- story and photos by Karen Fineran
Mike Mayo and Tom Cottom have a large extended family in Waveland and along the Gulf Coast. That’s one of the first things I discovered ten minutes into walking into their antique store, Countryside Antiques, the oldest and possibly the most highly reputed antique store in Bay/Waveland. Many of their customers consider Mike and Tom family and cherished friends, and the feeling is mutual.
As I entered the welcoming building, visitors were familiarly perched around the long, glass countertop at the front of the store, chatting amiably with Mike and Tom about everything from trends in the antique market, the furniture needs of their families, weddings, vacation suggestions, recipes, and any manner of friendly local gossip.
“This one,” she stated confidently, pointing to a glittering platinum and sapphire ring. “And these here,” gesturing to a pair of dangling gold and diamond earrings, “these are both really fine pieces, and an amazing deal. I’ve bought all of my jewelry here for the last twenty years,” she confided with satisfaction.
“This place has the absolute best prices on jewelry and objects d’art that I’ve ever found anywhere – and believe me, I’ve looked around!”
As I wandered over the next hour through the expansive space of the gallery, with its aisles of glass showcases and nooks of porcelain treasures, I chatted with several other customers. It became clear to me that, to the antique enthusiasts of the Gulf Coast, Mike Mayo and Tom Cottom are more than just store owners.
“Tom and Mike are charming guys . . . incredibly knowledgeable about antiques . . . helped us get our houses back together after Katrina . . . Mike and Tom are the best.”
Steeped in heirlooms and history, and surrounded by azaleas, the gallery has become a fixture in Bay/Waveland. It shows off Tom and Mike’s hand-selected and constantly changing collection of European antiques from the 17th to 20th centuries.
Countryside specializes in items from France and England, and most of the antiques date prior to 1900. The varied collection includes furniture, silver, oil paintings, art glass, Majolica (finely painted pottery from the 19th century), English Delftware, Staffordshire porcelain, cut glassware, Persian carpets, jewelry, cast iron planters, and miscellaneous decorative objects.
One factor that makes Countryside Antiques stand out among the many other furniture stores and boutique shops in Bay St. Louis is that the owners’ passion is antiques, and antiques are all that they sell. You won’t need to sift through new items and reproduction vintage pieces in order to find the true antiques.
There, you will find many examples of the European furnishings typically found in old Mississippi and Louisiana estates and plantation homes. These antiques harken back to the history of our Gulf Coast, reminding us of who we are and where we have been.
Over the last forty years, Mike and Tom have earned their reputation for quality and knowledge in the antique trade. Shopping at random for antiques can be a tough proposition for those who lack a professional eye. It’s difficult to know what’s reasonable, what’s authentic, and what’s mostly creatively marketed smoke and mirrors (read: junk). The help of knowledgeable curators like Mike and Tom, who work with their customers on a personal level to help them appoint their homes, can make all the difference.
“Many of our clients are discerning collectors, dealers and designers. Some of them are private collectors, and some of them are in the design trade and buying for their own clients. When they need something, they give us a call first, because they know that we are likely to have the particular item that they’re looking for,” explains Tom.
Tom and Mike travel to Europe every year to hunt down their bargains at markets and from estates. By doing their own buying, they eliminate upcharges from middlemen, and pass those savings on to their customers. They also sometimes take their shop on the road with them, especially in the Southern states, traveling to well-known antique shows and events such as the Original Round Top Antiques Fair in Round Top, Texas (the “Big Red Barn”).
Antiques give individuality to even the newest of homes (or offices), and impart a sense of history and refinement. “When you buy antiques, you end up with something unique and original, and it’s usually much better quality – and still, it’s often less expensive – than similar objects that are new. And we have such a variety of pieces here, I think that we probably have something for everyone’s taste and budget,” noted Mike.