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Still modern after all these years

Photograph of Vasilios Kiniris at Zinc Details by Drew Altizer


Zinc Details has turned 20. How did it all begin?

I was fresh out of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley and simply had an idea and some very strong feelings. At the university, Wendy Nishimura and I had developed an understanding and shared a passion for the modern classics of furniture design. In travels to Europe and Japan, we came face to face with new styles hatched from traditional forms. And naturally, we began to form strong relationships with young artisans and designers in the San Francisco Bay Area who were creating excitement with simply styled, highly functional and innovative pieces.

What led you to put your architectural education to use in a retail design store?

It takes a long time for architecture to actually be realized and influence a person’s life. Retail design is a lot more immediate. You can touch people on an everyday level. Personally, we love to collect, admire and interact with beautifully designed products and the store is a reflection of our vision and taste. Having the knowledge of history of architecture and art is also a great reference when dealing with modern design products. All products designed today have references to the past. We can appreciate all the thought process put in to develop the products. And even when creating a display, we can visualize space relations to the products better.

Were you always focused on modern design — and didn’t that put you 10 years ahead of the curve?

From the beginning, the idea was to offer home and office furnishings that had integrity and lasting value. Pieces were selected not because they seemed trendy, but because they had the potential to be contemporary classics, things that carried the elan of treasured modern design — the best of Scandinavian, Italian, Japanese and American ideas.

Now mid-century modern is all the rage. You told us so?

Historically, in the ’50s and ’60s, new appreciation for home design developed and was popularized all across America. It’s no surprise that now mid-century design is back in style and ever more popular because many people are already familiar with the style from when they were young.

What led you to locate on Fillmore Street?

Our first store was on Post Street — well into the Tenderloin, to be exact. It was a tiny 200 square space, and then this freakish accident happened: a huge gas explosion right across from the store. We lost a lot of merchandise and that was the wake up call to look for a larger and safer space. Also, at that time we were invited to create a “shop within a store” at the Macy’s Union Square location. Because of the wider exposure, we attained a larger audience and they wanted to see a larger selection from us.

In 1994, the store moved from Post Street to its present location at 1905 Fillmore Street. The move to Fillmore brought Zinc into one of the most popular shopping streets in San Francisco, with vastly increased foot traffic and an additional 1,000 square feet of showroom space. In the enlarged Zinc Details, we were able to increase the product range to include work from both national and international talent and to expand the in-house product line.

And then you doubled down on Fillmore by expanding next door into the Big Pagoda space.

Correct. In 2003, we took over the retail space next door, more than doubling our retail space, allowing us to add further lines of internationally known furniture such as Knoll, Kartell, Herman Miller.

And then you doubled down again and opened a second store around the corner on California Street, just when other home design stores were closing. What were you thinking?

We went through many shifts in our business during the past 20 years. In 2001, manufacturing was changing and the major production was moving overseas, so we had to decide to focus on retail or wholesale business. That’s when we opened our second location on Fourth Street in Berkeley. Again our business was shifting and we wanted to create a space of mainly a furniture showroom. We had the opportunity to obtain the 2410 California location at that time and it made sense for us to have two stores closer to each other than across the bay, so we closed the Berkeley store.

But after opening the California Street location, we found that many of our customers didn’t want to make a trip to visit two stores, even though we were only two blocks apart. And after acquiring many designers and architect clients through the California Street location, we decided to shift our business once again to focus on furniture. So last summer we closed our California Street location and packed and moved everything back to our original 1905 Fillmore Street location. Now we can offer a great furniture collection and home accessories at one location, but with more curated visions. Our customers enjoy the convenience of one-stop shopping and it’s much better for me as owner to be in one location and to get to know everyone who comes through the door.

What’s special about Fillmore?

It’s a unique neighborhood with small, independent stores and restaurants. Having a neighborhood store allows for closer ties with customers, many of whom live, work and shop in the area. In fact, I’d say 60 percent of our clients are from the neighborhood, 25 percent are from the rest of the city, 10 percent from the Bay Area and 5 percent are visitors.

Any plans for the new year?

We’re planning to have design movie night, do-it-yourself classes and design discussion panels.