San Francisco – Strange Closets people, homes, travel and stuff Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:29:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This Week: Guest Columnist Marla Marcianelli on Paxton Gate Mon, 10 May 2010 02:18:43 +0000

Thanks to my friend Marla for contributing this post about Paxton Gate, one of the most interesting home and garden shops in San Francisco’s Mission District. Take it away Marla!

When I first visited Paxton Gate back in the late 90’s, it was a quirky shop mostly filled with plants and gardening supplies, but things have changed since owner Sean Quigley moved the store from Stevenson Street to its current location on white-hot Valencia Street. Mounted unicorn head, anyone? In addition to its eclectic line of retail products, Paxton Gate is one of the only places left in the Mission District where you can get good gardening supplies, and their designers create beautiful floral arrangements and landscapes. Go on any garden walk in San Francisco, and you’re bound to see one (often they are my favorites).
I love Paxton Gate, because it’s a little like visiting a small museum where you can fondle the fossils, browse through the skeletons and find pretty earrings around the corner.  And if you want to take that lion head home with you, it’s only $3500. However, when I walk through the doors I hardly notice the prolific taxidermy. Even though the walls are covered with butterflies and the tables are studded with stuffed cobras and armadillos, I make a beeline for the Bulbophyllum echinolabium (orchids).  With so many options, Paxton Gate has been my one-stop shop for gift giving.
My shopping list:
For Dad: lamp made out of a sheep’s leg.
For Mom: taxidermy mouse with wings.
Brother: shark in a jar.
Lover: Evan Chambers blown glass anything.
For me: Saber tooth cat skull.
For Tate: taxidermy King Cobra.  (Don’t tell him and spoil the surprise).
Paxton Gate. 824 Valencia Street. San Francisco, CA. 415.824-1872
Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids. 766 Valencia Street
between 18th & 19th Streets. San Francisco, CA. 415.252.9990

This Week: Flora Grubb and my garden Thu, 06 May 2010 18:06:07 +0000

We’re actually having a spring this year in Chicago. Not too cold, not too hot, the pleasant, often sunny days have made it possible to enjoy two of my favorite things: sleeping with the windows open and dining alfresco on my rear deck. Unfortunately, there’s not much to look at in my tiny back yard, which went from completely overgrown when I bought the place a few years ago to perfectly manicured (but perfectly boring) now. While I ordinarily don’t care too much about the garden part of home and garden, visiting Flora Grubb in San Francisco earlier this year awakened something in me, so I think I’ll finally get to work this fall.

My sad back yard

In addition to the ideas I picked up at Flora Grubb, my friend Dave, a jack-of-all-trades who takes on various construction and landscaping projects, was kind enough to sketch a plan, which incorporates trellises on the garage, a circular brick patio and space for trees, shrubs and vegetables. To save money on labor, I’m planning to wait until fall, a non-peak time when landscapers will often lower their rates, to start the project. While I’d love to enjoy my little garden starting tomorrow, this gives me a few months to scour Craig’s List for free bricks and to incorporate other ideas. If you have any good landscaping tips or suggestions, I’m all ears. In the meantime, check out the amazing Flora Grubb.

Flora Grubb. 1634 Jerrold Avenue. San Francisco, CA. 415.648.2670

This reminds me a bit of Chicago artist Jackie Seiden’s back yard art installation. Lemon trees won’t thrive in Chicago’s climate (yet), but how about another kind of lemon?

What’s up G?

I like it, but would using a pedestal sink as a planter look too Sanford in my own back yard?

This Week: Room 4 (San Francisco) Wed, 21 Apr 2010 03:33:45 +0000

Reconnaissance Report VX138201-xx1

Accompanying Music: Strange Times by The Black Keys

Subject: Room 4

Category: Vintage, Retail, “California Cool”

Contact: 904 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA. 415.647.2764

Score: Seventies-era camel leather camera bag.

Why: Brass snaps are cooler than velcro, and it makes me feel like Steve McQueen.

