Around the World with Creel and Gow

J.M.Kucy/JMK-Gallery.com

Jamie Creel and Christopher Gow on their eclectic New York store.

Creel and Gow, a transporting cabinet of curiosities on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, became the talk of the interior design world when it opened last October. Owners Jamie Creel (pictured here, right) and Christopher Gow (pictured here, left) met through a mutual friend in 2010, and their yin-meets-yang business partnership combines Creel’s sourcing background (he’s an avid collector based in Paris) with Gow’s business acumen (he holds an M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University). We talked with the duo about inspiring destinations, those stuffed animals—and what they argue over.

Q: So what exactly is a cabinet of curiosities?

Gow: It’s a funny term, isn’t it? It comes from the German Kunstkammer or the French cabinet de curiosités and originated during the Renaissance in the 16th century. It was a room that housed all the strange things one collected from around the globe—it proved that you’d been to the Antarctic or New Guinea and brought back shrunken heads and alligators and whatnot.

Q: Where are some of the places you go to find things?

Creel: I just got back from Morocco, but I actually find that I can still get inspired by trips to Europe, especially Paris. And recently we got these extraordinary ceramic bowls, teapots, plates and jars from Ardmore ceramics in South Africa.

Gow: Places off the beaten track—Zanzibar, Madagascar and Mauritius. I went to Haiti not too long ago, where they have these carnivals with huge papier-mâché models on the floats. I brought back papier-mâché animal trophies, rhino heads and elephant heads.

Q: What are some of the store’s best sellers?

Gow: Fossils are popular, because they show plant life, sea urchins and water bubbles that predate Christ captured in amber.

Creel: Also, zebra heads. Seriously! People love putting them above the fireplace. They have that dramatic and geometric black-and-white striping that changes the whole room.

Q: The store actually sells a lot of taxidermy, doesn’t it?

Gow: Yes, we have many birds, which just have such fantastic colors, and also musk oxen, lions and zebras—we had a giraffe head that was divine.

Q: Does it make people uncomfortable?

Creel: Well, what we have is coming from private collectors or zoos where animals died and the taxidermist worked on the bodies afterward, so we’re not killing animals.

Gow: But some people are not happy, and we have to explain that they weren’t hunted. That’s why the animals are in such great condition—they were well-fed in zoos and private collections and died natural deaths.

Q: Do you two ever disagree about anything in the store?

Gow: There’s stuff that Jamie will buy that I hate.

Creel: I remember there was a hippopotamus made out of brass from the ’60s that was made to carry a wine bottle

Gow: The kitschiest thing you ever saw.

Creel: I put it out and literally in two hours it went out the door.

Q: So you never know! Is there anything that you’ve been looking for and haven’t been able to find? Something you’re just dying to get?

Gow: One thing we won’t ever get because it’s endangered is a pangolin. It’s like an armadillo and has this shell carapace that overlaps, so it looks like the scales of a fish or tortoiseshell. You’ll see it in all the cabinets of curiosities from the 16th and 17th centuries, but we’ll never have one.

Q: Any strange requests from customers?

Creel: We wouldn’t ever carry anything in ivory, which we sometimes get asked for. That makes me very uneasy, even if it’s old stuff from hundreds of years ago.

Gow: We’ll get an almost daily request: There are these natural minerals that are popular, and people will constantly get one and then ask for a matching piece. We’re all about the unique and individual, so when someone wants a pair or a set of ten, it’s like, “Honey.”

Creel and Gow is at 131 E. 70th St.; creelandgow.com.

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