creative venture for Ventosa Martin. This week, she’s launching Old Stone Trade, an online marketplace for handmade-to-order goods from ateliers and craftsmen around the world. “I met so many great makers and artisans in my traveling days and, as I got older, I realized that I was wearing their designs the most,” says Ventosa Martin. “I wasn’t getting sick of them the way I would with most fashion.” It’s fitting, then, that the first edition of pieces is dedicated to the idea of the uniform. It includes a button-down blouse with white-on-white embroidery by Loretta Caponi in Florence, Italy; a delicate lace shirt collar from the Lepoglava Lace Cooperative in Croatia; a navy apron dress from Atelier Bomba in Rome; a J. Mueser blazer and an Acme Atelier kilt both made from an exclusive greenish tweed from the British woolen mill and social enterprise Romney Tweed; a double-breasted, double-faced cashmere coat from the Paris-based designer Nanna Pause; and a pair of black penny loafers from Aldanondo y Fdez in Barcelona. There’s also a handmade rose perfume from Cultus Artem in Texas and a one-of-a-kind quilt by Emma Mooney Pettway, a third-generation Gee’s Bend quilter, who is offering a bespoke service through the site whereby customers can send in their most meaningful fabrics for her to make into a quilt.

Destined to become instant classics, these pieces are alike in that expert makers have put real time and care into each one, something that the site highlights with backstories and biographies, as well as commissioned personal essays. “It’s a place for trading these beautiful works but also the ideas, the stories and the memories imbued in them,” says Ventosa Martin, adding that, “they’re expensive and take a while to get, but I hope, in my own small way, to reposition the idea of what luxury is.” Plenty of other offerings — blankets woven from yak thread in Tibet, ponchos hand-crocheted in Colombia, hand-knit Aran sweaters — are on the way, but Ventosa Martin, who, naturally, test-runs the items herself, had no interest in wedding herself to the sort of volume or fast-paced release schedule upheld by major fashion labels or e-commerce brands. “I’m doing it really slow and small,” she says, “and this has been a perfect place to do it, living with everything here in our home.”