Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sculpting a Colorful Career: Meet Artist Tina Frey of Tina Frey Designs

Tina Frey at the Tina Frey Designs showroom and studio in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA. 
We had lived in Dogpatch almost three years before we stumbled upon the lovely and practically microscopic park on the short stub of Minnesota Street between 23rd and 24th Streets.  We were also amazed to see several shops on that same stretch. We previously thought these were only home to renovation warehouses and the ever tempting popcorn warehouse.  Alas, the shop window we pressed our noses against, Tina Frey Designs: Modern Designs in Resin, was not open to the general public.  Until now.

Now the colorful resin bowls, cake plates, trays, furniture, jewelry and so much more that were just out of our reach are now available for purchase direct from the Tina Frey showroom.  Although her designs had previously been available for sale via her website as well as through various retail locations such as Barneys, SFMOMA and the De Young Museum, her showroom on Minnesota is the only place to find her entire collection.

The ground floor is a study in controlled chaos with the products being ready to be wrapped and boxed then shipped to their new homes.  In marked contrast, the product showroom up an open staircase was a burst of color and extremely organized.

Zoe -- one of Tina Frey's dogs, announced our arrival from the top of the stairs with a friendly bark.  Upstairs, our eyes feasted on the colorful designs as well as the soothing gray, white and black designs displayed against neutral backdrops.  A sense of playfulness infuses many of the items including the wonder woman cuff bracelets and the domes and covered dishes with bunny ears for handles that we discovered were inspired by owner Tina Frey's childhood bunnies -- fluffy and puffy.  One long table held an unfinished red-clay colored bowl;  a work in progress. 

Adjacent to the second floor showroom was a studio workspace for Frey and her three full-time and two part-time employees. 
Tableware at Tina Frey Designs in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.
Why do you do what you do?

It is so rewarding and even emotional for me to see a vision I have for a design take shape and become an actual product. 

But my parents encouraged me to pursue a profession that would support me financially.  Being an artist and working in all types of mediums was always just something that was a part of my identity and came easy to me but I didn't consider it as a career path.

I was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Canada.  I majored in biology and chemistry but a summer job measuring the fat content in foods at a major grocery store chain convinced me to get an additional degree in accounting.  I worked at Ernest & Young in Canada then a job in managed health care brought me to San Francisco in 1997.  Eventually I decided to pursue a finance job in an industry that actually interested me so I joined Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) which is an umbrella group for many prestigious luxury brands.   I eventually moved to New York City with that company and then to Guam.

One night I found myself in a Walmart in Guam buying roach traps for my apartment when I decided that while Guam was a lovely country, it was too small for me and I decided to first return to San Francisco and then make a move to London to look for a new job.  That was on September 9, 2001. 

When 9/11 happened I couldn't get a flight out so I decided to stay in San Francisco.  I worked in finance for several local companies including Levi Strauss, The Gap and Red Envelope.  In 2007 I was working at a retail start up that was acquired when after encouragement from my husband, I decided to take some time off and really evaluate what I wanted to do next.

Through my various jobs in finance I had never stopped being an artist.  At the time I started thinking about my next career move, I had been reading books on using resin in sculpting.  I knew I was going to make design my new career although I didn't know what products I would design.  In fact, I designed my logo -- a rabbit inspired by the rabbits I kept as a child -- and came up with the name Tina Frey Designs before I knew what my first product would be.  And I knew my designs would be modern yet organic which to me means clean and simple but not perfect.

I design and hand sculpt each piece here in my studio.  Once I finalize a design, molds are fabricated and then the designs are individually cast and sanded by hand.  One of the first things I did when I started my design firm was to find craftsmen in China to make the molds and the products for me. 

In July 2007 I exhibited at the San Francisco Gift Show.  It was hilarious -- I was surrounded by  vendors exhibiting a wide assortment of products and I only had two styles of bowls in four colors.  I didn't even know how to take an order.  But I did sell product that day and in fact met the buyers from SFMOMA who still carry my products.  I get my design ideas from my travels, magazines, blogs -- I never lack for ideas -- my head is always full of ideas and images.

Even though there was interest in my products and I was selling to the trade, wholesale and eventually direct from my website, I still worked part time in finance for a messenger bag company called Timbuk2. I funded my design business that way and slowly cut back my time there until I was certain my design business was self-sustaining.

Why Dogpatch?

Initially I worked out of my house -- products were everywhere.  I had a small studio in Activspace in the Mission then moved to a studio in Potrero hill in 2012.  When I outgrew that space the landlord, who also owned this building, suggested I take a look here.

I already knew about the neighborhood through Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks whom I met through Timbuktu.

I think there are so many undiscovered people doing so many interesting things in this neighborhood.

Note:  Tina Frey Designs is located at 1278 Minnesota Street and is open Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm and Saturday noon-5 pm.