SR: What percent of your customers are local?
DP: That’s a good question. We’ve been getting a lot of press from, well, we were just in Azure last month, so we’ve been getting lots of requests from Canada. New York, Boston — still primarily it’s local, 70-80% local, 20-30% outside.
SR: Is everything by local designers here?
DP: Yes. Oh, actually, the bowls, I’m not sure who’s designing those bowls, but Lian’s selling them. He might be designing them, he might be getting them in Asia.
We’re going to redesign. I’m going to build some big cubes, kind of fetishize everything by putting it in cases or kind of enclosing it, because I want the feeling of the store to be, when people come in I don’t want them to say, “Oh, you have nice products,” I want them to feel like they want to live here or they want a part of it. And then they can see all the products for sure, but it?s not about having a stack of placemats. I’d rather have two placemats out, and have a stack somewhere else where people can see them. The goal is to be the most beautiful store in San Francisco. And I think we can do it, it’s just a matter of making a good effort at it, a conscious effort. Before we had handbags and furniture and that was much more sparse. So now it’s perfect, Lian?s stuff is perfect, it really complements the furniture, makes it feel like it’s more of a home, not just a showroom.
We will be opening a store in the spring of 2006 that?s 1,000-sq-ft, 1,500-sq-ft, So I always saw this space that we have now as a stepping stone.
SR: From my perspective, and a lot of what I look at is on the internet, the aesthetic that you have resembles a lot more of what’s going on in Brooklyn. There are a lot of designers doing small, unique pieces, modernist, lots of mixing wood and metal, a lot of scrap wood.
DP: Yeah, that’s the thing, the trick is you want to offer a lot of different things, but then there’s also this element that you have to have volume to really make it. And where do you get that volume? Can you do volume through a lot of different products in one store or a couple of stores, or do you have to do that one thing that’s going to flood the marketplace?
SR: It’s definitely a hotbed.
DP: When I was in Brooklyn, I started seeing lots of stores. Futureperfect is probably the best example repping a lot of local designers. But it seems like there are little stores popping up, too. I’m trying to figure out if they are manufacturers that make stuff and then open a store, too, or if they’re just kind of little boutique-type stores that really like design, like Futureperfect or Propeller, but don’t really make anything. And that’s where I wonder “Does that set us apart or not?” I think in some regards it does, like when I’m here I can talk to the customers. I can make them realize that, “Oh, I don’t have to just buy what I see, there are more possibilities here and I can talk to the designer about it right here.”
SR: Well I think that concept in all areas of design, not just furniture, is really the thing right now, being able to design your own piece. Like modular houses ? the whole idea is you can have it as big, as small, as tall, as wide, glass walls, built-in fireplace, everything. Same with t-shirts. You can customize them. You have to realize that there are no limits to the options you have to make something truly unique, and it’s hard to have a customer understand that when they look at what?s on the showroom floor and they believe that?s all there is.
DP: Well that’s a good point, and this goes back to a bigger, deep-seated problem in our world. I was working with a bunch of other architects teaching kids about architecture at Zeum. And you know the kids would come in and they’d make these models and we’d talk to them about model making and building and all that stuff, kids 3-years-old to say 15. And their parents would come in, and they would be bored and they’d start making things, too. And we’d ask the kids, “So what?s this thing here doing?” and they’d say, “Oh that’s a secret slot that comes out of the back door and that’s where I keep all my costumes.” And then we’d ask the parents and they’d say, “Well, I’m not really sure why I did that, I just kind of threw that on there.”
It’s like we’re too caught up in the idea that somebody’s going to judge us because there are all these professional aesthetes out there that are trained in it. But it’s all relative. I mean, there’s not a good and a bad. There’s certainly principles of design that can be followed that may make things better, but you see all the stuff that’s sold out in the world, and there’s no doubt that people should be trying their hand at designing more. I just heard a thing on the radio today about a guy who?s an artist, and he was going into classrooms and saw these kindergarteners, and he says to them, “I feel really at home here with all this art on the walls. Who here is an artist?” And all the kids are raising their hands and wiggling their fingers; and it correlated as he went up through the grades that less and less students identified as being artists, or as being creative. You know, as you get older, you stop identifying with that.
There’s a guy who came in who wanted a headboard with the sun and the moon. And right off the bat, to me, that seems kind of hokey. You know, I’m not sure how to weave that in, but there’s some way; maybe take it out of focus or maybe make it black and white, or a really different sun and moon, or close-ups of the sun and moon could be interesting – texture more so. But that idea, getting an idea from someone and abstracting it, you know, and helping people feel confident. Because that’s what fashion is in a lot of ways. Anything you wear, if you wear it with confidence, you are in fashion. Look at haute couture. I mean art history is based on perception; people write volumes about personal perception. It’s all relative. There is technique to furniture or graphics, but it’s very relative.
A lot of my stuff is — I mean it should be pretty obvious that it can be customizable. The size, the color; I mean, we won’t build a 17th century overstuffed chair, but we can do variations on a theme. People don’t realize what’s available. Like we just did a whole architect’s office for less than it would have cost them to have Room & Board. And it was custom! It was exactly the size they wanted. And nobody else has those tables that they have. Communicating that to people is a challenge. Sure, you might have to wait 4-6 weeks, sometimes 2-4; there’s a little more back and forth, you don’t just go in and order something, but it’s not super long. I’m convinced that we have something. We just have to keep paying the bills till it clicks, you know?
SR: Well anything that’s hot now had a time when people said, “Oh that’s never going to catch on.” I feel like the customizing thing grew out of the over-saturation of sameness.
DP: You get an idea and you keep to it; you know it’s going to happen. I’m starting to feel that way with some of my stuff. Like these natural pieces. To powder-coat or plastic wrap it in a high-gloss red or blue takes a natural shape and makes it man-made. Those, or the printed stuff , that gets to a point where you feel like it’s going to happen; I’m excited about it, it’s just a matter of getting it to that point.
It’s hard to keep a business going. The challenge of the day-to-day is significant, and to find the wherewithal to do it is hard. You get bogged down with shipping, organization. The good thing about having a store is you get direct feedback. I mean certainly with retailers you get feedback, but they get a little piece of us in some ways, because they represent our stuff, and they hear the feedback from the customers. I do need feedback.