Monday, July 22, 2013

The Height of Invention: Dave Allen and His Brilliant Artefact Design & Salvage

A California Design Report — Exclusive to The Style Saloniste

I’ve known and admired Sonoma designer Dave Allen since he first burst on the design scene with inventive and raw architectural details, salvaged, for decor.

Dave was among the first in California to see the design possibilities of the wrecking ball—the detritus of old buildings, the rusted and broken and dusty and weather-beaten and falling apart pieces that give new interiors and contemporary rooms a necessary jolt of texture, age, and patina and the shock of the reinvention.

Come with me and meet free-spirited Dave Allen, who travels the world to find rare and re-invented and revised and singular salvage pieces. He eyes weather-worn statuary, industrial cast-offs, broken-down elaborations from classic buildings, architectural ornament, as well as large-scale columns and old doors his clients love.

It’s improvisation, imagination, and daring at its best. 

This week I have edited an exclusive first look at Dave’s new furniture and accessories collection,and new products, including prototypes. We visit his Artefact Design & Salvage gallery in Sonoma, and learn what inspires Dave, his triumphs, and his travels.

Adrian Gregorutti shot the interiors/product photographs at Wendy Owen’s wonderful house in Sonoma. Come with me for a first look. 

DIANE: What's the secret of your success? Curiosity? Drive? Competitiveness? Bold ideas? Freedom? You have all--in excess.
I stay focused on my rule of thumb, which is always to create something beautiful. Anything else is a distraction. My guiding rule is to make it beautiful—whether it is a showroom environment that makes visitors stop in their tracks, or an elegant little corner detail on a table, or an efficient display stand that emphasizes the beauty of nature.

DIANE: Dave, it’s your company. You’re a free creative spirit.
Enabling everyone to really see beauty counts, too. Luckily I can design whatever I like, filtered through my experience. I take in everything but my process is very inwardly focused. Inspiration comes from unlikely places, but it is usually the culmination of everything I have been learning.

Last winter I opened my front door and on the ground was a fallen oak branch covered with several kinds of lichen. I picked it up and studied it. All these vivid colors, it was breathtaking! And it had been there all along, just over my head. I wanted to share it and present it so others could see what I was seeing. That was the inspiration for my new floral clamp, which in turn inspired my new wall system

DIANE: You're having fun. Perhaps that's your secret? Bliss! Enlightenment!
I am having fun. It has taken a long time for me to figure it out, but I'm doing what I was meant to do. I find my work, both the designing and finding, endlessly challenging. When it succeeds, I can bring pleasure to my friends and clients and make the world a better place. It doesn't get any better than that.

I have little eureka moments where I flash on innovative solutions to a design problem, usually during my morning shower, that fire me up for the day. It's all good. 

Some of the Newest Artefact Design & Salvage Products:

All About Dave

Dave Allen keesps a diary and notes. Follow along with his cross-country adventures, bold moves, crazy ideas and mileage runs.

February, 1997: Shoulders squared, Dave Allen walks out of a perfectly good Silicon Valley managerial career exchanging his pathetically cheerful neckties for Patagonia stand-up shorts.

Cashing out his laughable 401K, he wings it to Charleston, SC, renting a 24-foot Penske box truck, and proceeds to fill it with architectural antiques. Returning to his Menlo Park home 3,200 miles later, he wrangles enough buyers to hold his first private yard sale. More than thirty cross-country truck drives will follow.

Summer. On the road again, spent and overspent, Dave fashions first Yard Sale Postcard at a Kinko’s in Buffalo, NY. Hand addressing them from his dingy motel room, Dave races home, just slightly ahead of the sale date and a flurry of floating checks.

1998: Sleuthing from coast to coast, Dave cultivates an extensive network of sources. Buoyed by increasing sales, Dave lets loose a series of increasingly bizarre postcards and the quest for a showroom begins.

2000: Dave lays claim to a cavernous grain warehouse in San Jose and starts “moving a few things around”.

2001: The paint is barely dry when the showroom is named Best Independent Retail Store Design in the US by Visual Merchandising and Store Design magazine. Dave haggles in Europe and Turkey and returns with something he didn’t bargain for, a rapidly evolving aesthetic.

2003: Restlessness, coupled with an intriguing invitation, culminate in the move to a new showroom at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma. Undeterred by a tanking dollar, Dave opens his wallet in Italy, Belgium and Holland.

2004: In the showroom, modern design and highly ornamented salvaged architectural details commingle.

2005: Dave dives into European design and then tracks decorative objects to their source of manufacture in Asia.

2006: Dave ventures into India and China. Back home, he spends the year reading about the environmental degradation of the planet. He despises packaging, and for a time refuses to provide showroom customers with bags or wrappings of any sort. This strategy proves unpopular, and is soon abandoned.

2007: Attending Maison & Objet in Paris, Dave discovers organic tropical vine-forms presented as art. In a fit of counter-intuitive environmentalism, he battles the urge to drop everything and head to the jungle with an ax.

2008: Traipses across Borneo, Java, Bali and parts of Malaysia and the Philippines filling his coffers with wondrous new objects. He is intrigued by the economy of village-level production.

2009: Dave develops relationships and products with remote Indonesian villages, each of which specializes in a particular material. Containers smelling of the jungle begin to arrive in Sonoma and the fledgling wholesale business begins to build. launches.

2010: Asia continues to hold Dave’s attention. Innovative Las Vegas restaurant project with Roger Thomas sends him deep into the jungle. In secret, network of likeminded resellers expands.

2011: Too many buddhas in the showroom convince Dave to revisit his Rust Belt roots. He renews old contacts and salvages the East Coast. Dave’s second public art installation “Flotsam” debuts at Fort Mason, San Francisco, to decidedly mixed reviews.

