Ah, the grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it. The sentiment needs no explanation, and so it’s really no surprise that so many primarily urban environments have been experiencing something of a movement toward a style and culture that, at its roots, owes to the countryside, the cabin in the woods, the pioneering spirit of Americana. Perhaps, surrounded by so much concrete and technology, there is that innate part of us that wants to connect to something more pastoral and rugged. Or perhaps it is merely a stylistic trend, evidenced by sleek couches beneath ceramic bull heads in warmly lit living rooms, the civil war haircuts and beards on men wearing finely tailored flannels and boots that are likely far too nice and expensive to camp in, even while well built enough to endure it. Either way, its an interesting mix, a bucolic yet refined commodity, fully realized at a store like A & G Merch which first opened in the fashionable community of Williamsburg, New York, six years ago, and, as recently at this past October, in its West Coast equivalent of San Francisco.
Located in San Francisco’s Castro District, A & G Merch is lovely space with high ceilings, crisp, bone-white walls artfully adorned with multi-toned wood paneling. Wood is everywhere in this store, in fact, whether it be lamps (in some cases, in beautiful redwood), fantastic desks, one of which was made entirely from driftwood, wood slab plaques featuring illustrations of wildlife, or playful prints in barn wood frames, so I couldn’t help but reminded of the “lumberjack” reference I’ve seen thrown around quite a bit since the store opened seven years ago. Lumberjacks, after all, chop some wood. With owner Jill Goldhan unavailable for comment, I asked salesperson Peter Worger if he cared to weigh in on whether or not that usage was apt. He chuckled a bit, and sidestepped the coinage by telling me, “we prefer to think of it as an ‘urban suburban hunting lodge’. It’s a mishmash,” Worger continued. “We definitely have a rustic undertone to everything we’re doing.” True enough. Though, “rustic”, in a thesaurus, appears as an antonym to “refined”. Yet here the two play off one another within a perfect interspace of backwoods, kitsch and luxury. As I continued to browse I found myself compiling a mental list of everything I might need to renovate my apartment and convert it from a San Francisco flat to house in the hills, at least from the inside. There was an amazing cow hide butterfly chair, workshop stools, a playful take on a seven foot yucca tree, a branch bird pic that left me longing for the countryside chirping, and a gorgeous redwood floor lamp.
As a nice, mercurial, however unintended, or not, widescreen perspective on this particularly sweet harmony of homespun high living, the exit was wonderfully apropos. Sprawling from behind an elegant desk in amber light, which calls to mind an evening of a journal and a glass of whiskey after a hard day’s work in the yard, is, once again, that nicely rendered slat of plank wood. In this case, the slats resembled steps, which lead to the glass door opening out to the traffic, the honk, the siren, the skinny jean, and the paved floor of the earth. They were at once the then and the now, and, whether it might have any real connection to simpler times is completely subjective. But I, for one, would have loved to take a step back inside, sit at that desk, write something, create something, vegetable soup from the home garden warming in the kitchen, and soak in the quiet of a home away from home, where just outside the grass is truly green.