Delisa, owner of the Potrero Hill design store, Collage, (among other things) has long been a heroine of mine.
Let’s start with her taste, which is flawless, layered, complex, and just…delicious. Collage is filled with a combination of vintage/remade objects–cameras, clocks, torches, typewriters, furniture, letterforms of all sizes–and gorgeous, intriguing jewelry…all organized around seductive little vignettes that somehow draw me in and strike some emotional chord deep within. (I harbor the gnawing suspicion that my vaguely minimalist taste is probably a cop out–that I’m simply not creative enough to layer objects like she does…but then again, I rather suspect I’m not alone in this.)
And there’s her entrepreneurial spirit: she’s a store owner (2 stores–one for home design, one next door for clothing), artist, teacher, interior designer and stager, and home renovator. Most people can’t handle one of those things.
Finally there’s the fact that she’s just a damned nice, unpretentious and extraordinarily sane person. In the hour we were chatting at Farleys, a cafe near her store, at least half a dozen people stopped by to say hi (and she greeted them all by name). I’m getting the sense she’s the most popular merchant on the block.
So how’d the empire start? I was an artist–a collage artist, hence the name–and the store really was my gallery. Then I started carrying work by other women artists and it all started snowballing from there. I started the store in the ’91 recession, and it’s done well ever since. I started the clothing store in this recession and it’s done fine. If I’d listened to people I’d never have done this, obviously.
Why the commitment to local? (Not that we’re disagreeing!) It really came out of the way I’d been treated as an artist: I hated it, and I vowed that I wanted to treat artists–particularly women artists–right. I’ve always believed that women should be able to support themselves through their art, and I’m glad I can be a part of that.
Collage–it’s your store name, your art, what you teach…talk about that. I look at everything as a collage. Collage is about a relationship between objects, the balance of the objects in the mix. It’s also about having meaning in life: everything in the collage–and that we surround ourselves with–should be beautiful, meaningful.
What’s your design philosophy? (Big smile here.) Everywhere I look, I want to see and feel beauty. Beauty simply makes you feel better. And that’s what I’ve tried to do–from clothes to home design to my collage workshops, I surround myself with things that I feel are beautiful, things I love.
It’s not about whether you have a lot of stuff. It’s about having the right stuff–you can have a lot of stuff if it’s the right stuff. At the same time, if you have just a few objects, you can still be encumbered if they’re the wrong ones.
Whether I’m buying for the store or decorating a house for a client, I look at every object and rank it from 1-10. Every object should be a 10, but at least a 6. (I use this system a lot–a partner in the store and I had pretty different taste–and we used to figure out what to carry based on that ranking system…If I hate it but the other person think’s its a 10–it’s a keeper. If it’s just a couple of 5s..it’s not.) [Methinks Delisa has a future in marriage counseling as well.]
What else? It’s easy for people to get caught in a design rut, but you manage to keep things fresh. A house needs to be fluid, because good aesthetics are about making you FEEL good. That can change from day to day. You should see my house–nothing ever stays the same for very long–I just keep mixing it up. Same with the store.
That’s what’s hard for a lot of people…it’s hard for them to visualize how a mix of things will look. You have to tune into how you feel when you look at something. Listening is a big skill: listening to yourself and how you feel.
What keeps you going? Another big smile. I love what I do. I love people. And still after 19 years, my heart beats a little faster every time I walk in the store.
I know what she means.
Collage Gallery, 1345 18th Street (near Missouri), San Francisco