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The New Gatekeepers of Old Stuff

Lauren Murrow | April 23, 2014 | Story Interiors

Buying furniture new is easy. But for a growing band of Bay Area vintage store sifters, it’s also joyless. It’s not enough to simply pick out a coffee table or clock that adequately fits your space. It’s about the thrill of the hunt, the prospect of a deal, and the backstory—and bragging rights—behind it. The call of this scavenger society has been answered by a wave of vintage furnishing stores that have opened in the past year, joining old standbys like Montclair Estates, Aria, and the Perish Trust. Meet the new guard of housewarmers: a kindred crew of scroungers, road trippers, hoarders, and former Twitter employees.

Like Miu Miu for Your Living Room
Spacepop: 1645 San Pablo Ave. (near Virginia St.), Berkeley, 510-545-9767
The Look: Co-owners Jack Mueller and Czelena Carter find the unrelenting mid-century modern trend a little... snoozy. In contrast, their store’s decor hits you like a slap in the face: all Day-Glo hues and geometric prints. A three-foot-long Swatch watch keeps the time, and a Patrick Nagel beauty smolders from the back wall.
Backstory: Mueller claims that vintage collecting is in his blood—as a kid growing up in Cleveland, he was schlepped along to estate sales by his interior designer mother. These days, his taste skews more Milanese than Midwestern, largely inspired by the Memphis group, a postmodern Italian design collective in the ’80s.
Go For: Electric-blue dining chairs ($500 for two), an Eero Aarnio–style Ball armchair ($700), and framed posters by Andy Warhol, Peter Max, and Keith Haring ($145 to $2,800).
Coming Up: Mueller is jetting to Italy to replenish the stash this month, and in June he’ll open Pop Collective next door (1649 San Pablo Ave.), joined by a handful of other color-happy collectors.

Betty Draper Does Paris
Electric Blanket: 3075 17th St. (near Folsom St.), 415-654-5218
The Look: Owner Jillian West is a next-level upcycler. She built the store’s giant, rustic central table from reclaimed barn wood and antique table legs. The bar is made of old speakers that she covered in wood, collaged, and painted. Her records are shelved in a retro refrigerator, and the coffee bar is a former hair salon stand.
Backstory: Late last year, West did the unthinkable: She quit her cushy job as a brand manager at Twitter to enter the uncertain business of retail. She started out dealing in vintage frocks, but after the 10th inquiry about her antique glassware, she branched into home decor last month.
Go For: a full spectrum of glass dishes, goblets, and vessels—souvenirs from West’s travels through Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. Her collage art, on display in the connected gallery, is composed of vintage books, magazines, fabric, stamps, and sewing patterns.

Grandma’s Attic with a Twist
Lost & Found:
5357 College Ave. (near Hudson St.), 510-858-5011
The Look: Furnishings are grouped into sections for the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room, giving the effect of shopping a tasteful stranger’s highly covetable home.
Backstory: As a trio of shop owners with day jobs, Alison McLennan, Brooke Livingston, and Erik Whitaker divide and conquer. Whitaker, a gerontologist by day, is an estate sale junkie and the store’s resident collector, while Livingston, an interior designer, creates the shop’s Anthology-worthy vignettes.
Go For: Dining room tables ($300 to $400), mid-century armchairs (from $200), and dressers (from $250). McLennan is a furniture maker and deft retrofitter: She’s been known to turn an old space heater into a desk lamp and a 1930s radio cabinet into the ideal bar.

