On a quaint street in the heart of Garden Hills near Atlanta International School lies Pots & Pillows. Housed in a small cottage with ample parking and generally a dog visitor or two, Pots & Pillows is where a whimsical gift and interiors shop meets garden and floral design. Carol handles all of your floral needs, while Meredith stocks the shop with all things gifts and design. Making things even more interesting? Come the retail holiday rush, these two will share another title other than business partners: in-laws. Meredith will wed Carol’s son later this year (ironically on Carol’s wedding anniversary). While some might say they could never go into business with their in-laws, Meredith and Carol not only make it work, but they make it look desirable. I caught up with them recently, and as we chatted, the pair finished each other’s sentences, raved about one another’s friends and agreed that their go-to beverage is almost always Chardonnay. Meet Meredith Bullock and Carol Brunstad, today’s FACES of Atlanta.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your retail background? What experience do you have that led you here?
CAROL: I have lived in Atlanta since 1979. I moved here from Boston when I was 24. I am married, and I have two kids, a son and a daughter. My youngest son is engaged to Meredith. That’s our connection. I had my container business for about 15 years. From about 2011, it was called Pots and Petals.
MEREDITH: I was born and raised in Atlanta. John, Carol’s son, was actually my first boyfriend. We went to school together at Woodward. My grandmother has phenomenal taste. Not my taste, but growing up, I loved touching all of her China and her pillows. She did the windows at Saks in New York City. I grew up loving those things because of her. That’s where I get it from.
The story of how you found your space is so interesting. Share more about that serendipitous process.
CAROL: It hasn’t been boring, that’s for sure! My husband, Bill, and John [did it]. Meredith and John went away about a year and a half ago and wanted to rent a car. John wasn’t old enough to rent a car, so he ended up finding a car through Turo. It’s sort of like Airbnb for cars. When John got back, he talked his dad into renting out our electric BMW. They rented it, and it was rented every day. They decided to add more cars and needed a place that had parking. That’s where this building comes in. The whole point of leasing this space was for parking spaces for their cars. They didn’t really need the building, so they said, “Why don’t you combine your talents and open a shop?” John named it Pots & Pillows. We gutted the whole place, all the way up to the rafters. Now Bill and John have the building next door. Nothing was this big vision – it just sort of happened.
Readers might be surprised to know that you guys are a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law team. In fact, when I first heard that, I was blown away by the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. What is it like working with each other? How did the initial conversation happen?
MEREDITH: I don’t think it was ever a question. We get along really well. We’re always together. We’re having so much fun!
What has surprised you about working with family? What have you learned?
CAROL: I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it and how fun it is. Really and truly there’s never a boring minute. It’s meeting all of these great new people through Meredith and through her friends. I’ve also learned how to create balance in my life with a store … how to carve out time. We take two days off per week. I try not to come in here at all. Carve out that me time, establish that balance and create firm boundaries.
MEREDITH: I’m lucky; we’re lucky. I’ve learned patience [through the store]. We have so much fun, and the days go by so quickly. But it’s neverending. There’s always something, and it does require a lot of patience.
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I think to have the type of relationship that you guys have is special. Tell us more about it!
CAROL: I did not have a good relationship with my mother-in-law, but Meredith is so accepting. If I want to give her advice, she’s pretty good about taking it. I’m not bossy, and there’s a very fine line between working together [and being family]. I am a lot older than her, and I have a lot more experience in business, but I let Meredith make her own decisions about her business. If she wants my opinion, I’ll give it to her. Ultimately, her success is my success, and my success is her success. And that’s the way I look at it.
How do the two aspects of your business work together in tandem?
MEREDITH: It’s the perfect place to grab a gift or something to complete your home. Carol’s plants are a part of that. I’m such a big believer that you have to have plants in your home. It’s like the cherry on top – same with pillows.
How is Pots & Pillows different from other stores in Atlanta?
MEREDITH: Going into this, we knew a couple of things: we wanted things to be really affordable, and we wanted people to come in the door and feel at home. Sometimes you walk into other stores in Atlanta, and you sometimes feel out of place. We want everyone to walk out with a smile and wanting to come back.
CAROL: I’ve lived around Buckhead for 30 years, so I’m well-acquainted with all of the stores here. I kept saying to Meredith that there’s a niche there for a lower price-point item. You find the cool stuff that has a great price.
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As the news of your shop continues grows like a vine, what’s your vision for Pots & Pillows?
MEREDITH: John and Bill have been talking about renovating and have wanted us to stage houses, so that’s possibly in our future. I love the size of this shop, so I never really want to expand. I definitely want to get into an online space. Possibly a sister store, but it would be completely different. I love food, so I’ve thought about local cheese and wine. That’s far down the road, though. I need to get married first!
CAROL: It is just nice having this here. For me, I love working out of here and having a place for people to bring their things. Personally, I don’t really have a vision for five years down the road. For the store, I feel like this neighborhood and this area are growing so quickly, and I hope this is going to be the little neighborhood place. I want it to be that great, comfortable place for surrounding neighbors to come on a regular basis.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
MEREDITH: Carol gave me this advice, actually. The shop really reflects who we are. When we were buying things, there was a lot of thought and intention that went into every single thing here. Whatever you’re doing, do it because of yourself, and make it your own.
CAROL: Be kind. There are so many things you can be, but you should be kind.
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
MEREDITH: Slippers. After being here all day, going home and putting my slippers on is amazing. My dogs, Cooper and Bailey. Wine.
CAROL: I’m probably thinking the same things. Wine is definitely in there. My dog, Bear and my granddogs. And flip-flops. I love my flip-flops.
Thanks to Meredith and Carol for sharing their unique relationship with us, and as always, thank you to Catrina Maxwell of CATMAX Photography for these shots of the Pots & Pillows duo.
Read more FACES interviews here, and prepare to be inspired!