Rena Tom of Rare Device: Show & Tell Home Tour

Sheri Reed | Mar 16, 2010 Home & Garden

  • Meet Rena Tom


    Rena Tom of Rare Device

    Meet Rena Tom, the creative woman behind the San Francisco design shop and gallery Rare Device, which she owns with artist Lisa Congdon. Rena is a former jewelry designer and before that did freelance graphic and web design for companies like Gap, Inc. and Cisco. She is a new mom to 4-month-old Ivo.

    Today, Rena gives us a Show & Tell Home Tour inside her apartment in San Francisco, California.

    Come on inside...

  • Rena's family & home


    Sweet little Ivo!

    Rena, tell us a little about your family and your home.

    Currently, I live in a 750 sq ft apartment with my husband Derek, my 4-month-old son Ivo, and our dog Mia. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area on and off for the past 13 years.

    Our building was built in the 1920s and the best thing about it is the light — every door in the place is a French door and that helps make it feel bigger than it is. As you can imagine, we have to be pretty creative to fit everybody into this space!

  • Decorating style


    French doors let light filter through the apartment

    How do you approach decorating in your home? What's the most important thing?

    The *most* important thing is that our home is a serene and comfortable place. I love living in big cities, but the hustle and bustle needs to stop outside of my door. I live on a very busy thoroughfare; however, our upstairs unit faces the garden in the back and is totally quiet.

    We have great light through the apartment, so we were able to choose dusky, saturated colors like deep purple and green that work even in the smallest rooms. We liven it up with pops of bright color throughout the apartment.

  • Small space living


    Japanese tansu serves as coffee table and linen storage

    Because we have always lived in small spaces and have moved several times, we must choose items that fit physically and stylistically in all the different places, and work together well. Functionality is therefore very important, and furnishings have to multitask: the dining table is also a desk and a craft table where I can use the sewing machine when the need arises; the coffee table is actually a Japanese tansu that holds our linens.

    Most of my decorating these days involves changing up the paint colors and rearranging the furniture. Derek and I have been collecting furniture and art ever since we moved in together, but we have maxed out space to display any more stuff, so major purchases do not happen very often.


  • Kid stuff


    Baby Ivo's mobile baby basket

    You have Baby Ivo now. How does his STUFF influence the look and feel of your home?

    Well, we are still getting used to having Ivo's gear around the apartment! We are surprised how such a little baby can need so much stuff.

    For now, our bed is now in the former dining room, and the dining table and my dresser are in the living room, so I guess you could say that his stuff caused a total space shift in our apartment. Most of our baby-related items live in his "room," which is really an open nook off the living room that is about 6 x 8' and used to hold our queen-size bed!

    Ivo is not ambulatory yet, and I dread the day he starts crawling, as it will mean some major rearranging of the low-lying books and tchotchkes, but maybe it just means I'll have to get creative about decorating again.

  • Baby nursery DIY


    Baby Ivo's room

    Tell us about the DIY projects you took on in Ivo's nursery.

    I got the nesting bug real bad while I was pregnant, so fixing up the tiny nursery was a fun project. We didn't want to invest a ton of money for the baby room, and we didn't have a lot of space. The wall color stayed the same. The colors are maybe a little darker than most typical kid's rooms, but I don't see why everything has to be in primaries or pastels. There is plenty of contrast in our place for Ivo to look at.

    The owl painting that was over our bed is now over his dresser, which is a mid-century piece that was our major purchase for him, totally worth it since he will inherit it as an adult. While looking at fancy modern nursery websites, I saw a wood changing tray that rests on top of a crib and thought that would be a perfect space-saving solution -- but it was well over $200! I complained to my husband, and he bought some lumber and made it in a friend's workshop for maybe $50.

    I also made a crib skirt so I could hide the boxes of baby clothes stored underneath the crib. I was a little appalled at the prices for crib bedding and didn't really want the whole matching set anyway, so I bought a quarter-yard of Joel Dewberry fabric and sewed a simple flap that covers just the front side (you can't see the other sides because the room is so small) and attached it to the crib with a bit of velcro. I think it looks pretty good!