Dad’s Garage, Circa 1950
Mixed Nuts: 3243 Balboa St. (near 34th Ave.), 415-633-6887 227 and Fell St. (near Franklin St.)
The Look: Owners Brandon Clark, Anthony Williamson, and Jon Rolston have the Mixed Nuts archetype down cold. “A garage tinkerer who appreciates design,” says Clark. “The kind of guy with handmade toolboxes and Mason jars full of nuts and bolts.”
Backstory: Clark started rescuing vintage finds from the landfill while working for Hauler, Rolston’s hauling business. The pair opened their original shop on an unlikely strip of Balboa, where their best sources tend to be longtime locals who seek them out. (In particular, the older residents of the outer Richmond and Sunset seem rather charmed.) This spring, the guys opened a second, smaller location in Hayes Valley.
Go For: Furniture and masculine ephemera from the ’30s to the ’60s: industrial lighting, luggage, aluminum signage, coffee tables, toolboxes, and stools. But the specialty here is Eames chairs (from $200); one wall of the Balboa shop is lined with them, floor to ceiling.
Coming up: A scouting trip through Michigan, where Charles Eames himself went to college.

Triaged Treasures
Neighbor: 4200 Piedmont Ave. (near Ridgeway Ave.), Oakland, 510-594-2288
The Look: “‘Is this too weird?’ might as well be our catchphrase,” says Dana Olson, who shares the store with Karen Anderson. “We try to temper the kitsch, but sometimes we can’t help it.” They gravitate toward things that are clearly handmade.
Backstory: Olson also owns nearby accessories boutique good Stock (4198 Piedmont Ave., near Ridgeway Ave., Oakland, 510-653- 8518), and Anderson runs vintage clothing store Mercy Vintage (4188 Piedmont Ave., near Linda Ave., Oakland, 510-654-5599).
Go For: Though the period references are all over the map—American primitive (hand-dyed rugs, $235), Victorian (ornate rocking chairs, from $100), mid-century modern (Eames office chair, $600), ’70s craft revival (colorful blankets, from $45)—the pair integrate them into a curated effect, not unlike those with a talent for turning Goodwill discards into enviable outfits. The furniture is rare—you’re here for gems, not bargains—and in pristine condition

Disco Kitsch
Schatzi: 791 Valencia St. (near 19th St.), 415-962-7884
The Look: Despite being confined to a closet-size space, Schatzi’s chrome, brass, and bronze furnishings ooze bygone glamour. It’s an aesthetic that co-owners Kelvin Swanson and Charles Register refer to as Schatzi style: “A little tasteful, a little tawdry,” says Swanson, who papered one wall of his own apartment in Dolly Parton portraiture.
Backstory: Much of the collection is gathered on road trips to Swanson’s and Register’s hometowns in Iowa and Alabama. (Swanson once strapped a taxidermied peacock into his passenger seat and drove it from Iowa to California.)
Go For: Neon signage (one reads “lockers,” $500), a silver leather Jerry Johnson lounger ($800)—“Very Ziggy Stardust,” quips Swanson—statement lighting (from $75), and a tabletop menagerie of brass and ceramic animals. Due to the close quarters—20 by 12 feet—the focus here is on carry-out accents rather than larger furniture.

Danish Design Meets Americana
Carousel Consignment:
2391 Mission St. (near 20th St.), 415-821-9848
The Look: That swanky, old-timey style that Mission bars feverishly attempt to replicate: tin ceilings, fleur-de-lis paneling, and reclaimed-wood shelving.
Backstory: Running a consignment shop in the heart of the Mission, co-owners Illy McMahan and Kelley Wehman give the neighborhood what it wants: apartment-size mid-century modern furniture and retro barware. “If it’s tall and skinny, it sells,” jokes McMahan. The duo scout their own industrial-era finds from small towns across California and Texas to supplement their regular consignments.
Go For: Sturdily built, subtly worn furniture—“The Danish originals that Ikea tries to rip off,” as they put it—as well as architectural salvage. It’s not all corner coffee tables and shabbified dressers. The haul also includes vintage medical carts and bar carts (from $95), library card catalogs (from $40), and anatomy posters, maps, and taxidermy (from $125).

Read more:
The New Gatekeepers of Old Stuff
Battle of the Bar Carts
10 Tips From Professional Scavengers
Who's Got Time to DIY?

Originally published in the May Issue of San Francisco

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