Interviews

Design Hospitality at Placewares

Shev Rush and Kevin Lane took over Placewares from founders Maynard and Lu Lyndon in early 2016. I was asked to write about the store for the Sea Ranch publication, Soundings (you can find the article here). I thought that folks interested in design and hospitality might enjoy my conversation with the owners.

 

Q: What did you do before you moved to Sea Ranch?

Shev Rush: Kevin and I have been in marketing our whole careers. I have my own PR agency, and Kevin has worked as an advertising executive for 20 years.

 

Q: You seem to collect houses.

SR: The Hines House by Bill Turnbull is our second home here at the Sea Ranch. Our first was an Obie Bowman design, one of his first houses he did after the walk-in cabins. It was called the Picetti House. We made the mistake of going to look at houses just for fun when we were up here renting. We had a very long list of what a house would have to have for us to consider it. The Picetti House had all of them. We didn’t know if we would spend a lot of time at Sea Ranch or put the house on a rental program. We started spending as much time here as we could.

Kevin Lane: We were working from home.

 

Q: How did you discover this community?

SR: I moved to SF in 1993, and I had the good fortune of meeting a Bay Area native who had grown up going to Sea Ranch. When the friend invited me up, I didn’t know what it was. I fell in love with the place. When Kevin and I met in 1997, our first out-of-town trip together was to Sea Ranch. It’s been part of our lives ever since.

 

Q: How did you become design fanatics?

KL: Shev and I both have a shared story from our teenage years. Our high school career guidance counselors—Shev’s in South Carolina and mine in Kansas—told us that we were not good enough in math to be architects. So we found other careers. Then we got into restoring modern houses. That channeled our passion.

 

Q: Who are some of your design influences?

KL: I grew up in Kansas City, which has a lot of civic pride and philanthropy. My interest in design was inspired by the spaces I saw as a kid. Hall’s department store was designed by Paul László. Warren Platner designed the American Restaurant at Crown Center. I.M. Pei and others were involved in the design of Crown Center itself. Alexander Girard designed the corporate apartment for Hallmark. Bonwit Teller was streamline moderne. Kansas City had a lot of beautiful spaces and design, and that made a difference. That’s where part of my inspiration came from. I started playing with that interest—with Matchbox cars and building little cities. My parents had a large basement. That imaginary city grew to 500 square feet. I would scour magazines, books, house plans, and recreate these things.

SR: I grew up in South Carolina. One whole branch of my family lived in Florida, where we would visit them every summer. There was a lot of midcentury resort architecture. The earliest design memory I have is the Contemporary Resort in Disney World, which was designed by Welton Becket. There was a multistory mural that ran from the floor to the ceiling, done by Mary Blair. The monorail went through the lobby. I have a real fondness for formed concrete and tile mosaics. Over the years, we have restored two homes by Donald Wexler, one of the steel houses in Palm Springs and another house that had been remodeled beyond recognition. Don also designed the room modules for the Contemporary Tower at the Contemporary Resort. I believe he got that work as a result of doing the steel houses. They are like modular pods that were slipped into this superstructure.

KL: It was Don’s steel houses that brought us to Southern California. The previous owner had demolished the interiors, and we restored them. We were lucky enough to have the artist Jim Isermann for our neighbor. We were able to use his restoration of a Wexler steel house as a roadmap for ours.

 

Q: Do you have a favorite building or place that you have visited?

SR: One of mine is Maison Louis Carré designed by Alvar Aalto. It’s 90 minutes outside Paris and was designed for Alexander Calder’s art dealer as a weekend house and art gallery. I would live there!

KL: You have to experience this house. There is so much connection with the Hines House. I think Turnbull was influenced by the massing and the stairs.

 

Q: Tell me about the transition from all these other interests to owning Placewares.

KL: Shev and I had been thinking about how we channel all our personal interests, design architecture, traveling. We visit hardware stores, pharmacies, flea markets, and vintage shops wherever we go. We love the hunt of finding great beautiful things, old or new. We wanted to combine these personal interests into a professional idea. That felt a lot like Placewares. We thought about approaching the Lyndons to buy Placewares. It just so happened that the realtor they were using for the sale of Placewares was the one we used at Sea Ranch. It wasn’t the most opportune time for us. We had just bought the Hines house and had not yet moved in. Our house in Pasadena was in escrow.

