Marta von Dettingen
Created with her impeccable eye for beauty, Marta Irmen’s shop shines
Born in Dettingen, Germany during World War II, Marta Irmen’s favorite thing to do after school as a child was to visit the small town’s two jewelry stores. It was just a dream then, but having her own jewelry shop someday became her goal. The realization came when she and her husband, John, opened the Marta von Dettingen jewelry shop in Old Town Warrenton in 2003.
The story of the shop, and the Irmens themselves, came to light in a lively interview with John and Marta. Truly wonderful, engaging people, we chatted for a long time as if we were old friends. They shared stories of their past, how they met, and the creation of their store, all while good-naturedly quibbling about various details as they went along. Sometime during the morning, John asked me, “Was this the conversation you expected when you came in here this morning?”
“Actually, yes,” I could answer honestly. I have known Marta for a few years now, through a mutual interest in history, and, of course, her shop. I knew that the interview would not be short — Marta likes to talk, and, it turns out, so does John. I enjoyed my time with them immensely, and not only that, they sent me back to my office with a sample of my favorite candy from their gourmet chocolate case: dark chocolate covered orange peels.
Under the sponsorship of her uncle, George Wurster — “A wonderful man,” she recalled, — Marta came to the U.S. when she was 19 years old with the intention of staying a couple of years to learn English and then returning to Germany. Which she did. What she hadn’t counted on was falling in love. During her time in the U.S., she had met John Irmen, and after a short time back in Germany, she returned to Toledo to be with him. They were married 3 years later.
After some time, the Irmens made their way to Virginia, purchasing a large rural property in closeby Viewtown which is still in the family today where they raised their three children. Then, they started thinking about Marta’s dream.
The couple, who share an appreciation for history, purchased the store property on the corner of Main Street and South Third Street in 1995. Some will remember Edgar Snowden’s Oriental Carpet shop which was housed there at the time. The building, which was built by Chief Justice John Marshall for his son to operate a confectionary shop, was almost 200 years old. Although it was still standing, it was about to be condemned by the town. The wall bordering South Third Street was 4 inches off-plumb within the first 20 feet, which rendered the building extremely unstable. A significant amount of work and restoration was needed.
Undeterred, the Irmens set about saving the building, a 7-year project which they largely did themselves. The first order of business was the troublesome wall, which needed to be completely rebuilt. They started this project, and then realized that their contractor had laid the foundation of the new wall not on their property, but on the sidewalk, which was town property. They had to start over.
After bringing the structure of the building up to code and more, they started on the interior. Anyone who has been in the shop must appreciate the care that has gone into its construction. Light and airy with large windows, the interior was restored with historical decor in mind. This was important to the Irmens, and, they felt, to their town. “The more you work on an old building like this, the more important it becomes to you,” they explained together. The interior is striking, with a lovely arch and elaborate moldings. The jewelry display cases are vintage, from the 1920s, hand-restored by the Irmens with the help of Joe Baldacci. The red oak floors were hand cut, laid, and finished by John himself in an elaborate pattern, which, he noted dryly, Marta has covered up with Oriental carpets. Antique chandeliers with Swarovski crystals hang from the ceiling, suspended from rosettes brought from Germany. A wide variety of art adorns the walls. There’s not so much a theme to the artwork; rather, Marta simply acquires what she likes and displays it. Many pieces have a historical theme.
Her jewelry inventory, which is about half new and half estate jewelry, is acquired the same way — with her exquisite taste, if she likes it, she buys it. “But it has to be to my liking,” she explained. “If I like it, I can help others appreciate its beauty.”
As far as estate pieces, Marta favors Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs. She appreciates jewelry that was made in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s for the old-world craftsmanship and its solid weight and feel. “New jewelry is so much lighter,” she explained her preference. But, she conceded, “There are some beautiful new pieces out there now too.” The pieces have to be special, though. For instance, they do carry new jewelry from MarahLago which features the unique Larimar Caribbean blue stones. Select other new jewelry lines are displayed, but carefully selected by Marta.
The building’s initial history as a confectionery shop, in addition to Marta’s love of European chocolate, led to an addition to their inventory. In the back of the store stands a refrigerated case (handmade by John in cherry wood) displaying gourmet German and Belgian chocolates. If you’re a chocolate lover, you must stop in and see her selection, which includes everything from solid chocolates to those with exotic fillings, to Belgian cocoa-dusted truffles, to hazelnut pralines, to chocolate covered almonds. Again, Marta’s personal preferences shine through in her inventory, which also features several kinds of marzipan. “I love marzipan,” she said. “When I open one I eat the whole thing because I cannot stop.”
Marta von Dettingen
58 Main Street, Warrenton