Tracy Simmons is a San Francisco-based interior designer who pairs warmth with captivating restraint and embraces the innate luxury in simplicity. She believes that honoring history, place, and architecture is at the heart of all good design. In 2019, Tracy launched The House, a retail boutique located in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood founded on the firm’s design ethos and a strong sense of community. It is beyond just a store and functions more like a design gallery and community hub featuring a thoughtfully considered collection of furniture, ceramics, photography, accessories and more from local artisans.
Melissa: How did you come up with the idea to start a retail destination? Tell us your path as a designer and retail owner.
Tracy: It is full circle. A little bit about my background— I took political science and European history— nothing to do with interior design. I ended up working for a big finance company during the recession in ‘08-‘09 I decided to go to design school. I got my master’s in interior design, and I started working for Kendall Wilkinson, a designer here in SF. She had a cute little retail space in the front selling candles and furniture. I helped with those elements. I worked with other designers since then—building houses from the ground up. Then I became a full-time mom; I have a 5- and 7-year-old. I took some contract jobs on the side and then I decided to get back into it and I put an offer into a small studio space, and I lost it to a bigger interior designer. But… I ended up with this space which is so much bigger than I anticipated. Within two months we were up and running but because this is a commercial street, I had to have some retail presence. All the makers came to me naturally—it felt easy when everything came together. It all made sense. The retail store opened in December 2019 before Covid hit. And despite being in the thick of Covid, the space has done really well for us, and I think it is a testament to the internal design and artisan community here, and this street is strong.
Melissa: Tell me how you find and source your favorite products for the store? Do you have specific criteria that you need to meet? What is something you sell that you never thought you would?
Tracy: There is so much in the store that meets my general aesthetic. There is a ton of vintage in here, there are a lot of antiques in here. I have secret antique sources that I love— they are two great guys that find awesome things for me. We collaborate with a lot of artisans. I am obsessed with ceramics and all things wood, it is really the material that is important to me. We use a lot of wood when we are building custom pieces for our clients and I find small woodworkers all over the place. A lot of the artists I discovered ended up being female…totally by accident. I was really drawn to their process and the hand nature to it— the human touch and story. We collaborate and create small collections in the store. We have a lot of local makers. For instance, we have a ceramicist who lives down the street and he does a lot of lamps for us. We will do a show around Thanksgiving and Christmas time. It has been a nice way to bring the San Francisco community here but also a good way to highlight smaller artisans who would not have a platform otherwise. We do not treat them like a typical wholesaler, we pay them for what they want for their product. I love this little store and this community.
Melissa: That is amazing. I love that you source and work with local artisans. What is next on your list to offer to your customers? Is there anything you want to bring to your customers that you haven’t yet?
Tracy: We are going to expand on our current collections working a little closer with Lan Jaenicke and Lauren of Harwell Godfrey for clothing and jewelry. Before Covid we wanted to roll out a custom fragrance for our store. We work with an LA company called Fiele Fragrances they make custom fragrances and hand sanitizers. That was all supposed to happen pre-Covid. We were going to do a custom textile line. I don’t know if we will continue in the home goods space. We want to open another store in The Hamptons. It originally was going to be a pop-up store but now we are looking towards long-term. We are going to explore in the Santa Barbara area too. We want to have presence in places that we have clients. Ultimately, our design business is expanding rapidly, so I am trying to balance that as a team leader and member. I think offering clients more avenues to come in here would be great, as this space is designed to be a community space. At the beginning we were launching brands and we would throw parties for them, and we would have lunch-ins in here. There were so many bodies moving through here. It was so great, vibrant, and happy. I just want to get back to that place.
Melissa: I am hoping that happens soon— that is so beneficial to the brands to have a space to do something like that. A lot of smaller brands do not have the capabilities to do so. It is a win-win for you and for them.
Tracy: Exactly it worked so well for both of us.