Thursday, December 24, 2009

Everything Old Is New Again…Christmas Shopping With My Mother

Me spending some quality time with Santa.
Everything old becomes new again at some point, isn’t that what they say? The memories, -they take you back to a time when Santa was the real deal. Often times, nostalgia gets hold of you and something inside yearns for the rebirth of an old favorite. The old City of Paris is now Neiman Marcus, but who’s to say that in 10 years, it wouldn’t make a comeback? Could we dream the same fate for the old I. Magnin which is now Ferragamo, etc., Joseph Magnin which is now Barneys, etc. etc., and the same for the original FAO Schwartz, the original Gump’s and… and a big one, the original lobby of the Westin St. Francis hotel before Barbara Barry came into town.
Union Square as it used to look. It's still the epicenter of shopping in San Francisco.

As I reflect on Christmas past, it seems that I can still recall in an instant the venture my mother and I took, every year during the Christmas holiday, when we made our annual jaunt on the train from the Peninsula to the City, specifically, to Union Square, for a big day of our annual Christmas shopping and “ladies lunch”. It was the early ‘60s when my mother wore a suit and heels, gloves and a hat to shop. She always insisted that I too done the gloves, albeit mine were white and not black kid. At that age of course, who knew it was how one dressed for a day in the big city; at the time I assumed they were meant to keep my hands clean for lunch. I still remember.
The stained glass dome from the City of Paris store, now a part of Neiman Marcus.

My mother always knew how I loved an adventure. Even then she would play right along with me, from the moment I awoke on the particular day. She would have laid out my clothes, prepared a special breakfast for she and I, and then we would set out on the train. I would beg her to tell me the schedule aloud, count by count, even days before. After arriving at the train station, we cabbed it to Market Street where always made a stop at the old Sees Candies where I was rewarded for my good behavior with a chocolate sample, handed to me from one of the ladies in white who dispersed them from her basket. The next stop was always City of Paris. For those of you old enough to remember it, it was all about the TREE. Five floors tall, at least, and it rose up to the glass domed top of the store, each floor cylindrically set. The tree was like a rocket at Cape Canaveral. The ornaments were huge, the size of basketballs, and as a child it seems like everything is real. You could stand on the top floor and look down. It was scary and fabulous all at the same time. I still remember.
A vintage shot of the Christmas tree in the City of Paris San Francisco store.

I. Magnin was always beautiful too, the true jewel in the crown on Union Square. I especially loved the boxes; even at the age of 6 - metallic gold and pale pink striped, with pale pink satin ribbons. I always felt like a princess when I walked in onto the white marble floors through the Cosmetics Department to the elevators and the mirrored walls where glass shelves hung laden with bottles and bottles of perfume. I still remember. It was at I. Magnin where we made a point of visiting the Ladies Room to freshen up before lunch. Mother let me know it was the most fabulous ladies room on the Square, with its’ dark green marble and enclosed stalls. I felt like I was in a bank. How fun was that? I still remember.
I. Magnin, a former San Francisco institution.

The next stop would be Joseph Magnin, the hip “other store” belonging to the Magnin family. Mother bought loads of things here; I mean how many mothers had paper dresses hanging in their closets? They always had a great gift department on the first floor and the huge ceramic cupcake cookie jar still has a spot on Dad’s kitchen counter. Their gift boxes were great too, but the design changed every year, the most fabulous one being the pink and maroon diamonds. I still have one.

It would be about Noon or 1ish now and we were usually famished and made the traditional stop at the little café in between the Magnins – can’t remember the name. All I remember is that the ladies wore starched pink dresses and little hats, the walls were mirrored, and it was the size of a shoebox. It was like a magic jewel box and we were crammed in there like sardines. The specialty was creamed spinach in a bowl or a sliced egg sandwich. At that age I had the egg sandwich; the creamed spinach was just not in my repertoire. I was thrilled to take a “tray” in the serve yourself line. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. I still remember.
A vintage poster of a San Francisco flower vendor in Union Square.

After lunch was Gump’s, but the first order of business was always the flower cart at the store’s entrance where my mother ALWAYS bought me my Christmas corsage – either a small bouquet of violets or a single gardenia. It was one of the highlights. As I have come to know, Harold Hoogasion’s dad owned that cart. He was probably the man who pinned that gardenia onto my lapel. I took very good care of that flower well into the night, gingerly removing it before going to bed and putting it in a glass of water next to my bed. I still do that at Christmas. I buy a gardenia and pin it to my collar. I still remember.
Gump's, always a must for shopping in Union Square.

Gump’s meant shopping for presents for my grandparents, aunties and cousins. It was always something small enough so that mailing it wasn’t too difficult. Shopping there was a joy too as I would absorb myself in the stationery department, enamored with sealing wax and seals. I thought that was the greatest thing ever. I have a collection of seals and waxes to this day. I still remember.
The dome from the old Emporium store, now a part of a shopping mall.

At four-thirty we headed for the lobby of the St. Francis Hotel to meet my father (now the Westin St. Francis). Of course as soon as we entered, we headed immediately for the ladies room, again, another vault, ensconced in marble and matrons where once again we “freshened up” and were finally allowed to “remove” the gloves. We took a seat in the lobby as we waited for Dad. We had cocktails there in the lobby; mine of course was a Shirley Temple, then it was off to see Santa. Macy’s was the venue of choice for Santa, or sometimes even the Emporium. Macy’s had a great Santa, but Emporium had the Ferris wheel on the roof. Of course Santa was the big event of the evening with me telling Mr. Claus why I had been such a good girl and why I really deserved that bicycle. Don’t we all have a picture of ourselves sitting on Santa’s lap? I still remember.
The rooftop of the old Emporium store with rides.

