Sue Fisher King’s shop on Sacramento Street is the home-furnishing go-to destination for many in San Francisco, but King herself has little interest in designing her own home.
“I’ve been in people’s apartments, especially when I was younger, who always made the space they lived in fantastic,” King said. “I was always so impressed and inspired by those people, though I can’t really say I’ve ever done it myself.”
Her shop is a mix of “luxurious, glamorous,” and elegant things for the home, such as the French ceramics King brought back from her trip to Paris’s Maison&Objet trade show, and colorful and eclectic pieces she finds from vendors she discovers every year.
While King is constantly collecting and curating a unique selection of objects for the home, the ones she keeps in her own home are those of sentimental value.
“I just think that plenty of people realize their environment has an effect on them, and I learned that a long time ago,” King says. “If you have objects around you, and it doesn’t matter what they are, that are of interest to you, or hold some kind of sentimental value or inspires you, or you think are beautiful, I think that’s very satisfying to a person in their daily life.”
“It doesn’t have to be decorative—if the colors are pleasing and the shapes are pleasing I think that makes your general life better,” she said.
As a part of her business, King works with interior designers daily, supplying many with accessories, and she says it really requires an “eye” to create a well-designed space.
More to ‘Seeing’
“I think everyone can use, if they’re not a decorator themselves, some help with that,” King said. “There’s so much to seeing how something’s going to look before it’s that way, from visualizing to having good space acuity.”
About 30 years ago, King worked with a designer who introduced her to a local fabric store, and she said she was impressed with what the designer could do with really not a lot.
“It made me appreciate what a person with a vision could do without having to buy a whole lot of stuff, to make your space look really, really special,” King said.
When King was 18, she moved to San Francisco and spent years moving from apartment to apartment on Telegraph Hill. Many of her friends just had that “flair,” she said. “They’d just put things together, and they’d get a painting they liked. … I was so impressed.”
“I am inspired by people who have original and what seem like very creative ideas, whether they’re current or past,” said King.
King, who grew up in Portland, Oregon, and now lives in a house in Sausalito, says she still finds the San Francisco environment perfect for innovation.
“I happen to think it’s ideal,” King says of the typical San Francisco lifestyle. “It kind of takes the best of a lot of cultures—it’s a melting pot and it’s not a big city, so all these cultures living together create the experience of an interesting flavor to the city, where not one culture dominates, including Anglo Saxon.”
“You’ve got all these different cultures, tastes, and I think it’s a place where people feel they can innovate and think up stuff, and we recognize [that], because it’s not so big that you get lost in the shuffle, or there are too many people and it gets forgotten,” she says.
“There’s lots of new stuff constantly happening, new people making new things and potters, all kinds of great stuff; I think this fosters that.”
“I worked in retail when I was 16—that was my first job—and it was like love at first sight,” King said. “I just always worked in retail after that, for years. I love people.”
After college, King went on to work in sales for many other companies including home furnishing brands. Then when her father passed and she came into a sum of money, she took the chance and opened her own shop.
At the beginning, King continued to replicate what had been done at her previous store, purchasing the same style of items, figuring out trends and styles.
“They were what I would call an overall traditional Italian pottery look, which still has a place, but the world kind of moved on from that,” she said. “I started going toward both Italian and French potters that were more avant-garde or experimental, or more contemporary in that they might be more interested in their glazes or things like that.”
Following her own taste has led to unexpected, pleasant surprises. On a trip to France, she found ceramic sculptures that looked like white angels, “and I was just in love with the shape—it didn’t really relate to anything we do, but people just loved them,” King said.
And recently, King bought a black, raku boar from a vendor she’d long admired.
“It was fantastic, this great big, beautiful thing,” King said, but it was unusual, and not something people would place in their everyday home.
“There were some people who had just started a winery and that was their logo, so of course that was the perfect thing,” King said. “Instead of ‘what the heck am I doing with this thing,’ it became ‘why didn’t I get two of them?’”
“So much of it is trial and error and experience and instinct mixed together,” King said.
King reads design magazines incessantly, picking up trends, but says it’s important to mix in her own taste and experience while keeping it from getting “too crazy.”
“You don’t want to get too crazy, but you want some things that are odd, otherwise it’s not interesting,” she said. “But you need to realize that people are going to live with these things, or they want to, and you want them to.”
“You just pick up trends, and you pick up other people’s imagination, and you think ‘hmm, that’s interesting’ and you broaden your horizons.”
“There’s lots of different approaches, and it’s fun to see other ways of doing things,” she said. “If you’re interested, you soak it up, and if you’re not, you just see it and you’re interested in something else.”
“A lot of people have influenced me. I’m one of those people like a chameleon; I soak things up,” King says. “I’ve always had friends who had incredible taste and who were really interested in beautiful things and design.”
“I think all of us are influenced all the time by our surroundings,” she says.
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