Life With: Christopher Cawley
Christopher Cawley (Owner of antiques gallery Christopher Cawley in New York) has been collecting antiques since his grandfather began taking him to flea markets around Philadelphia as a child. Soon his hobby became an obsession, and he eventually filled up a barn at his family’s home with hundreds of artworks, decorative objects, and furniture pieces. In 2020 he decided to go all in and start a gallery. The Chinatown gallery’s contents are always changing from a snake mask from Mexico, Murano drinking glasses, to a seven-foot-tall Chinese ancestor painting dating from the Qing Dynasty.
I was raised around my grandparents and great grandparents, their siblings, their aunts, and uncles, so as a child I was surrounded by people from an entirely different generation. Some were born as far back as the 1910s so through a bit of osmosis I took on many interests and reference points from generations prior. It was such a rare opportunity to have had such breadth of family still living. From the movies we’d watch and music we’d listen to and books we’d read, it was all from a different era. I took to wearing suits to preschool - even refusing jeans as they were not part of the sartorial choices of my group of elders. I was quite the character in my school days. All the while, I asked a lot of questions into their interests and cultural consumption which formed a bank of references I still use today.
My mother’s stepfather was an architect and a bit of a waxing philosopher on tenets of life and design. He was an influence on design because he always made me ask why something was designed the way it was. It wasn’t brought to say something was beautiful, you had to take it a step further. Always stressing form and function. He was an early brutalist and follower of the Bauhaus. My other grandfather, an Irishman, was more of a classicist. Richly painted rooms, brown furniture, ornate moldings. Far from brutalist, far from the Bauhaus. The combination of the two informed most of what I like today.
Antiques came from both sides of the family, but my father’s father was a lover of history and a lover of old things. He was the collector in the family. As kids we spent a lot of time in his workshop as he restored old bits of furniture. It was such a sensory and almost magical experience. We’d accompany him to markets to buy 19th century tools or antique firearms. He is very much responsible for the addition or even affliction of collecting.
A lot of my heroes in interiors came from a background of dealing. I love to find things for others, it brings me joy. I was always quite a vigorous collector of stuff, and I realized I didn’t want it all anymore, a bit of a spiritual transcendent moment took place. For me, there was more joy in someone else living with an object I found versus me forgetting I had the piece in the first place. It all happened very fast but it’s the amalgamation of many jobs in my 20s leading to this. It felt right and I just kept moving forward with the idea of open my own antiques gallery.
I’m constantly scouring auctions, dealers, junk shops, markets. It never ends. And it takes all my time when I’m not in the gallery or meeting with people. I wish I could be less on my phone and computer through. I think you will find the best stuff out in the real world. But what are good taste? This is an impossibly hard question to answer so I’ll borrow the answer from Christopher Gibbs, a design hero of mine: “Taste itself is not something that can be learnt. It’s something you catch, like measles or religion.”
Christopher wears ANOTHER Overshirt 2.0, Leaf (see more) & ANOTHER Pants 2.0, Antique White (see more).
I’m inspired by my peers around me doing incredible work. In the past few years, I’ve met so many smart creative people, carving their own path. It pushes you and gives you energy. We need more of that in this world of following the leader. But I’m most inspired in nature, whether a forest or a man-made garden. There’s no place that heals and silences the mind, that inspires and reenergizes more.