Strange Closets User Rating: 4 (of 5)

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This Week: Garage Store (San Francisco) Sat, 10 Apr 2010 02:08:43 +0000

You know how it is: sometimes putting things off means they never get done. And while I can’t speak for you, I’m never better for it. Get ready for a tale of heartbreak and redemption. It’s a tale of lazy days, chilly nights and good friends who save the day in a little burg I like to call San Frantastic! And don’t get too excited, but we’re going to have a group cheer at the end of the post. Don’t worry, because it’s going to be fun. And now, This Week: Garage Store (San Francisco):

I’d just arrived in San Francisco when my dear friend Marla and I walked by the all things vintage Garage Store, and while my instinct was to take a photo, I didn’t have my good camera with me, so I assumed there would be plenty of time. Flash forward two weeks, and I’m home in Chicago wishing I’d taken that gosh darn photo with my cell phone. Luckily I have friends in Noe Valley, so thanks for the photo Marla. Although Garage Store isn’t one of those pop-up shops that are so de rigueur, owner Liz Winsor does pop up the door every morning when it’s time to greet guests, and that’s some sweet kitschy goodness if I ever saw some. This perpetual garage sale features a little of this and a little of that with a heavy emphasis on home goods at killer prices. This guy on Yelp says he scored a lamp for $15 and guess what? I believe him. That’s how reasonable it be. Stop in if you find yourself off the beaten path. And let my folly be a lesson to you: if you see something you like, buy it, because the goods go fast. Carpe Diem at Garage Store. Say it with me folks: CARPE DIEM!!!!

Garage Store. 1104 Sanchez St. San Francisco, CA. 415.550.6641

It’s the Garage Store owner Liz Winsor herself. Marla really went all out, and we’re better for it, aren’t we readers?

This Week: Industrialists (San Francisco) Tue, 16 Mar 2010 07:36:02 +0000

Hacking Ikea furniture was all the rage a couple years ago, but I’ll wager even the best results won’t stand the test of time; even the finest lipstick applied by the best makeup artist can’t make pigs look like anything other than appetizing bacon (extra crispy por favor). But as a visit to Industrialists proves, hacking well-made industrial cabinets is a different story. Owner Tony Limtiaco and his crew salvage old stainless steel hospital cabinets, remove residual dirt and rust and very often modify them for residential use. Best of all, Limtiaco’s prices are the best I’ve seen short of doing the dirty work yourself. When I visited last month, Limtiaco was selling a long stainless steel counter with built-in sink for $250 (!), and a handsome armoire-sized cabinet for $1600. While specializes in kitchens and baths, Industrialists’ designers and craftsman will fabricate nearly any home product. Next time I visit California, I might very well drive my U-Haul and buy a cabinet to bring back with me. Thanks for the tour Tony!

Industrialists. 2193 Market St. San Francisco, CA. 415-701-7111

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This Week: Art Deco Collection (San Francisco) Fri, 05 Mar 2010 08:16:50 +0000

There’s a cluster of antique stores on Market Street in San Francisco that’s worth checking out, my favorite being Art Deco Collection, a gorgeous showroom where every vignette is more breathtaking than the last.

Strange Closets Dictionary

Art Deco Luxury (ADL): Living in a well-appointed mid-rise apartment with at least three of the following: Art Deco furnishings, skyline views, a fireplace, a smoking jacket, a massive living room with plush wall-to-wall carpeting, a cozy little TV room with dark walls, Sing, Sing, Sing (on a Swing) on the radio, chair side floor ash trays, liquor as decor, zebra print (or any other zigzag). For two more fine examples of ADL, please check out my Chicago Home + Garden feature House Dressing about Mark and Linda Heister’s La Porte, IN home and their Chicago apartment (an early Open House).

