Mate Gallery: a trove of nautical treasures

Seaside roots in Massachusetts and Scotland were the inspiration behind this ever-changing California emporium

Mate Gallery owners Ron Brand and Matt Albiani
Mate Gallery owners Ron Brand and Matt Albiani | Image: Matt Albiani

“We thought, why not bring a bit of New England to the West Coast?” says Matt Albiani of the decision to open Mate Gallery in the oceanside town of Montecito, California. Drawing on their seaside roots, Albiani, originally from Massachusetts, and co-owner Ron Brand, from Broughty Ferry in Scotland, have created a magical 160sq ft space teeming with nostalgic nautical finds.

Set within the rustic-chic Montecito Country Mart, Mate Gallery is a preppy design-lover’s dream, stocked with rare pieces sourced from the pair’s travels. A mix of periods and styles makes the tiny space sing: a recent trip to Rome yielded marine oil paintings that line the walls, while an attic sale at a stately home outside Edinburgh led to a cache of binoculars, folding chairs and assorted decorative objects. “Our rule of thumb is to attend yard sales in upmarket towns,” says Brand. “Easthampton, Greenwich and Scituate, on the Massachusetts South Shore, are full of treasures.”

The magical 160sq ft space is teeming with nostalgic nautical finds
The magical 160sq ft space is teeming with nostalgic nautical finds | Image: Matt Albiani

These frequent buying expeditions mean that the shop rarely looks the same from one month to the next, and it’s this freshness that draws a clientele that includes Ellen DeGeneres and Katy Perry. “Tourists driving down the Pacific Coast Highway seek us out, and Instagram has been a total game-changer,” says Albiani. “Our graphic signal flags, maps and textiles go over particularly well.” 

Curiosities run the gamut from needlepoint caps and belts (from $41 to $135) bearing images of seagulls and sailboats, to ships in bottles ($75-$295) from Maine that are “a favourite, and very difficult to find in mint condition,” says Brand. There are vintage brass anchor and irons ($1,100) and cream Hudson’s Bay wool blankets ($425) with trims of navy, red and emerald green, which sit beautifully with Turkish and Moroccan rugs (from $295) “in muted neutrals that are wonderfully worn,” says Albiani. Images (from $1,200) of lifeguards and water pursuits by Albiani himself line the walls alongside oil portraits ($195-$3,000) of ships’ captains and lighthouses. Brand’s British roots can be seen in the blue and white ceramics (from $19) by Jersey Pottery, decorated with fish.

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Tables and shelves are stacked with classic books – first-edition copies of Jaws ($125), for example – as well as the duo’s own Sun Burn soy-based candles ($41) that are scented to evoke a day at the beach. A pair of giant lobster claws in a 12in-high cloche ($295-$695), rare cotton California state flags ($425) emblazoned with the grizzly bear, and textural rope-wrapped surfboards (from $1,100) are among Mate’s most eye-catching inventory. “We bring beat-up surfboards to a local artisan, who then wraps them in 500ft of rope,” explains Brand of these one-of-a-kind, very SoCal objets d’art.

“We keep it fresh and mix it up,” says Albiani of the elevated jumble sale-meets-Martha’s Vineyard vibe. “Hopefully people will come into the store and remember some part of their childhood, particularly the happy highlights of summer.”

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