Now: traveling, working, collaborating with traditional craftsmen in Asia, experimenting with new materials, creating the new furniture collection.

Branching out. Always moving forward. 

An Original Mind

Dave is constantly traveling to find material for his improvisations.

He’s adding newly created one-of-a-kind object to his wares—and experimenting in new materials, fresh concepts. 

Glass Blobs cast for me from recycled plate glass. Each is uniquely formed, and size is limited by the strength of the glass worker. Artefact, $29 to $49.
3.5" glass cubes cast into a metal mold.  Artefact, $29.

“My simple designs that are driven by materials and/or their artisan production processes. The genesis of these ideas came from watching the manipulation of the material—glass, metal, stone-- with no preconceived agenda. I create these things as a way of getting to know the material and the producer--typically a small studio or individual artisan.” –Dave Allen

After my visit to a factory in the Philippines, I re-cast steel gears in pure white bone china. Prototyping at the moment. 

An experiment in metals. The utilitarian form of a citrus crate, produced from aluminum, and patinaed steel and brass screws. No welds used in construction. Made to order, 18 x 12 x 9, $795.

From a stone-working village on the island of Java. River rocks carved to hold standard nursery pots. Each is unique, $29 to $49. Available at Artefact, The Gardener in Berkeley, and Flora Grubb Gardens, San Francisco. 

Dave, the Inventor

DIANE: What are you working on now?
DAVE: It’s all about new product designs. My secret mission has always been to help people experience the beauty I see in things, and I’m onto a direct new approach to do just this. First in the series was my floral clamp. I’ve developed a wall display system consisting of a steel panel with a regular grid of threaded holes. With numerous available components (moveable lights, clamps, shelves, holders) it allows the user to create elegant three-dimensional wall sculptures, or present collections in a new way. Very simple, this idea has many possibilities. 

New wall display system with moveable parts (concept yet unnamed and currently in prototype). Brass screws for added graphic element. Flexible neck LED lights mount with magnets.

And I’m still traveling to find things — off to Indonesia in a couple of weeks, and then I’m determined to do an old school East Coast wander, driving the big truck myself. My best contacts have always been made this way and I miss the zen of a good road trip. 

Diane: Dave, I've always admired your spirit, your originality, your out-of-thin-air ideas, and always your pleasure in the rough and raw and rustic. Thank you so much. I wish you great good fortune, continuing for many years.

Where to find 
Dave Allen, Finder of Objects:

Artefact Design & Salvage
23562 Hwy 121
Sonoma, California
Adrian Gregorutti, Napa Valley, California

Wendy Owen Design


mary constant said... everyone will know about my favorite "secret" place to find special objects!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Mary-

Yes, well it is your territory. You drive past...and those in the know stop and drive in and go and explore.

Now with this story...I hope Dave becomes even more successful, and can buy more things for your to discover.

I hope all is well on Diamond Mountain...loved your shots of fog in the valley. very best DIANE

Tricia Rose Rough Linen said...

You have captured the essence of Dave Diane, "spirit, originality, out-of-thin-air ideas". Endless inspiration and aesthetic nourishment there.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Tricia-

Thank you for your astute observation about Dave.

I've always admired his confidence, his belief in his own ideas, and his passion and dedication.
The idea of 'architectural salvage' was not in common use when he started. Now, everyone knows that great rooms and decor need the texture of old wood, used objects, and the funky and eccentric and surprising.
Old your handsome and fabulous heirloom linens, rough linens, and wonderful textiles.
Bravo to you at Rough Linen...Tricia. Thank you,

columnist said...

What a coincidence! I was just admiring a similar piece of drift wood shown in your second image, (on the dining table), which I saw at the Japanese restaurant where we were having lunch on Saturday. That, and many of the other pieces are quite stunning and would work well when lit properly.

Karen Albert said...

A man living his dream and at many times against all odds! Seeing his creations makes me want to go from my condo into a huge loft space to accommodate all of these treasures I want!

Thanks Diane and David!

2013 Designer Series

peggy braswell said...

love his shop + everytime I am in Somona try to stop. Adore this post.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Lovely to hear from you.

It's so interesting now with Dave's new collecitons. He used to be strictly 'one of a kind' especially with salvage.

Now with the pieces he is making here (the tables the accessories) and the pieces he is making in Asia, he still has a handcrafted look...but he can make multiples. I think his business is going to grow enormously. I'm happy.
my best to you DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Karen-

Yes, living his dream.
It's that lovely concept of 'overnight success' after twenty years of work.
I love his new concepts and prototypes...and I'm happy to be showing his work that is still in process and will be refined.
very best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


You'll have to come and visit.
You'd find Dave's location very original and surprising--and dramatic.
It's in a shopping-restaurant-gallery complex outside town, very pleasant and informal to visit.
very best DIANE

*Chic Provence* said...

Dear Diane thanks for a great post about a true original ...I first met Dave in 2007 when we both designed spaces for Dining by Design... both using "found objects"... his space was incredible, unforgettable that so many lengths of thick, old shipping rope could look so glam! He has been hard to keep up with, every time I stop in at Sonoma he is off to the seven seas...

xo Kit

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


How lovely to hear from you.

Yes...Dave has made some great friends along the way. His has been a wild experiment and I admire him for that.
He travels boldly and he is willing to look and learn and find exciting things for his clients.
There are fewer and fewer talents doing what he is doing...finding one-of-a-kind he is a treasure.
I'm very happy to present his ideas and his designs on THE STYLE SALONISTE for worldwide exposure.

Kit--my best to you and I hope to see you soon. DIANE