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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Experiencing a Legendary Space

The classic shot of the Firehouse with vintage engine.
The main room on the ground floor upon walking in the front door. This shot taken from the Sotheby's web site.
Back on November the 12th I attended a program by the ICA (Institute of Classical Architecture) at the former home of the late great decorator John Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson has always been an icon of mine, and this was an opportunity I wouldn’t pass up. The location was the now famous “Firehouse” (a former firehouse from 1893 transformed into a residence) that was owned by the now legendary San Francisco designer. Mr. Dickinson is probably best known for his lively furniture that featured animal legs which are now highly prized, as well as his astute use of materials.
John Dickinson's most famous furniture piece, the three legged plaster stool. This image taken from the Antiques & Art Exchange web site.
An animal skin rug in an upstairs bedroom next to a three legged table.

The Firehouse is currently owned by Mr. John Traina who is somewhat of a local luminary, and the property is currently on the market through Sotheby’s. Mr. Traina’s extensive collections of art, curiosities and over–the-top furniture seem to pay homage to the roots of the Firehouse’s design-rich past.

The walls containing the spiral staircase had art hung so that you were always looking at something on your way up or down.
The grand Mahogany bookcase in the main room of the upper floor that used to be the fireman's dormitory.

The main room of the upper floor with the wonderful chromed fireplace from when John Dickinson was in residence.

After a wonderful social hour where attendees were encouraged to explore around the public spaces, there was a brief and intimate talk given by Diane Dorrans Saeks of the Style Saloniste. Diane was a close friend of Mr. Dickinson and has written intimately about him, some of which can be read here. Diane spoke of Mr. Dickinson’s ethos of design and how his style related to that of his local contemporaries, namely the late great Michael Taylor.

The crowd at the event prior to the talk by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

What is most interesting is that Ms. Saeks also went on to talk about how she has attempted to have a book published on the subject of Mr. Dickinson. The subject of the book is how she originally came to know him and would visit him on Sundays as they shared their passion for design. One of the first responses from a publisher Diane received was “We wouldn’t do a book on a dead decorator”. This was several years ago, and I think the attitude has clearly changed in this regard. I for one revel in the idea of reading more intimately about a design great, but the future will tell if it was meant to be.

An office off the main room which housed a wonderful reproduction William Switzer desk, and was painted the most beautiful red.

It was a treat to get to see this legendary space first hand and connect to one of the origins of San Francisco’s interior design heritage.

You can visit the Sotheby’s web site specific to the property here.

David Hansen

Monday, November 23, 2009

We Give Thanks Indeed!

Considering that Thanksgiving is this week (how did that happen?) We realize that this year we have a lot to be thankful for. Thankful for family, friends, our health, and all those beautiful things we get to see throughout the year. These are the same things we are always thankful for, but this holiday allows us to express these feelings outwardly, and with a full heart.

An early version of the beloved tradition of the Thanksgiving feast.

To the two of us the holidays are always about good food. Old traditional dishes made for generations and new dishes that are yet untested make up the landscape of our holiday celebrations.

Here are our two takes on the ultimate culinary holiday:

The inspiration for this year's Thanksgiving.


“Food is not a metaphor for life, it is life, and eating is an art, and often the place and time help make a food what it becomes, even more than the food itself.”

MFK Fisher's "Consider The Oyster".

Many of you may be familiar with the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher, and I am always quick to recall her book Consider the Oyster when the holidays are upon us; more specifically, as I am directed to prepare the great side dish of scalloped oysters for my father at the royal meal. Ms. Fisher’s book is filled with descriptions and recipes of “everything oyster”.

The incomperable James Beard.

However, that being said, this year I’m going to venture into the unknown and take a stab at James Beard’s version of same in his book American Cookery. And as I prepare his recipe for scalloped oysters, I will remember those mornings back in the late 1970’s when, right out of college and on my way to work, I would spot him taking his “morning constitutional” down California Street in San Francisco.

James Beard's American Cookery Cookbook.

James Beard’s Scalloped Oysters

1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1-1 ½ c freshly rolled cracker crumbs
1 ½ pints oysters
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Butter a 1-½ quart baking dish and cover with a layer of cracker crumbs. Add a layer of half the oysters and another of cracker crumbs. Dot with butter and add seasonings. Make another layer of oysters and another layer of cracker crumbs. Dot again with butter and add seasonings. Pour the liquids over the top. Finally sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake 25 min at 400 degrees.

Barbara Ashfield


Even though I don’t like the term, I do consider myself a “Foodie” (I actually prefer the term “Gourmand” but it sounds a bit haughty). I get excited by the likes of truffles from the ground, lardo and local artisanal cheeses. We are fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay area, as some would call it a “Gourmand’s heaven”! If there is amazing food to be had, we can find it here!

When a traditional turkey is not a traditional turkey.

Because Thanksgiving has become, in my opinion a giant cliché with regard to food, I prefer to make variations on traditional dishes rather than having staunch tradition dictate my offering.

The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichel.

This year I have committed to making stuffing. I did my usual perusal of and found a wonderful recipe for Cornbread and Chorizo stuffing. This was the perfect choice because it’s still stuffing, but not the same old same old. This particular recipe came from Gourmet Magazine (May they Rest In Peace)…Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

A twist on tradition. Cornbread and Chorizo stuffing.

