San Francisco Bay – Strange Closets people, homes, travel and stuff Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:29:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 San Francisco Sights Mon, 31 Jan 2011 08:07:55 +0000

San Francisco’s steep hills, scenic vistas and historic housing stock make it one of my favorite cities to take a stroll, which is it and of itself one of my all-time favorite pastimes, especially when I have a camera on my person. As an aside, the iPhone’s camera isn’t so bad. It’ll be interesting to see just how advanced cell phone cameras will become, but I’d wager they’ll continue to improve a lot. When I was a kid, taking a picture was kind of a big deal. Disposable flashes, photo albums, processing etc. My point is that it all added up. Now even I take it for granted that photos are limitless. What’s next to go limitless?

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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

Photo Essay: Point Reyes lighthouse Sat, 17 Apr 2010 00:35:22 +0000

Touring the lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore was one of the highlights of my recent trip to northern California. Make it a point to visit the next time you’re in the area, but wear your walking shoes. The lighthouse is located at the bottom of hundreds of steps (apparently the equivalent of a 30 story building), so you won’t need an excuse to skip the gym.

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If I Lived Here: The view’s great but nobody stays very long Thu, 04 Mar 2010 09:03:30 +0000

Last month while visiting California, I had the opportunity to see the now retired lighthouse at Port Reyes National Seashore. While the lighthouse isn’t the subject of today’s post, please take a moment to visit the Port Reyes National Seashore website and learn more about its fascinating history. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say manning the light house was a miserable, solitary affair; the treacherous shore is littered with shipwrecks, so I’d imagine the gig was fairly stressful. Think of the sorry men who took on the job as the air traffic controllers of their day – except they were also responsible for some lighthouse repairs and basically everything else, so they were exhausted all the time. (Would you like an aisle or window seat?). As you might suspect, bad things happened, and the ghost stories practically write themselves itself. Definitely put it on your list, as it was yet another tourist activity I thoroughly enjoyed. How I miss being a kid who felt above everything.

But what intrigued me more than Point Reyes National Seashore lighthouse was the rather suburban looking, sixties-era olive green home located near the beginning of the long, winding path to the light house. Perched atop a steep hill with spectacular views of the Pacific, the house illustrates the way common sense repairs extend a building’s life. Not replacing things all the time is good for the pocket book and the environment.* Plus I dig sixties looking olive and kelly green things: stoves, upholstery and apparently houses. Curious about what it’s like to live there, I e-mailed the National Park Service to request an interview and within days heard back from PORE Park Ranger Loretta Farley.  Here’s her reply:

DO NOT REPLY to this email, rather be sure to reply to

Dear Tate,

The 4 apartment complex near the Point Reyes Lighthouse was built by the Coast Guard in 1964 to a national plan they used at the time.  It is currently used primarily for temporary employees/seasonals due to its remote location; most of them turnover every 6 months or so.  We have staff who lived 8 years at the Chimney Rock house available?    If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us again at or check our website at

Thank you for your interest in Point Reyes National Seashore.


Loretta Farley

PORE Park Ranger

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.

Pretty cool huh? Very professional and awesome. What do you think?  I’d be very interested in hearing more about what it’s like to live in that type of environment, but as you know I’m very disciplined about adhering to design topics, so I wanted to run it by you first.

* Granted Home Depot may not do so well.

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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.

Exterior Design at Land’s End? (Special B.C. Post!) Thu, 18 Feb 2010 04:26:47 +0000

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy says Land’s End is “San Francisco’s wildest and rockiest coast, a place strewn with shipwrecks and rife with landslides.” Not to mention decorations. During my recent Land’s End hike, I spotted a labyrinth temporarily carved into the rocky coastal area and a beautiful assemblage of stones, nuts and feathers that looks like something Wilma Flintstone might covet (god rest her long dead soul).


But I’m not at all sure what they signify, nor how they should be classified. The latter arrangement isn’t exactly landscaping, but it’s not interior design either. Does putting together an arrangement of natural materials constitute art? Sure, but to what degree? Does it have religious significance? Possibly, but that doesn’t necessarily discount its aesthetic function. (Maybe it’s prehistoric religious kitsch!) How about exterior design? Maybe exterior design begat interior design while cave drawings began art. The day a visionary Cro-magnon first brought these assemblages inside the hut must have been terribly exciting after so many visually sparse years. Like making fire, texting or any other good idea, decorating went viral eventually, and after ten or twenty thousand years, people were probably sprucing up their huts all around the world. Of course I’m speculating.

I’ll bet many Cro-magnons collected rocks, and many Cro-magnons collected feathers, but only the most Berkus of Cro-magnons could pull them together.

Cro-Magnon from Encyclopedia Britannica

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If I Lived Here: Lombard Street (the crookedest street in SF) Wed, 17 Feb 2010 08:20:17 +0000

Google the word ‘crookedest’, and you’ll see that the top few auto-suggestions relate to Lombard Street in San Francisco. Fans of Real World 3: San Francisco (the last semi-decent season) may recall Lombard Street as the location of the cast home, although I can’t envision a scenario in which the affluent neighbors baked cookies for Puck and the gang. At least not after seeing how angry one of the owners became when a teenaged tourist inadvertently blocked his driveway, which delayed his homecoming by several seconds. The phrase “count your blessings” comes to mind, but that’s easy for me to say; maybe if I lived there and had to suffer throngs of clueless, camera-toting buffoons day after day, I’d  lobby to make it a gated community. But somehow I don’t think so. Living in a hilltop house with a view of the hills and the bay in a warm, sunny city like San Francisco would be quite a blessing. I’d like to think I’d be willing to share.

I never cared about views one way or another, but spending the past couple weeks in San Francisco may have changed my opinion. Wait until you see Marla and Cate’s views (future Open House), which are even more spectacular at night. How important are views when you choose a place to live?

I really love this house.

Reviewing these photos, I’ve already changed my mind. I’d be calling the SFPD every five minutes.

This tourist is even wearing a Union Square T-shirt. What a poser.

There’s literally no way to properly expose for my albino-like skin in such bright sunlight, so I apologize for this highly manipulated photo, more artist rendering than actual representation. Please also excuse the messy hair.

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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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This Week: The Other Shop (San Francisco) Thu, 11 Feb 2010 09:28:32 +0000

Located in San Francisco’s Western Addition / Lower Haight / NOPA neighborhood,  The Other Shop feels very much like it could be in Austin, Chicago or any other city.  Owls? (Check) Anatomy? (Check) Antlers? (Check) But like any good shop, The Other Shop has its own distinct character and energy, each booth contributing a different beat. Nonetheless, The Other Shop felt familiar, and fifteen minutes browsing the booths alleviated the mild homeless feeling I’d been nursing (no doubt the result of all that hiking). People handle homesickness in different ways. (1) Some people seek out familiarity in a corporate chain like Starbucks or Nordstrom. (2) Some people find people who share their passions and interests – their natural network. They channel their inner geek and visit the local comic shop or the yoga studio or the vintage furniture store. Each feels like home despite its distinct character and quirk. Or at least The Other Shop did. (3) Some people turn to drugs and alcohol. Having tried all three, two (2) is definitely the best choice, so  do yourself a favor and visit The Other Shop next time you’re in San Francisco.

The Other Shop. 327 Divisadero St. San Francisco. 415.621.5424

Just like the ones at Judy’s. $650 at The Other Shop.

I love this so much.