by Sarah Nagem | photography by Eamon Queeney
Brian and Kiyomi Ownbey always had a thing for Mid-century design: the vibrant colors and garish themes of American Kitsch, and also the clean, calm lines of wooden Scandinavian furniture.
But the couple say it was a “fluke” that they ended up opening Father and Son, a vintage store in downtown Raleigh where shoppers can get a Herman Miller chair for $3,800 or a Joan Baez record for five bucks. (Oh, and there are the old-school Christmas blow molds, plastic Santas and snowmen and choir singers that have really made a comeback).
“I can’t say enough about how lucky we’ve been,” Brian Ownbey says. “This was a crapshoot.” The couple, both 52, didn’t set out to run a business. They met as undergrads at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, then headed to Ohio, where Brian Ownbey earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Bowling Green State University. He tried unsuccessfully to land a job as an English professor in the Triangle, and Kiyomi Ownbey wasn’t sure what kind of work she wanted to pursue.
So in the mid-1990s, they turned their vintage hobby into a business, renting space at an antiques store in City Market. There weren’t many places around to buy Mid-century goods, and customers couldn’t get enough of the couple’s flea-market finds, especially during their Friday-night events.
“The line would be out the door,” Kiyomi Ownbey recalls. “It was like a feeding frenzy.” They opened their own store on Hargett Street in 1997, and Father and Son quickly gained a reputation as an oddball place that sold everything from second-hand clothes to wooden desks and tables. The store had loyal fans, but its location was also ideal for passersby who just might be in the market for a Blenko vase. “We would get attorneys in between court cases,” Kiyomi Ownbey says, noting the proximity to the Wake County courthouse.
The following year, the couple had their daughter, Grace, who is now 21 and attends Appalachian State University. As she grew up, so did downtown Raleigh, and the inevitable happened: A developer bought the old, gritty building on Hargett, marking the end of an era for Father and Son as it was. So in early 2018, the store moved to West Street in the fast-changing Warehouse District, next to the new Union Station and across from The Dillon.
The Ownbeys say they like the space, but it’s less than half the size of the old building. So they had to pare down their inventory. A lot. “We’re hoarders,” Kiyomi Ownbey says. “We can’t let go.”
Fortunately, the customers have followed the pair to the new location.
Patty McGaffagan, who owns a Mid-century home with her husband in Smithfield, rattles off the things she has bought from Father and Son over the years: Kai Kristiansen tables. An Ingmar Relling rocking chair. An abstract painting by Brian Ownbey, who sells some of his artwork in the store. “They know what they have,” McGaffagan says. “But their prices are extremely reasonable.”
Brian Ownbey says the store sells a lot of items to vintage dealers, who snap up furniture pieces and sell them at a higher price in bigger cities across the country. “If I could, I would sell everything locally,” he says, but it’s just not feasible. The local crowd can’t get enough of the store’s clothing items, many of which are featured on Father and Son’s Instagram page. A yellow and orange plaid coat? Yes, please. “It’s a fun place to come in and look around,” Brian Ownbey says. “Even if it wasn’t my store, I would enjoy coming in.”