These Handmade Leather Shoes Are Built in the Basement of a Queens Apartment

AE McAteer is a building superintendent, an antique restorer, an accordionist and a shoemaker.

Chandler Bondurant

“I’ll be right out,” I hear muffled somewhere nearby, then echoed through my phone. A door creaks open and I turn around to see Andrew McAteer emerging from basement stairs below to greet me on a quiet suburban street in Astoria, Queens. I follow him down the concrete stairs, careful of the low clearing into the studio space. Entering his basement-turned-studio, we’re able to straighten up, though the clearance is barely enough to accommodate the craftsman himself who stands a few inches above six feet.


The space is an open corridor fixed with fluorescent lights that shine between metal pipes crawling overhead like ivy. Illuminated, iron sewing machines stand at attention, rank and file alongside clicking tables with scraps of leather stashed below. The wall opposite is lined with industrial shelves stocked with patinated tools and boxes filled with who-knows-what. It looks like a workshop for half a dozen craftspeople. In fact, the space previously housed a family. Now its sole occupant is McAteer. It was once segmented into rooms, but over the years working as the building’s superintendent, he’s taken down the walls one by one to reveal what would eventually be the A. E. McAteer studio as we were seeing it.


“It’s been an interesting journey, for sure,” McAteer says. “All of this just periodically happened. Every now again it’s been like, okay I’ve gotta take down another wall or pour some more concrete and put in more lights.”

McAteer is a New Yorker. Not the kind that claims the title after hitting their fifth year here, but the kind whose family has been here for five generations. His childhood home was built in the mid-1800s. It, along with the rickety wooden boat his family acquired later on, was always being fixed up. Between his father’s woodworking and his mother’s gardening, McAteer’s gained foundational home improvement skills that he would eventually use with his own leather goods brand.


He continued acquiring skills, apprenticing with a carpenters union in Virginia specializing in cabinet making and antique restoration. Soon after, McAteer began making his own furniture and was eventually recruited for a campaign furniture company. This new access to materials like leather and canvas directly informed his own creative projects.

“I made a weird-ass bag at first,” he says. “And, the first place I went into was Freeman’s Sporting Club.” This unscheduled meeting with the popular Lower East Side menswear store’s buyer resulted in McAteer’s first order of many.


Appropriately, his most popular product is a leather toolbox. Made from full-grain vegetable-tanned leather, the box is held together with hand-set brass rivets throughout. It looks good enough to have on full display but will look even better with heavy use, as intended. He also makes all-leather slippers with felted wool insoles and leather bowls with brass handles. They’re both more delicate but equally tied to home improvement. On his website, a leather briefcase sits alongside a bucket bag and a log-carrying tote, each of which has its own sort of elegance.


But, what initially caught my eye were his loafers. They look like nothing else out there. Angular yet rustic with heft and handwork, they look homemade in the best sense of the word. The style was inspired by vintage World War I French boots which had been chopped down below the ankle by a veteran. As it turns out, McAteer is also a vintage enthusiast.

The recent wave of craft-minded goods has turned up schools of craftspeople, many of whom start out much like McAteer did, making leather belts and wallets. But what differentiates McAteer from the rest is his incessant need to keep going. Unlike the DIY-ers who rarely dabble beyond leather card wallets, he crafts eye-catching shoes built with his own whittled wooden last.

“Everything I’ve done so far has happened really organically,” he says. “It’s allowed me to slowly grow, get things ready and be able to do this without having to outsource. I’ve been able to keep oversight on everything.”


Currently, McAteer is developing laced shoes. And much like he’s done with his other products, they’ll be from the ground up. For now, the thick Ridgeway soles he uses, the same soles used by storied bespoke cobblers like Edward Green, are imported from England. But before you know it, they’ll be from Queens, designed and cast by McAteer.

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