Art Deco Collection. 1632 Market St., San Francisco. 415.255.1902

Have you bitten your knuckles yet? Well don’t. It’s not refined. And this just isn’t that kind of post; not today anyway.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Because you demanded it! Juicy inside scoop! Owner Richard Shipman  and I were having a nice chat when I raised my camera to take this photo of the drawings hanging over his head above the desk. You heard it here first folks. Thanks for being so welcoming Richard. And for creating such an excellent store.

My right hand to God, I would build a room around that mural. Not just a room, an empire.

Do you see that grandfather clock? That’s why I got involved in the caper.

Nice joint. You can discern that from the curb.

Nothing says civic responsibility like banners.

And this place is directly across the street. I feel bad for those people. They were just minding their business walking down the street and snap, a random fellow (me) steals their souls. For a gosh-darn design blog!  Oh the humanity.

On the street. Keep on movin’ buster. You’re almost done.

More well deserved press for Art Deco Collection.

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The Women’s Building (Mission District, San Francisco) Tue, 23 Feb 2010 08:11:13 +0000

Stunning, isn’t it? The Women’s Building is a woman owned and operated community center offering services and programs for, you guessed it, women and girls. Which is very cool. Click here to donate. Now back to design business. I’d love to live across the street from such a spectacular mural, but it’s pretty bold, and I might feel differently if it were less successfully executed (which is also the title of my forthcoming How To book). How would you feel about living with views of The Women’s Building? People with beach houses are always talking about how they picked the wall color or the sofa upholstery to match the sea. Would you do the same if your view were dominated by a mural? Or does that just work with nature?

The Women’s Building 3543 18th Street #8. San Francisco. 415.431.1180

It’s nice to have a good friend who is willing to go out of her way to show me her city’s amazing sites.

This Week: Survival Annex at The Curiosity Shoppe (San Francisco) Tue, 16 Feb 2010 21:37:07 +0000

Survival Annex is “a group effort based under the guise of survival.” Curator Aurora Crispin has assembled an excellent array of theme-appropriate small edition products that work very well with The Curiosity Shoppe’s quirky vibe.  And it gave me an idea. Imagine the possibilities of a permanent retail improv troupe, a small company with a talented network of artists and designers (of the graphic, furniture and clothing variety) who create temporary shops based on their inspirations, current events, the latest trends (or anti-trends) or possibly words picked out of a cheering crowd (or from Facebook fans).  “OK, I hear survival,” I can almost hear Aurora saying, but what if she heard “hospital!” or “funeral home”? Throw in a cadre of musicians to compose the soundtrack or a DJ to mix the music and it’s a party with ITunes potential.

The possibilities for such a troupe are endless; the company could take a permanent space or just create buzz wherever it pops up. And such a concept would be an excellent way to bring new designers and artists to the public’s attention. Finally, an improv retail troupe would foster community. For example, in addition to merely peddling its wares, Survival Annex also sponsors regular plant exchanges, a fun way to meet the neighbors while simultaneously drawing attention to the many interesting small edition works.  Hurry over, because the show closes on February 26th.  What’s next Aurora?

Survival Annex (at The Curiosity Shoppe through February 26, 2010). 855 Valencia Street. San Francisco. 415.671.5384.

A few Survival Annex products. Great job pulling this show together Aurora!

Plant cuttings from an exchange at Survival Annex.

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This Week: The Curiosity Shoppe (San Francisco and Online) Tue, 16 Feb 2010 06:29:05 +0000

When I wrote about The Curiosity Shop’s online shop last fall, Albert left a comment saying, “I wish I had more money to buy random, interesting and weird things for my home,” and I share in his sentiment. So when my friend Marla told me The Curiosity Shoppe was located on the trendy Valencia shopping strip in the Mission neighborhood a few blocks from her apartment, I couldn’t wait to see the shop in person, and I wondered if they still carried the shiny, red First Aid box I’d seen online.