SR: Our Pasadena house is by Ladd & Kelsey. It was John Kelsey’s own house, built in 1962. We got very lucky with finding the house. We had a bunch of things we couldn’t say no to. They all required a lot of attention and care. It was crazy.

 

Q: How have you changed Placewares?

KL: At first, we changed nothing. We spent a year apprenticing with Maynard and Lu before ownership transferred. We walked trade shows with them and watched carefully. As we got our footing, we introduced some new things.

SR: Some were things we found on our travels. Some were things we liked and used ourselves and added to the shop. It’s been gratifying to have a great reaction to the things we’ve found. We’ve kept what makes Placewares.

 

Q: There seems to be a strong connection to Ben Thompson’s store, Design Research, where Maynard and Lu both worked.

KL: The D/R book by Alexandra Lange that we carry was a big inspiration. We’ve read a lot about it. As a kid, I remember the early Crate and Barrels. I felt like I was walking into an experience. Like D/R, it wasn’t just about the product. It wasn’t just about sales. You felt part of a conversation, part of a community. We were introduced to Ristomatti Ratia, the son of Marimekko founder Armi Ratia. Ristomatti was also Marimekko’s creative director for years. We met him for dinner during crawfish season in Helsinki. Through the course of that first dinner, we found out that Bill Turnbull had been close friends with Armi Ratia. Ristomatti met Bill through her and then came to SF to work in Bill’s practice. He styled the Hines House photo shoot with Morley Baer. Another link to Placewares and Sea Ranch.

 

Q: What changes are in store in the future?

SR: We worked with Jim Isermann to design a series of products that we could present in a show of his work. We had a big event over Thanksgiving. That was the first of some planned artist collaborations. Through the power of social media, there have been a number of inquiries about wholesaling his work, and right now we have eight stores that will be carrying those products. We are doing some gallery shows, but more centered around design. Maynard and Lu’s last show was called Enduring Design. It was based on their decades in the design world. We want to do something in that vein. We are introducing a new lighting department. Over July Fourth, we are going to launch Design Finds 2017. It is basically a collection of things we’ve loved and things we’ve found on our travels. In the past year, we’ve been to Santa Fe, Mérida, Italy, and Maine, and at the end of the year, we are planning on doing a show around the Sea Ranch and the Sea Ranch aesthetic.

 

Q: What about the online business? Is that a different beast?

KL: The website launched early last fall. We have almost every product in the Gualala store online. We probably underestimated how much it would take to get 1,200 items online. An online store is really essential. Traffic on the coast is affected by weather and can be irregular. We want Placewares to be a successful online store for part-timers or people who know of the brand and look forward to new products. All of this helps our store to have a more regular flow and energy.

SR: We did a show in October called Made in Japan. We had planned a trip with some friends to Japan. While we were there, we found a goldmine of great stuff we could introduce. We came back with eight suitcases full of stuff. We had the makings of a Made in Japan show. We sold everything we brought in the suitcase, and many of the items became permanently available in the shop.

KL: The food items continue to work. There is a seasonal flow to some of the categories. We celebrate food in the context of the season and the holidays.

 

Q: How are you splitting your time?

SR: We try to be up at the Sea Ranch every three weeks. It will change. Because of our traveling, we are constantly being exposed to new things that we want to incorporate. We went to visit a friend in Gloucester, Massachusetts, for a long weekend. We had never spent time in that part of the country. We found all kinds of shops and different ideas. Maynard and Lu also traveled and had fresh inventory from those journeys.

 

Q: What about other ways of communicating with your followers?

SR: We are always interested in expanding the Placewares experience. We hope to do more with our blog. The first year was about stewardship. We didn’t want to take Placewares in a direction that might be in opposition to its DNA. Maynard and Lu built something special with Placewares. It has an unusual place in the design world and the retail world. Then there was getting the webstore up and working. We have been Instagramming every day. We’ve been posting images of our travels.

KL: The core idea remains the same, but there are other ways to bring the Placewares experience to new audiences. That’s what we do in the shop: create experiences. The most rewarding thing is the connections. Placewares is like a home, and the guiding idea is to welcome the guest with beauty.

 

All photographs courtesy Placewares.

 

For more information:

www.placewares.com

www.kennethcaldwell.com/placewares-a-big-well-designed-circle/

 

Posted Saturday, July 1st, 2017 | Interviews
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