Last week I stopped into Pot + Pantry, Donna Suh Wageman's new kitchenwares shop in San Francisco's Mission District. Not only was the tiny space utterly charming, an appealing melange of the new and old, the modern and the trad, but Wageman herself was an obliging and able hostess. Best of all, the goods on display--I saw plenty I'd like to take home--are entirely affordable.
Before opening Pot + Pantry in November Wageman worked at housewares giant Williams-Sonoma. Considering how diminutive her shop is, it's not so much a change in focus as a massive shift in scale.
"My experience with Williams-Sonoma has been an incredible asset," she told me. "I have a good understanding of the kitchenware business, I know what qualities to look for in kitchen equipment, and I can identify good (and bad) design - a lot of this is because of my time there. So, it's given me a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build."
She continues: "At the same time, in terms of the products I carry as well as my store merchandising, it's definitely dictated by my personal taste. The buy, sell, trade aspect of my business is also something I wouldn't imagine a large corporation signing up for. I view it as a kind of service that I can offer customers, to offer them a way to offload kitchenware aside from donating or giving it away."
I wondered how great a market really exists for used kitchen goods. Surely we buy used cars, clothes and furniture, but how many folk are that interested in a second-hand potato masher? Wageman again:
"I wasn't sure what the response would be from people toward used kitchenware - would they really want used mixing bowls or would that gross them out? What about used whisks? - but I've realized there's a potentially large market for this. My customers also love shopping flea markets and thrift stores hoping to find deals on housewares, and Ive been getting inquiries from vintage kitchenware collectors about whether I can help find pieces missing from their collections. I don't think used kitchenware is nearly as accepted at clothes and etc, but I think that will change soon enough."
That notion that collectors and passersby alike will fall for her wares accounts for what she calls Pot + Pantry's "whole modern day vintage thing."
A handful of items caught my eye when I was there, in particular a handful of tea towels by San Francisco-based designer Katherine J. Lee. The others were a set of cannisters by UK ceramics brand Wade. The Ovation series is about as clean and modern as it comes, but I'd wager they could stand up in any kitchen.
Perhaps most novel, beyond Wageman's selection of carefully curated goods, is that you can trade your used kitchen goods for hers. Should she like what you have on offer she'll give you 50% of what she'll sell it for in store credit. I managed to swap an old eggbeater for a very useful pair of toaster tongs.
Handful of objects and a clever trade-in system aside, the real appeal of Pot + Pantry comes in even the most casual visit. San Franciscans, stop in.
"I wanted it to exude warmth and character," said Wageman, "but didn't want to make it look like a store stuck in time. I also tried to have a place for everything to avoid making the small space seem cluttered, at the same time I like it looking a little haphazard, like it's been lived in and used by a charming neighbor."
A charming neighbor indeed.