Andrew McAteer’s Very Design-Centric Family Ties
“I have this motivation to design, which is kind of a recurring theme across the generations,” says Andrew McAteer, who handmakes clean, precise leather and canvas goods. “I feel like it’s in my blood.” We have that same feeling—largely because this old soul was born into a family of fifth-generation New York tradesmen. Allow him to present the evidence, in the form of family folklore and artifacts.
“I’ve always heard the story about my great-great-grandfather coming from Germany in the 1840s with nothing but a knitting machine he’d invented. He started making socks for the Union Army up in Schenectady, New York, in a factory that’s still there today. After the war, they were making all sorts of haberdashery, from hoop skirts to socks, garters, and suspenders. That was something that always really inspired me—not only that he made these items, but also that he came over with nothing other than his own invention and created a successful business. When I made my first pair of slippers, it was from an old Civil War design, which definitely made me think of him.”
“In the 1870s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, my great-grandfather had a mercantile store over on 15th Street in New York. My mom was going through some old family papers and put together a little hardbound book for me and my sister. Inside it was a picture of him with the suspenders he patented. I made a pair of suspenders based off of those and then made another pair that are my own interpretation of the design.”
“My grandfather worked with the Treadway Bridge Company during World War II. He was an engineer, working on bridging the Rhine and the Elbe. They were constantly under threat of fire, so they had to train people to put the bridges together over and over in really difficult conditions. He didn’t talk much about the war, but the idea of having these well-thought-out contingency plans really resonated with me and my work. When I’m putting designs together, I have a plan for everything. I have the sweater he wore during the war—olive drab, full of holes, with his name embroidered in it.”
“When I was growing up, my parents bought a house built in 1845 and an old wooden schooner. Both needed a lot of work, and my dad spent his weekends restoring them both. Early on, I got exposed to how things were put together, working side-by-side with my dad in our barn. Seeing him restore things that were totally unfamiliar really set the stage for my business. It cemented the idea that even if you’re attacking something you don’t know how to do, if you go at it slowly and thoughtfully, you can generally figure out how to get it done.”