Story and Photographs by Carina Woudenberg
FOR JUDY GILMAN and her daughter Marcella Madsen, owners of Nest, the eclectic gift shop at 2300 Fillmore, a shared love of art and eye for snagging old and new treasures has enabled them to nurture a loyal following over the past 17 years.
“I’ve been going to the antique markets since I was on my mom’s back in a carrier,” marveled Madsen, who now has a 9-year-old of her own.
While many of the individually owned stores on the street have disappeared under financial pressures, Nest’s owners say they’ve managed to weather the storm by relying on their well-rooted customer base and anticipating when fans are ready for some changes.
“We’re always evolving,” Madsen said.
Once home to a drug store, the building at the corner of Clay and Fillmore sat vacant for about three years until the artists-turned-businessowners spotted it. The two had dabbled in antiques, but never had a store of their own. They saw potential in the newspaper-covered vacant storefront on a prominent corner.
Seeking a lease, they met with the building owner at her home, and she asked the entrepreneurs what they wanted to sell. Glancing at the woman’s coffee table, they gestured toward her trinkets and told her they would sell similar items: knickknacks.
“ ‘I love knickknacks,’ ” Gilman recalled the woman saying. “And that’s how it evolved.”
But some things have remained much the same. Today the shop’s interior is itself a work of art the owners painted when they first moved in that has gently weathered through the years. Dressed in rich colors, the walls and ceiling provide shelter for gauzy tops and flowing dresses, pillows and blankets, handbags and jewelry and cookbooks with colorful photographs of mouthwatering dishes on their covers. They also stock artful cards, decorative soaps, perfumes, glassware and much more fodder for lengthy browsing sessions.
“People spend hours in here,” Gilman said. “They always say ‘thank you’ when they leave, like it’s a museum,” Madsen added.
Much of the owners’ inspiration for Nest comes from the south of France where the pair used to travel. Other items are imported from India, Morocco, Turkey, England and Italy. And some they gather from antique shows around the state.
Even closer to home, Gilman and Madsen carry work from San Francisco artists — including art from two of their employees, Lisa Wood and Risa Culbertson. Wood provides miniature bug terrariums that house dioramas of insects doing human activities such as going on picnics and reading the paper. Culbertson supplies popular handmade cards she makes through her company, PapaLlama.
Though both mother and daughter majored in painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, they don’t sell their own art at Nest. It can be found throughout the store, however, in Madsen’s hand-stenciled nest patterns featured on the walls and Gilman’s nest-inspired wiry chandeliers that hang gracefully from the ceiling.
The two think a lot about design and say they love flipping through decorating magazines looking for ideas and inspiration. “We spend a lot of time on our displays here,” Gilman said. “We’re known for that.”
The owners say they get a lot of repeat customers — both locals and returning tourists — and say they strive to change things up so their visitors have something new to admire.
Working as a mother-daughter team has its occasional challenges due to the inevitable creative differences, Madsen admits.
“You can hear us argue upstairs,” she said with a smile. However, there are benefits from drawing from the same gene pool, too. “We have the same aesthetics and sense of humor,” Madsen added.
Though they both used to live in San Francisco, Gilman and Madsen are now living in Berkeley just 10 blocks apart.
Madsen’s son doesn’t spend a lot of time in the store, but when he does, she says he loves “shopping” for books and other items and is free to take whatever he wants.
“I think he thinks I’m famous,” she added.
The bottom line is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, Madsen said. While there are a lot of frilly items, there’s room for a joke here and there too — especially with the cards.
“It’s a girly store, but men like it too,” Madsen said, adding, “All the women tell the men to come here and get the jewelry.”