Corn-Bread and Chorizo Stuffing
From Gourmet Magazine 2008 by Lillian Chou

Skillet Corn Bread
1/4 pound Spanish chorizo (cured spiced pork sausage), casing removed and sausage chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
4 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F with racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish.
Crumble corn bread into 1/2-inch pieces, spreading out in 1 layer in 2 large 4-sided sheet pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, until dry, about 20 minutes. Cool completely and transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, cook chorizo in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onions, celery, garlic, oregano, and 1 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add to corn bread.
Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over stuffing and toss well. Transfer to baking dish and cover tightly with buttered foil. Bake in upper third of oven 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more.

David Hansen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Local Treasure Part 3: What's a Designer To Do?

The season for a flurry of wonderful events, exhibitions and generally colorful activities has arrived here in San Francisco. It’s difficult to do it all, but we’re going to have a go at it. Borrowing an idea from Heather at Habitually Chic, we thought we would devote a post to some local happenings that will be upon us shortly. We hope all you locals will join us, and for those of you who can’t, we will report back on a few of the festivities here in our little corner of the blogosphere. Enjoy!

Through November 29, 2009
Richard Avedon
Photographs 1946 - 2004

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street (between Mission & Howard)

November 15, 2009
Holiday Tea
A yearly tradition

Allied Arts Guild
Café Primavera
75 Arbor Road Menlo Park, California
Allied Arts Guild

Through Sunday November 20, 2009 (Saturdays & Sundays only)
Icons of Design
A high-rise designer showcase featuring legendary local designers

Millennium Tower
301 Mission Street (complimentary valet parking)
Icons Of Design

Through Tuesday November 17, 2009
The Art of the Table
A preview for Dining by Design
Table settings and vignettes executed by four local designers
135 Post Street
Gump’s Store

Wednesday November 18, 2009
6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Dining by Design San Francisco
Table Hop & Taste
Preview designer table environments while enjoying wine and bites from local restaurants. A Silent Auction and live DJ are part of this amazing event.
Proceeds benefit the Positive Health Program at UCSF.
Design Center Galleria 101 Henry Adams San Francisco
San Francisco DIFFA

Thursday November 19, 2009
6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Dining by Design San Francisco
Gala Dinner
Dine in unique designer table environments for a worthy cause.
Proceeds benefit the Positive Health Program at UCSF.
Design Center Galleria 101 Henry Adams San Francisco
San Francisco DIFFA

Friday November 20, 2009 (Exhibit through December 22, 2009)
6:00pm – 8:00pm
Joe Rees “Transformer”
Opening reception
Steven Wolf Fine Arts
49 Geary Streets, Suite 411
Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Through December 11, 2009
INSIGHTS: 20 Years of Creative Vision
Annual juried exhibition of artists who are blind or visually impaired
Presented by the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
San Francisco City Hall
Van Ness Avenue between Grove and McAllister Streets
San Francisco Arts Commission

December 19, 2009 through April 18, 2010
Cartier in America
Celebrating the imagination and creativity of Cartier in the 20th century
Legion Of Honor Museum
Lincoln Park34th Avenue & Clement Street
Fine Art Museums of San Francisco

Through March 28, 2010
Tutankhamen & the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
DeYoung Museum Golden Gate Park
DeYoung Museum

Barbara Ashfield & David Hansen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Unlikely Obsession

When the long awaited documentary Herb and Dorothy by Megumi Sasaki was playing earlier this year I was determined to go see it. The trailer fascinated me beyond words and I knew it was my kind of film. It played locally at the Roxie in San Francisco, but as it turned out I missed it during its two week run. Imagine my surprise when Tivo had automatically recorded it, on Public Television of all places (a show called Independent Lens). Yes I think Tivo finally understands who I am! I watched it last weekend and it certainly exceeded my expectations.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel looking at an inscription of their names engraved on a wall panel at the entrance to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The documentary is about the now legendary art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel. Herb and Dorothy are a seemingly unremarkable husband and wife living in Manhattan who managed to accumulate over two thousand significant pieces of contemporary art since the 1960s (since the 1990’s the collection has ultimately grown to over four thousand pieces) solely on the couple’s humble salaries as civil servants (he a postal worker and she a public librarian). Their initial fascination with art began with wanting to both be artists, “wanabee artists” Dorothy is quoted as saying. When they were first married they took classes in drawing and painting, which mildly satisfied their itch for art. Upon further examination they realized they enjoyed studying other people’s work more than producing their own. Their fascination turned to what can only be called obsession with discovering new artists, viewing work and buying it before it was generally known to the art world. As the film illustrates they filled every spare inch of their modest apartment with art. Paintings, drawings and sculpture, there was nothing that eluded them.

The official poster for the Herb & Dorothy documentary by Megumi Sasaki.

What is most interesting to me is the method they used to collect the art. These were not professionally trained people, but spurred on primarily by Herb’s knowledge of art became interested in the artist’s process and ultimately bought pieces that spoke to that process. The couple became close with some of the biggest names in the New York art world including Chuck Close, Sol Lewitt and Richard Tuttle. This gave the couple more insight into the artist’s process and informed their collection even further.

Herb Vogel examining a sculpture that he and his wife Dorothy donated to the National Gallery.

Perplexed by what would ultimately happen to the collection, Herb and Dorothy donated it in it’s entirety to the National Gallery in 1991. It is at this point in the film where you really grasp how vast their collection had become. This certainly did not signal them stopping to collect art, on the contrary it accelerated it.

Herb and Dorothy standing at "The Gates" by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York City.

Although the type of art they collected (minimalist and conceptual) isn’t for everyone, if you consider yourself a fan of contemporary art this documentary is for you. It is still playing art houses in selected cities in the U.S. through the beginning of next year, but according to the film is scheduled to be released on DVD next month. I will warn you, that this documentary may make you want to go out and buy some art!

David Hansen