  • Favorite family space


    Rena's living room with daybed

    In which room in your home does your family congregate most often?

    Due to space constraints, I have to say the living/dining room. On a sunny day, there are beautiful shadows on the ground that mimic the pattern of our Peace Industry rug. There are heaps of books, laptops, and cups of tea all around -- it's very homey and soothing.

    Great design can be expensive. How do you get the most bang for your buck?

    We purchased furniture in classic shapes so we are not tempted to replace them every few years. We play with color instead -- for instance, we bought a new tweedy grey cover for our Eames daybed when we shifted from a jewel-tone to muted palette. The previous color was lipstick red (!), but that daybed will never go out of style.

    We also buy modular items when we can. The Cubitec shelving has been reconfigured many times, as has the Blu Dot modular bookcase I bought the year I first moved to S.F. It lets us change up our room setups really easily. We have Flor tiles in two colors and have created different large and small rugs all over the house to suit whatever furniture configuration I can dream up.

    We also take inexpensive pieces and tweak them a bit. Our dining table is IKEA, but I saw a similar table on a design blog with its edges and legs painted chartreuse. That happens to be the accent color in our house, and I already have the paint so I plan to do the same thing to our table.

  • A shop of one's own


    Jewelry hanging in the closet

    You are a shop owner and a creative person. Do you have a room or space of your own?

    I wish I did, but I don't have the room at home — however, the store itself is like my personal laboratory for decorating and enjoying my favorite designers. I used to make jewelry and so the supplies are languishing in a box, waiting until I have a craft room again. Lately I have been knitting a lot, but fortunately I can do that on the couch or in bed.

  • Everyday ritual: family dinner


    Dresser and artwork in the dining room

    What is your most important everyday ritual at home?

    Dinner with my family. I am so lucky that Derek is a great chef and does all the cooking! He is in the kitchen while I nurse the baby to sleep. Then we get to eat a quiet meal together (usually while looking at stacks of cookbooks to decide on the next night's feast).

    Our days are a little crazy with the addition of Ivo, so it's the first time each day we have to ourselves.

  • Household chores


    View into garden

    What household chore do you hate? Any household chore you love?

    I hate vacuuming because our vacuum is extraordinarily loud! I lust after a quiet new Miele vacuum for my birthday; I think this means I am finally a grown-up.

    I love filing paperwork, oddly, and watering the succulents -- I admit that I talk to them.

  • Indulgence: good food


    Yummy winter fruits

    In your home, what is one indulgence you give into?

    Making and eating really good food. We live in a part of the country blessed with wonderful produce, meat, fish, and grain, and we take advantage of that as often as we can.

    Our kitchen is pretty small, and we like the food to take center stage so the colors are a muted backdrop to a big bowl of oranges in winter or a berry pudding in the summertime.

  • Tableware addiction


    Cups, teabowls, and other pretty tableware

    I am addicted to cups, teabowls, carafes, and tableware in general, and I really enjoy using what we collect.

  • Rena's favorites


    Kids mugs, more of Rena's favorites

    What are your favorite stores to shop for home?

    I haven't done a ton of shopping lately for my home (except from Rare Device), but I like to shop Etsy for smaller items, and vintage stores for the bigger pieces like Ivo's dresser. CB2 also has a couple really great items each season, like the bed we bought when we moved our bedroom into the dining room. It's white and sleek and goes with everything.

    When I travel, I make sure to stop at OK and Tortoise in L.A. and Canoe in Portland. Also, I will miss visiting auto, which recently closed, when I visit New York.

    What Home & Garden blogs or websites inspire you the most?

    I tend to look at general "eye candy" blogs and design and fashion blogs as much as home blogs, as I am usually trendwatching for products for my store. All-time faves include hoping for happy accidents, swissmiss, The Selby, but does it float, and Design*Sponge. Remodelista is great, of course, and I am always amazed at the great eye of my business partner Lisa Congdon and her A Collection A Day blog.


    To see Rena Tom's design finds and an enticing selection of original artwork, visit her shop Rare Device (if you're in San Francisco, stop in to shop the real deal; the store is such a treat!). You may also see more Show & Tell Home Tours.

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