Fortunately they did. “It’s like  twenty bucks,” said Marla as we milled about the store. “Just buy it.” But The Curiosity Shoppe was even cooler in person than it had looked online, and I liked practically everything, so I didn’t buy anything. Since I hadn’t brought my camera, we made it a point to make a second trip a few days later, and by then I’d narrowed down my options between a ceramic Polaroid camera and the First Aid box. But between taking photos for this post and my continued indecisiveness, I left empty-handed once again, although Marla seemed perplexed as to why I didn’t buy the First Aid box I’d been thinking about for months. “It’s like twenty bucks,” she said again. “Just buy it.”

Continued . . .

* I’m thinking about buying 20 red First Aid boxes and hanging them in a cross pattern on a wall painted the same color red. What do you think?

A few days later on my third visit, I did.* But the white ceramic Polaroid camera, the amazing yellow nesting bowls and the arrows made from salvaged plaster lathe still haunted my thoughts, so on my final night in the city before returning to Chicago, I asked Marla if we could stop by The Curiosity Shoppe one more time. Her eyes widened slightly and she shook her head. “They close in like five minutes,” she said firmly. “We won’t make it.” I kicked some mental gravel and muttered about calling the store, but Marla was insistent. “We’ll never make it.” Tough love. We were only two or three blocks from the store (max), so normally I’d have broken into a sprint and made it with time to spare, but Marla had been a patient friend and tour guide, so I turned away from the charming little shoppes direction, and we took a lovely walk instead. So that’s why I didn’t have the opportunity to visit The Curiosity Shoppe in person . . . a fourth time. You, however, should visit soon.  Keep watching for photos of Survival Annex, the Curiosity Shoppe’s pop-up shoppe.

The Curiosity Shoppe. 855 Valencia Street. San Francisco. 415.671.5384.

FUN FACT: I was so excited to see The Curiosity Shoppe in person that I said to the very lovely shopkeeper, “It’s so much better virtually,” which was exactly the opposite of what I’d intended to say. Luckily she had a good sense of humor and didn’t have us thrown out.

HEAD TWISTER: You can’t experience the fourth time of anything more than once. Think about it.

Check out The Curiosity Shoppe’s new products, which include:

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White Furniture (a potentially controversial post) Fri, 12 Feb 2010 10:35:17 +0000

White Furniture’s classic, simple window beckoned me, but one thing led to another, and I wound up snapping just a few photos of the store’s exterior, which is located on San Francisco’s Market Street. But intrigued and suspecting White Furniture was a vintage store or a smaller Design Within Reach, I looked up their website, and I was surprised to read the following: WHITE FURNITURE’S PRODUCTS ARE NOT MANUFACTURED BY, SPONSORED BY, AFFILIATED WITH, OR ASSOCIATED WITH HERMAN MILLER, CHARLES OR RAY EAMES, KNOLL, FRITZ HANSEN OR OTHER COMPANIES.

Hiss, hiss was my first response, because the pieces sure look like Eames, Knoll and their brethren, and copying is bad. But then I started browsing White Furniture’s selection of products and was favorably impressed with their selection and pricing. At which point, my mind begins to formulate a new narrative. Because I want this couch:

$900 seems cheap, but I wonder about the quality.

Maybe knock-offs aren’t so bad after all. Fashion gets knocked off all the time, but the practice seems less demonized in that industry than in the furniture biz, perhaps because natural phenomenon primped our collective pump; we humans change our clothing for weather fluctuations and to convey status, gender and role. Of course, furniture’s subject to some of the same factors, but the feeling of home comes in part, from familiarity. And of course, furniture (of the non-Ikea variety) ages far better than clothing. When considered together, it’s no surprise that most regular people keep their furniture for years and years.

So here’s what I wonder: If people did buy new furniture every season, would the anti-knock-off crowd knock-off the critique?  Many of these designs are more than fifty years old.  At what point does knocking off become OK?  Is there a difference between knocking off Ray and Charles Eames’ designs for Herman Miller and knocking off a local furniture designer? Finally, what do you think of White Furniture and its website Have you ever bought from them? If so, how’s the quality? And the service?

White Furniture. 1422 Market Street. San Francisco. 415.865.9809

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