A New Kind of Hardware Store: TreeHouse

After the Dwell prefab popup party at SXSW Eco this past October, we spent the next Saturday checking out a number of modern homes and happenings around Austin, where we stumbled with delight upon TreeHouse, the new green hardware store company with a focus on design that's already earned a local tagline as the "Whole Foods version of Home Depot." We toured the store and the next week back in San Francisco, caught up with TreeHouse CEO, Paul Yanosy, to chat.

Owing to its green credentials - and there's a whole lot more than a CFL to be had in this hardware store - TreeHouse certainly does offer that healthy Whole Foods vibe. But add in modern design and a little bit of Apple's Genius Bar concept to the mix, too.

Upon entering the store, you'll immediately notice two things: First, there's nary a humming fluorescent light to feel big-box-stored by, and second, the entirety of the spacious store is visible in one airy, clutter-free glance. Instead of depressing overhead lights, narrow aisles, and precarious ceiling-high stacks packed with product, the space is defined by large windows that fill the store with natural light, and exceptionally edited, real-person-height vignettes of cool, practical, green products. There's even a modern chicken coop.

Having happily adjusted one's standards for what a hardware store can be, it only gets stranger. The store is designed around playful experience centers that cheerfully inform shoppers about everything from stylish Plumen lights to the water one can save with an environmentally-friendly toilet. There's not a whiff of sustainability shaming; this is all carrot, no stick. "We don't want people to feel bad, which is something that happens a lot with the green message," says the company's head of marketing, Kane Sutphin. "We think we can do a lot more to help the planet if people feel good about what they do instead of guilty."

The center of the store features the piece de resistance, a Genius Bar-like idea center where people can confer with informed but easygoing experts about everything from planning a xeriscaped yard to maintaining the aforementioned coop. This is a hardware store for humans, and the execution is both authentic and, well...slick. National chain slick. (When pressed about plans for scale, CEO Paul Yanosy - a former partner in a law firm in San Francisco - demurs, saying the team "just wants to learn" and get this store, which launched in October 2011, right.)

On behalf of people interested in modern hardware products that also happen to be green, we do hope he's just modest. Skip through our slideshow to see what TreeHouse is all about.

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