Christopher Cawley has been collecting antiques — a pair of red-velvet and gold-silk panels from Venice, a chieftain’s chair from Thailand, 17th-century tapestries — since his grandfather began taking him to flea markets around Philadelphia as a child. Soon his hobby became a secret obsession, and the 31-year-old eventually filled up a barn at his family’s home with hundreds of artworks, decorative objects, and furniture pieces, all while dodging questions from his parents about what he was going to do with it all. “I really started to hoard stuff,” Cawley says. “I’d tell them I sold this and that, but eventually I came clean and told them I hadn’t sold anything yet.” When the pandemic began, Cawley decided to go all in and start a gallery.
The space he opened in early March, on the second floor of the 75 East Broadway mini-mall (also home to the design gallery Superhouse, an Eckhaus Latta store, and vintage mecca James Veloria), is a small container compared with that barn — about 100 square feet, like most of its neighbors. But it showcases his eclectic, wide-ranging taste. During the opening in early March, which drew nearly 200 people, Cawley arranged everything into small vignettes that each looked like a Dutch still-life painting and filled the space with candles. Mozart’s Requiem played in the background. “I don’t know how no one got burned,” Cawley jokes. “I really went quite baroque.”
The gallery’s contents are always changing, and you might spot a snake mask from Mexico, Murano drinking glasses, or a seven-foot-tall Chinese ancestor painting dating from the Qing Dynasty. (Prices start at $50 for smaller objects like a handmade metal storage tin.) Cawley sources pieces from the United States and abroad, and none of it is confined to a single period or style. But there’s a common quality to the items he’s drawn to: They proudly show their age and wear. One of the larger pieces in the gallery is an 18th-century Chippendale blanket chest he found in Pennsylvania. It’s scuffed up, and its glossy finish has been dulled down. “Time was an artist on this piece,” Cawley says. “You can’t achieve this patina unless you have 300 years for the furniture to age.”
Christopher Cawley, 75 East Broadway #231; open Friday-Sunday 12 -6 p.m. and by appointment; (267) 446-8659; instagram.com/christopher__cawley