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Salty hardware becomes decor

In the hands of a Connecticut man, old boats are a treasure trove of nautical furnishings

As a boy growing up in Istanbul, Turkey, Matt Yildizlar loved boating on the Mediterranean with his father, Melih, aboard their 50-foot wooden powerboat, Uge.

“My father was an avid boater, and he always took me, my family and friends out on his boat,” says Yildizlar, who is 41 and now lives in Greenwich, Conn. “It’s during those trips that I began to fall in love with boats. It gave me the chance to spend quality time with my father and to do something we both enjoyed very much.”

It was this passion for boats and for the sea that inspired Yildizlar, a managing partner of a financial services and consulting group, to become a boater himself. Then in July 2004 he started Nautical Senses, a business selling unique nautical furniture and collectibles. His showrooms are located at the Shippan Center for Arts & Antiques in Stamford, Conn.

“I did some research and found there was a need in the market for high-end quality nautical-style furniture and lighting fixtures,” Yildizlar explains. “Now I travel to ports all over the world — in England, India, Turkey, the Far East — collecting items from decommissioned or refurbished boats, and use them in wonderful furniture pieces.”

Before opening Nautical Senses, Yildizlar spent about a year establishing connections with overseas buyers of decommissioned boats and boat parts. Now he spends his days scouring old, run-down boats in search of items one person might see as rusted and worn, but he sees as a collectible.

“In Turkey not long ago I came across a 1950s Australian passenger ferry more than 300 feet long. She had a major breakdown, and her owners decided to sell her for scrap,” Yildizlar recalls. “I got on board and took the items they saw as waste but I saw as being perfect for nautical furniture. It’s an interesting process.

“While I was on board this ferry,” Yildizlar continues, “I opened a cabinet and these old charts and plumbing plans fell out. I was amazed that they were still in there. I took the papers and used them to make lampshades. I never know what sort of little treasures I’m going to find.”

Yildizlar purchases items such as old binnacles, brass portholes, bulkhead lights and sextants from boats between 40 and 70 years old, he says. Yildizlar then has the items restored, and incorporates them into his furniture designs.

“Ideas for my designs come to me at different times,” he says. “I see something done on a yacht and know what I’d want and what I think would be better. I draw up some rough sketches, get feedback on them, talk to the actual designers and we go from there.

“We encourage our customers to come to us with their own creative designs, too,” Yildizlar adds. “If we can do it, we’re happy to build exactly what someone wants.”

One of Nautical Senses’ most popular items is a solid mahogany boat bar ($14,750) with teak decks, a wine rack, glass storage and shelving. Another big seller is the porthole bar/table ($3,250), which features a teak door as the tabletop with an opening porthole mounted in the face. Clients apparently also favor the copper and brass lamps ($1,450 each) that were once used in cargo holds in ships.

“They’re very attractive lamps that people use over kitchen islands, billiards tables and on porches,” says Nautical Senses general manager William “Wim” Jessup. Yildizlar met Jessup, who is 54, while boating on Fisher’s Island Sound. Jessup had been the general manager of the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club in New York City, and had directed several local yachting clubs.

“When I met Matt I was looking for a new opportunity, and being a lifelong sailor this was right up my alley,” Jessup says. “Now I’m excited to be working with the clients and to see them get excited about the product.”

Jessup says the majority of their business comes from interior designers and serious collectors of nautical wares. Yildizlar and Jessup ship their products all over the country and plan to eventually expand the business overseas.

“I’m doing something I really enjoy,” Yildizlar says. “I love going on these old ships, searching for things that seem beaten up and unusable, and turning them into an attractive piece of furniture for people who love boats. We’re not only selling furniture, lights and collectibles, we’re selling a lifestyle.”

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