Interview - Rare Device SF - Rena Tom + Lisa Congdon

Ever since I heard there was going to be a Rare Device store opening up in San Francisco and a new partnership as well between NY Rare Device owner Rena Tom and San Francisco artist, Lisa Congdon I was intrigued and could hardly wait to see what they would come up with together as a collective. Both with impecable taste, this should be a great store. Naturally, I was thrilled when they both agreed to an interview here on Poppytalk.

(Poppytalk): For those that don't know, coming together to create this new shop in San Francisco, how did that happen?

Lisa: Well, we met when Rena asked me to do an installation in her Brooklyn shop last year. We worked on the show together, from concept to installation, for about 6 months—all over email. The collaboration was so much fun. Then I went to New York to hang the show and be there for the opening, and we bonded. Sounds corny, but it was true. We hit it off. By the end of the trip, we’d begun to scheme the opening of RDSF.

(white bike ceramics)

(PT): How do you think your two separate artistic views compliment each other?

RD: Well, actually, while you can’t really tell from looking at us, we were separated at birth. We actually like to joke that we have the same brain! We are always clipping the same things from magazines and sending each other the same links to objects and clothing and art that we think are beautiful. We have a hunch that it is our similar vision for and taste in design that has helped us to work together so well.

(PT): What is the general feeling of the San Francisco shop and how different will it be from New York's?

RD: The feeling of the San Francisco store is clean and modern, with very warm, colorful touches. We have three times the space in our San Francisco store. We are a bit more design and art focused. Obviously we will continue to carry handmade items, but we will focus on larger items like furniture, more expensive craft items, in addition to smaller handmade items. We are generally constantly scoping the landscape for beautifully designed items, solid construction, high quality materials—handmade or otherwise. Our tastes are modern and simple.

Lisa: Also, while Rena had installations in NY, we have a true gallery space in San Francisco. The work of our artists will not co-mingle with other merchandise. It will have it’s own space. Art shows will rotate monthly. Mostly we will be featuring solo artists, with group shows curated thematically every 4-6 months. We will be featuring both up and coming and established artists,

(PT): What pieces are you excited about in your new shop?

Rena: The white tumblers from White Bike Ceramics and the tiny fox pendant from Odette NY, both new Brooklyn artists for our shop. Also we are finally jumping on the leggings bandwagon (yes I am a slow learner!). The screenprinted ones we are carrying from Chandi and Umsteigen (more New Yorkers!) are very cool.

(PT): What direction do you see on the horizon with respect to Rare Device products and your new shop

RD: Handmade products and craft are becoming more refined and thoughtful, and we want to represent artists doing that kind of work. In some ways this does mean work that might be a little more expensive. There are forums for really affordable handmade work on Etsy and at craft fairs and for really expensive high-end work in fine arts galleries. We want to represent the middle zone of designers, craftspeople and artists, who we see are struggling a bit. While some of the work of some emerging artists and designers might be priced a bit out of reach of the average shopper at Renegade, they aren't quite ready to sign up for a tradeshow in New York. We like to work with these artists who have beautiful, well-made products, whose work is pricey, but who might need to refine their line, develop a customer base, etc. We can help them with all of these things, we hope!

For our store, too, we are aware of trends but are trying to do our own thing in order to keep the shop fresh and the merchandise 'rare'. It's hard to do right now because of the internet. Everything happens and spreads so fast. We love it and hate it! Hopefully this phenomenon will encourage makers to also do their “own thing,” because that’s how they will attract attention from a shop like ours.

(PT): Will there be an online presence for the SF shop as well?

RD: Yes, we will continue to sell select merchandise online at, and we’ll also continue to blog about what we are up to at the shop. Lisa and Rena will alternate posting about what’s new at both shops, funny stories, and, of course, we’ll post about cool art and design we love.

(PT): One thing I like about Rare Device is how it promotes designers, artists and artisans and helps them grow. How and where do you find your products?

RD: We find our stuff all over. We go to major trade shows, of course, but we also find our stuff in smaller venues like independent craft fairs, art shows and Etsy. We are also obsessive magazine and art/design/fashion blog readers, so we are always finding stuff through other cool hunters and design writers. Then there are folks who reach out to us and say, “I think my stuff would do well in your shop.” Lots of times it’s not a fit for the store, but we’ve also found really cool stuff for the shop from artists and designers who email us. Finally, we learn of stuff through word of mouth. Friends email us, “Have you seen this??” And we jump on it!!

(PT): Do you accept submissions from independent artists and how would an artist approach sending in a submission?

RD: Absolutely. We do. We have two links on our website, one for designer submissions and one for fine art submissions. We don’t have time to email everyone back, but we try to follow up with as many people as we can.

(PT): Could you tell us who your influences are in design, art, music and/or life?

Rena: I love tracking fashion trends, not necessarily because I love the clothing, but because I love how fast things change. It's fascinating to me. I am often more interested in process than results! That said, I love giant, grand, all-enveloping art. The Olafur Eliasson show at SFMOMA, Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirror last fall in New York, James Turrell's Roden Crater project - all very involving and moving work. A lot of the work at Rare Device is a treat for the senses and I think we are trying to distill that 'wow' feeling into a beautiful vase or jacket, or even a humble little button or notebook, something you can take home and appreciate.

Also I am into text and design. I love words, I love type, I love fonts, I love hand-lettering. I think even our greeting cards are really well-designed.

Lisa: This is such a hard question for me because, being a very right brained visual person, I am influenced by nearly everything I see and hear. I happen to live in a city that is brimming with beautiful visual and auditory stimulation all the time. Of course, like Rena, I am influenced by art, and we have access to so much right here in San Francisco. And I am also influenced by nature in a huge way. I am drawn to the pieces lately that mimic or replicate nature with unnatural materials. I love color. I get obsessed with certain palettes. We have a color palette going in our store right now that has emerged from our collaboration that is stunning. And we live in such a colorful city. It’s so beautiful here. When Rena and I walk around, we are always like, “Wow!! That is so cool!” And we get so inspired. And we are two people who are inspired by so many of the same things: paper, type, art, fashion, color, on and on. So Rare Device is our playground.

Thursday is the opening party for Kelly Lynn Jones’ show (above image) at RDSF, and also their grand opening party! See their blog for details.

Rare Device SF
1845 Market Street
San Francisco, California 94103

Jan Halvarson


Heather Moore said...

Thanks so much for this. I love the generous vision they have for their store, and it's fantastic that their wish to nurture small-time craftspeople can blend so happily into a successful business venture.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, and what a wonderful collaboration. Wish them every success!

Anonymous said...

i'm super excited to be there for the grand opening! to finally see all of lisa and rena's hard work, to see kelly lynn jones, and to shop of course.

Kelly Lynn Jones said...

yay!! cant wait to install the show this week!! yay for rare device! xo

Maggie Sumner said...

I just discovered your blog and I love it--so many beautiful things to dream about! Thanks.

lisa solomon said...

such a nice interview... thanks jan!

i'm sure the opening is going to be fun [full report]

Unknown said...

I have to say I came across your blog and looks great.wish I lived on that side of the earth.....Rates now in New england it is rainy and fally....

Dawn said...

this was such an awesome interview to read!