We met David Kowalski, owner of Brick + Mortar Antiques, about a month ago when we traveled South to Atlanta, GA, for our Atlanta Pop-Up Shop. David provided much of the furniture for the pop-up and couldn’t have been more awesome to work with. His finds are incredibly well-curated and his unique aesthetic gives his shop a real Southern Americana feel. Seeing as we’re focusing on the idea of travel this month, we thought it only appropriate to introduce you to David and share some of his favorite things to do if you ever find yourself in the fine city of Atlanta.
What led to you opening Brick + Mortar?
It honestly just fell in my lap – a friend of mine had the space in Paris on Ponce (an antique shop located in Midtown Atlanta) and wanted out, so Brick + Mortar took over and it’s taken off from there. Originally I had just collected so much stuff that I thought I could fill the space with pieces from my home. Once all of that sold, I knew I was on to something, so I just kept buying.
Have you always had an affinity for antique furniture?
I have an affinity for the old, anything with a history. I love that each piece has a story, a family or person that it went with. It’s amazing to me that I get to continue the story of a piece. People back then didn’t have IKEA to furnish a home. Furniture and decorations had more meaning – there was a craft and an investment that I think is so great. People would sit for photographs, they would have mantles made for them… they would save for a dining room set. Nowadays you have instant gratification for most everything that takes away the specialness of the things that surround you. This whole endeavor has taught me to take greater care choosing what I put into my home and into the shop. Just to think a little more, to slow down. I recently put an old letterpress menu printer into our shop that I know probably two people in Atlanta would appreciate. But I love the history of that piece. The estate sale I got it at, I went to four times and got to meet the owners’ granddaughters. I learned why their grandfather collected what he collected and I just think that’s cool. When I see that printer, I know that there is a family attached to it.
What is your favorite piece that you own?
Seriously anything that is in my family. Old bottles my dad gave me, my grandfathers old cameras, old fire extinguishers my parents gave me. Those are the things that have the most meaning to me. I like that objects can be tangible things that connect us to the past and to our families. I have a painting my grandmother gave me and when I look at it I could tell you exactly where it hung in her house and 50 memories I have that go with it. I try to be cognizant of that idea with everything I sell. Personally, I think it’s good for me to see history in everything, and good for the buyer if they think about it too. On the superficial side, I have the most comfortable tufted leather wingback sofa that I love. I’m also a sucker for old Hartmann Tweed luggage. It makes me feel like Sean Connery when I travel.
Do you have any favorite furniture designers or other cultural influences?
As much as I love the old stuff, I do have an affinity for modern designers too. My grandfather was an architect and like most architects, he had good taste in furniture. So I grew up around Eames and Saarinen, Bertoia and the like. I think an Eames lounge is so good looking. While the style isn’t the same with old to modern, with folks like Eames, the idea of craftsmanship and design is still there. If you haven’t seen “Eames: The Architect and the Painter,” you should. It’s the picture of passion and brilliance. And their passion can be translated to anything from making shirts to making burritos. Ray and Charles are inspiring to me.
My dad taught me to appreciate art – Growing up we’d always have to talk about what we liked and why we liked it – that’s just kind of his thing. He also brainwashed me to love Henry Tanner, which I am thankful for. I think the first time I emotionally connected to a painting was “The Annunciation” by Tanner. It’s mesmerizing. Tanner is a master at capturing the emotion people are feeling.
Annie Dillard’s writing will take your breath away. It’s never taken me so long to get through a book than Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has. It’s beautiful. Every sentence of it. C.S. Lewis will always be one of my favorites too. He is a brilliant thinker and just a plain old good man. Oliver Sacks writes some of the most fascinating stuff I’ve ever read or even thought about.
Sigur Ros makes the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I literally remember the very first time I heard them and thinking how beautiful it sounded. I know this sounds dramatic and cheesy, but Sleeping At Last’s music makes me want to be a better man… it really does. I love Radiohead, Hammock, mewithoutyou, Seryn, Billie Holiday, Father John Misty, Sam Cooke, DM Stith, Explosions in the Sky, Elvis Perkins, Cool Hand Luke, Loney Dear, Cole Porter, Alabama Shakes, Sufjan Stevens.
Atlanta is booming with creative culture and friendly folks – from your perspective, what makes Atlanta unique?
A lot of things… you know how New york has a certain “street cred.” People from Atlanta can say they’re from Atlanta, but it doesn’t have the same “street cred” yet as New York or San Francisco or Paris… people are trying to make it something good. There’s this momentum, this catalyst that has started, where people have started pushing Atlanta as being awesome and having it’s own place in this country. It’s this blend of Southern goodness mixed with big city. It has a lot of history and a lot of culture, and it’s own personality. It has this Southern culture and persona of the South that it’s held up to, but it’s also a city where Delta and tons of huge companies are, so it brings in people from everywhere. It’s a really diverse city but it has that foundation of “Southerness” which gives it a really unique flavor. There’s something kind of charming about Atlanta, but it still has stuff that all the major cities have– a good art museum, amazing restaurants. Atlanta has really, really good food. I think Atlanta can kind of be an underdog among major cities, but I have really high hopes for it. It’s got a fight to it that I like.
What are some of your favorite things to do/places to go in Atlanta?
Sights / Activities
– MLK Museum is one of the best things Atlanta has, and it’s free! It’s an amazing museum.
– The High Museum of Art is pretty good… They have a few of Tanner’s pieces there.
– The Wrens Nest is really cool. It’s the old home of Joel Chandler Harris and it’s like a time capsule. They have readings there that are really fun.
– The monthly auction at Atlanta Auction Gallery is one of my favorite things to do in Atlanta. It’s a warehouse full of amazing things and once a month they have an auction with free bbq and free beer and the most interesting people show up.
– I love everything about The Goat Farm. I think it breeds creativity. It’s a great place to walk around. The events they have are pretty awesome, really diverse and really well done. The coffee shop is spot on too. If I could decorate a coffee shop it would look like their coffee shop.
– Octane coffee will always have my heart. It is old faithful.
– Land of a Thousand Hills on the Chattahoochee is pretty spectacular. It’s one of the most peaceful places in Atlanta and they have great coffee.
– Taqueria del Sol is my favorite place to eat in Atlanta, by far. I’ll pretty much eat there over anything else.
– One of the best meals I’ve had in Atlanta was at Miller Union. The food is so tasty and the atmosphere is pretty great.
– The best burrito you will eat is at Bell Street Burrito. I eat there probably more than anywhere in Atlanta. Matt, the owner is a great guy and he knows how to make a burrito like nobody’s business.
– Miss Crumpy’s has the best wings in Atlanta. Hands down. They are huge and so delicious! And the owner, Freda Crump, is a trip.
Where do see B+M in the future?
Hopefully it will still be in business. I’m so thankful to be able to do this and I hope that it can continue. I’d love to see more shops, more collaborations, different types of products. I’ve never done this before so I’m a bit naive about what it’s supposed to look like, which is a good thing. The trajectory could be anything right now. There’s actually a new place opening up right near Westside Provisions District, where you all had the pop-up shop, that I’m looking into.
What do you love most about your job?
Like I mentioned before, connecting to history is a gift that should be valued. History should be appreciated. I love that I get to do that with B+M. I love that a painting that I may buy and sell probably has memories attached to it and that there’s some grandkid out there that could tell you exactly where it hung in their grandmothers house.
Brick+Mortar is David Kowalski, Jared and Anna Swafford and Ashley Wilson. They are located inside Paris on Ponce (716 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30306) (Mon-Sat 11-6, Sun 12-6) and inside Kudzu (6450 Roswell Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30328) from 11-7 everyday.