Tradition had it that Japanese was the cuisine du jour; basically because it was my night and that was my favorite; and not because of the food but because I thought it was terrific that you could sit on the floor, take off your shoes, and have dinner. I still remember.
The Ashfield famiy at dinner.

After dinner meant Christmas lights and we ended our big adventure every year with a drive around the city to see the lights. I still remember.

I’m well into my life now, and my mother is not with us anymore. And every year at this time, when I’m at Union Square, I still remember the Christmas shopping with my mother. It’s a favorite memory, and therein lies the magic of Christmas for me. Timeless.

Barbara Ashfield

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another Spark of Inspiration!

Recently we had the pleasure of having coffee with Scot Meacham Wood, one of our fellow local bloggers. We reminisced about our multiple sources of inspiration and what we get inspired about to write for our blog and in our design work. This prompted him to write about the sometimes elusive single inspiration photo, which can catapult one’s creativity into action.

After reading Scot’s piece we thought we would challenge ourselves to find a ”spark” photo of our own. Of course this is like asking a grandmother who is her favorite grandchild, but here are two that spoke to us with most immediacy:


The personification of quiet color...The incomperable John Stephanidis.

“John Stefanidis has been a basis for my inspiration since the early 90's when I first became enamored with his work. For me, he captures simple beauty, foreign intrigue and quiet color. I've cheated on him a couple of times, falling in design love with someone new and fresh, but I always return to John. He is my true north in interior design.”
Barbara Ashfield


Elegance with youth and relevance. A wonderful room by Vicente Wolf.

“I favor an aesthetic that has a sense of cleanliness and modernity. Besides this, what makes a room really special is that it respects and references the past. Vicente Wolf’s work speaks to me for this reason. He has an amazing use of color, and what I like about this room in particular is that he has the confidence to dispense with the window coverings and rug, something most designers rely upon as design elements.”
David Hansen

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SF’s DINING BY DESIGN 2009: Two Perspectives

Barbara’s take:
It’s hard to believe a year has gone by since the last Dining By Design. It’s an event that I really enjoy, both as a participant and as a guest.

Patrice Cowan Bevan's table in the McRae showroom.

Given that we most probably would post on this event, David and I made the decision beforehand that we would each look for trends among tables. David, being more of a modernist, and I, more of the traditionalist, surveyed the environs and came up with our own conclusions. My mood was more somber this year and I decided to focus on the overall ambience. Right off the bat, I thought this year’s event was quieter than in the past, perhaps because we as a society have become quieter; more humble, more thoughtful, more grateful for what we have. This is not to say that it was less in pizzazz than years past; truth be told I thought it was a tad more elegant.
The table done by designer GIl Mendez with Murray's Ironworks and Anthem.

There were 30 tables rather than 50, and with that, I felt that I had more emotional space to take in and appreciate each designer’s vision and message. There were enough tables to captivate me but not so many as to suffocate and overwhelm my senses. There was more room to mingle, the hors d’oeuvres were more plentiful, and the crowd more mellow. I actually had enough personal space to engage in conversation with friends and colleagues who had designed tables I admired. Given that, my rave reviews go to Gil Mendez, Patrice Cowan-Bevans, Joel Robare and The Art & Antiques Exchange. Each designer’s table was entirely different, ranging in scope with themes heralded from India to Santa Fe, from merry old England to Indochine.
A simply elegant Asian themed table by Antiques and Art Exchange.

An environment evoking Armistead Maupin's "Tales of The City" designed by Joel Robare with Hartle Media.
In essence, I had a wonderful evening, fully engaged in the design, among friends and colleagues, all of us absorbed in the creativity that we share.
Barbara Ashfield
Pink peonies atop a Circus themed table by the San Francisco Design Center.

Colorful plastic buckets used as lighting in the national table by Kravet.

David’s take:
Our work for Dining by Design this year had been done mostly behind the scenes. We worked closely with the steering committee on producing gift bags worthy of praise and a silent auction which, for the first time would last two nights rather than one. Not having much exposure to the creative side of DBD, when the event was finally upon us, we were able to see all the creativity, drama and exuberance for the first time.

Detail of the table done by Patrice Cowan Bevans in the McRae showroom.

Obviously, the economy has not been as favorable as in years past, resulting in a few less tables; however this did not seem to diminish the quality of the table environments in the least, which I think were stronger than ever. I do think economic factors may have consciously or unconsciously affected many of the table’s themes. This is not a bad thing. I am happy to think that the design industry, and we as a society might be moving back toward a more gracious and formal time where design is not disposable and instantaneous. Having said this, I think two trends which were evident at this year’s event were Restraint and Optimism.

A subdued table done by Jute.
Table detail done by Karmen Ng of Cantilever Design with flowers in PVC pipe.

I noted that at many of the tables there was a return to a simple elegance, rather than relying on “over the top” devices. I read this as restraint, which speaking as a designer isn’t always easy when you are designing for an event like Dining by Design. Many tables traditionally are designed to say ”LOOK AT ME!” These tables exhibited muted rather than vibrant tones and incorporated traditional details which will always be beautiful and chic. Sometimes you don’t need to be knocked over you just want something really beautiful to look at. This is especially apropos considering they are ultimately dining environments.
Urban Picnic by RJF International, The Puccini Group and Evans and Brown Murals and wall coverings.
A study in Fuschia designed by Robert Fung for Hartmann Studios.

Many tables had an amazing and vibrant use of color, which I read as optimism. It’s hard to feel down when you’re looking at a beautiful tableau full of color. I noticed that tones of Fuchsia and Hot Pink were particularly in evidence. I felt these colorful bastions were saying “it’s all going to be all right!”

Gensler's installation which used words to express Dining by Design's cause.

Some optimism came through in the form of empowering words, as in the table by Gensler which celebrated the cause Dining by Design was created for.

David Hansen