RARE DEVICE: Beautiful Things to Hold in Your Hands
An interview with owner Giselle Gyalzen.
What is Rare Device?
The storefront is filled with lovely, approachably designed items for your home, yourself, and your family. Every object in the store has its own story, and has been chosen because it is either handmade, well-designed, useful, beautiful or all of the above. The aesthetic is modern and whimsical while remaining warm and inviting. Influences range from the natural world to the interaction between humans and things, be it their clothes or what they choose to use in their homes. Many of the wares are locally produced, handmade creations. There are also a wide variety of internationally created items, from such far flung places as Japan, Sweden, Canada, and the Philippines.
The gallery within the storefront hosts monthly art shows and community events, including book signings, workshops, our monthly kids’ event, and trunk shows. For our gallery and in the shop, what we look for to showcase are independent artists with great talent who are trying to say something bold in the world. I love being able to give them a platform to showcase their creativity. I am so grateful to be surrounded by such inspiring artists and designers. Even our employees all have art and design backgrounds, and surprise me daily with their creative takes with their work.
Particular favorite projects of mine are those that combine community with artistic expression, like the Round Robin project we showcased in Spring of 2012, because there was a whole group of people coming together around a unique idea. It was also exciting to get to host temporary pop-ups from local food innovators, like Le Dix Sept. Rare Device is all about bringing people together around beauty and inspiring ideas.
Where does the name Rare Device come from?
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan, he calls the Pleasure Dome that the ancient Mongol emperor created, “a miracle of rare device”. We hope that the store conveys a sense of pleasure and fantasy when you walk through the doors.
How did you decide to buy the store, in February of 2011, from founder Rena Tom and partner Lisa Congdon?
It had always been a dream of mine to open a shop. I talked about it so much that my friends were getting sick of hearing about it! When the recession of 2008 happened, I gave up on trying to make it a reality. I was working in advertising and quit my job after having my daughter, in 2010, to be a Stay At Home Mom. What a short-lived reality that was! In a matter of months, I heard from Lisa that they were selling the store, and I knew I had to take that chance.
When I took ownership of Rare Device, I often had a newborn baby strapped to my chest as I sorted merchandise. Soon after throwing myself into that endeavor, my father, who lived in the Philippines, died suddenly. In the midst of all the upheaval of a new daughter and the loss of my father, creating a beautiful space at Rare Device brought needed order and focus to my life. I wanted to create a place people could come to hold beautiful things in their hands, because that’s what I needed, too.
What is it like for Rare Device to be a part of the up-and-coming neighborhood of NoPa?
I chose to move the store to Divisadero and Hayes in March of 2012 because I wanted to be a part of a thriving community. Having such a vibrant neighborhood around us inspires me to create community-building events like our monthly free Story/Song/Dance Time for the kiddos, and Trunk Shows featuring local artists. I want to expand this even further, by finding more ways to give back to this neighborhood that has welcomed us so warmly.
Can you tell us more about your life outside of Rare Device?
My husband Phurba and I met in San Francisco in 2001, and part of what brought us together was an interest in design. In order to decorate our San Francisco home, we scoured flea markets, open studios and every modern home store in the Bay Area to create a comfortable environment that combines both vintage and modern aesthetics. When we’re not trekking through San Francisco exploring all of its bounty, we’re at home, hanging out with our daughters, Ophelia and Bodhi.
What is the history of the store?
Rena Tom, the founder, is a former jewelry and graphic designer who loves design. She opened Rare Device in Brooklyn in October 2005. Building on the success of that store, Rena partnered with artist Lisa Congdon to open a second Rare Device in San Francisco in October 2007. This larger location allowed them to include a gallery space, with monthly shows by local, national and international designers whose work meshes with the Rare Device aesthetic. Rare Device Brooklyn closed in May 2008 so that Rena and Lisa could focus on growing the flagship store in San Francisco.
Rena and Lisa sold Rare Device to Phurba and I in February 2011. We moved Rare Device to its current location in Divisadero Street on March 2012, where we have been able to expand the kids’ section considerably, and add edible items like jams and salted caramel chocolates.
What do you see as the future of Rare Device?
In the gallery, I’d like to focus on Bay Area artists, and do a curated group show with a theme. I want to do more book signings, and community events like a Block Party. I’m excited about the workshop we are hosting on June 29th, on how to take amazing Polaroids, which will be held in conjunction with a Polaroids show, curated by Lisa Solomon, which is running June 7th - July 2nd, 2013. Of course I’m also dreaming of ways to expand even further! You’ll have to stay tuned to hear what comes for Rare Device next.Store photo by Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People
Staff portraits by Dave Medal
Interview by Rhea St. Julien