By Regina Connell.
Sometimes, you enter a space that just really speaks to you. It’s your aesthetic, it’s your vibe, it feels like you’ve found your tribe. It makes you feel both grounded and more alive, and oddly moved. It’s so surprising that it can take your breath away.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about what’s going on in Oakland, with its explosion of maker businesses, new boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. It’s been (not incorrectly) compared to Brooklyn, which isn’t all bad, but when I think Brooklyn, there is a certain vibe that goes along with it: distressed wood, up-cycling, patina, subtle quality, and, most of all, earnestness.
The quality that doesn’t immediately come to mind, is refinement.
That’s why Turtle & Hare (which I’d been hearing about for over a year but hadn’t quite gotten to visit) made me so deeply happy. It’s both earnest and elegant, the kind of sophisticated store that you’d expect to find in San Francisco, but that doesn’t actually exist there. Let’s just say it for the record: it’s the kind of store that San Franciscans ought to cross the Bay for. It’s that good.
The store—located on the street level of a downtown apartment building—is artfully chock-full of a collection I dream about.
Hard to pick favorites, but I think mine had to be the sublime, modern pottery and metalsmithing from Japan. Not only were they beautiful to look at, but the backstory was compelling.
The collection was born during a recent trip to Gifu (Japan) taken by the owners, Monica Reskala and Chris Weiss. The Gifu potters responsible are part of a new generation of craftsmen and women, ones who practice New Craft. In Japan, there’s always been a tradition of passing down the family craft through generations, but many of these potters and silversmiths don’t come from a long line of potters. Instead, they’re finding their own way into the craft and infusing it with a new sense of design. But in a land that venerates tradition and designates certain crafts people as Living National Treasures, acceptance for this kind of new thinking isn’t always smooth. Luckily for these makers, people like Monica and Chris are sharing their work and helping them build a US-based audience.
The store also offers beautifully wrought wooden vessels, finely crafted furniture by co-owner Chris Weiss, a precisely selected collection of jewelry, a charming assortment of stationery, and a serious aficionado’s handcrafted speaker system created by Chris’s brother’s company, the acclaimed OMA.
Monica and Chris are committed to both aesthetics and craftsmanship at very high levels. Monica, who hails from Mexico, is an artist and designer. Chris has a degree in Architecture and Urban Semiotics from UC Berkeley and studied architecture at top European institutions, but then discovered that he had the urge to make, not just design. So, he began a 9-year traditional Japanese joinery apprenticeship (with the legendary Paul Discoe) before moving out on his own and joining Monica.
Partners for 18 years, they founded MRCW, a furniture design studio, and continually collaborate on their furniture designs, which are sensuous, sculptural, and refined, yet still supremely functional.
They’re definitely inspired by Japanese aesthetics, but don’t have that austerity that so often marks Japanese work. The MRCW designs are just as refined but thoughtfully clever and playful—and more immediately pleasurable.
Turtle & Hare, part showroom, part retail, all haven.
100 Grand Avenue, Oakland CA