The East Sacramento neighborhood bordering Tupelo Coffee & Roasting is a mix of upscale suburban residential and small-scale industrial. The coffee and tea house sits in a nondescript business park surrounded by an interior design lab, consignment clothing boutique and a jumble of businesses selling standard services like insurance.
Yet, inside, Tupelo hums with creative energy. On a recent January morning, three 20-somethings huddle around a large flip chart, brainstorming an expansion of the Second Saturday ArtWalk that would include this portion of East Sacramento. They sit next to a fashion designer sporting ‘90s retro clothing — complete with reversible vinyl windbreaker and matching scrunchie — who stands up to show off her look, giving patrons an impromptu fashion show.
The group reflects the eclectic neighborhood the coffee shop serves off Elvas Avenue, with its blend of high-end houses, industrial warehouses and art galleries. The business also sits in the middle of what two local designers say has the potential to grow into a true design district — a place where designers and artists working in fashion, design, art and architecture offer diverse aesthetics and services co-located together, and host events for both industry professionals and the community at large.
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Over the last five years, two nationally-recognized interior and home designers — Kerrie Kelly of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab and Nar Bustamante of Nar Design Group — have set up shop in this East Sacramento neighborhood, along with a modern furniture store, a custom homebuilder and an artistic accessories store. They joined several artisans already there. Bustamante, an award-winning designer who is consolidating two shops into a new footprint on Elvas Avenue, is the newest tenant and the driving force behind efforts to brand the area as a design district.
Hoping to capitalize on the revitalization of Sacramento’s downtown core, which is flush with development and attracting a rush of homebuyers, Bustamante hopes that shining a spotlight on area talent will lead to more projects landing with local designers, further solidifying Sacramento’s place as a new urban hotspot.
“Every amazing city I have ever been to has a design district with great galleries, home decor, furniture, accessories, restaurants and cafés, which creates a dynamic play on vibrancy in a city,” Bustamante says. He references cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. “If we can gain momentum here, it would create yet another district to attract our residents and produce a destination for people that are not even from here.”
Bustamante is accustomed to the energy and vibe of large cities. He was born in Mexico City, raised in San Francisco (where he remembers watching the blighted Potrero Hill transform into a thriving retail and design district), and spent a year in Rome designing a small residential project. When he moved to Sacramento from the Bay Area 18 years ago, the city was far from cosmopolitan. But Bustamante says he’s watched a transformation over the years and now believes Sacramento is poised to embrace the kind of amenities that make for world-class cities.
And he sees East Sacramento — specifically a stretch along and around Elvas Avenue — as the prime location for a design district because of its proximity to historic homes with design-savvy owners and easy access to buyers investing in downtown and Midtown residences.
When Bustamante made the decision to truly invest in his vision of a design district by consolidating his current Carmichael and El Dorado Hills stores into one big space, he called long-time friend and fellow designer Kerrie Kelly to tell her the news. A 20-year design veteran, Kelly had previously moved her design lab to East Sacramento. Bustamante says she was supportive of his plans to move — which would place two nationally-recognized and award-winning designers one block from each other.
Bustamante is a member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association and was recently named one of the Top 50 Innovators in the U.S. by Kitchen & Bath Design News for his unique style and pioneering use of materials. Kelly serves on the national board of directors for the American Society of Interior Designers, and was named one of the Top 200 Design Influencers of 2017 in the Home Design Industry by fixr.com.
Kelly describes Bustamante’s style as cutting edge, sleek and sexy, and her own as timeless and classic. Kelly says having designers with various aesthetics enables collaboration and individual successes, while minimizing competition. “We’ve been cheerleaders on the sideline for each other in our specific design areas,” Kelly says. “To have two people who are forces like that and very entrenched in the industry in the same city, is great.”
Homegrown talent with a national footprint — like Kelly and Bustamante — choosing to set up shop locally is a solid beginning to establishing the city as a competitive design market. “This city is on fire,” Bustamante says. “I love it. It’s popping and there are so many great things happening, but one thing I feel is lacking is a design district, an area where people know they are going to find a lot of awesome designers and higher-end products.”
A Rising Tide
Collaboration is at the heart of how many of the East Sac designers already do things. It’s been essential to the success of both the Sacred Heart Home tour in Sacramento and Traditional Home Napa Valley Showhouse tour (as well as a number of referrals passed between them). Started in 1973 as a fundraiser for the Sacred Heart Parish School, the Sacred Heart Home tour celebrates houses in the historic Fabulous Forties neighborhood, and has since become an annual event that attracts nearly 6,000 attendees and showcases the talent of local designers.
For the Sacred Heart Home tour, Kelly worked with another local design business, The Ruralist, whose owner Tom Kurth supplied the outdoor pots and landscaping for the 2017 tour. She also worked with Article Consignment, an East Sacramento couture consignment boutique, to supply the master closet clothes and accessories, for a recent Traditional Home tour.
“Every year, we look to partner with people that we work with every day,” Kelly says. “We have been doing the Traditional Home tour for two years and the Sacred Heart Home tour for six years, so to be able to cherry pick those people and really have your own design posse that you can share with other people, has been great.”
“I think we are ready for the next wave of development — it’s easier to navigate here, there’s ample parking. There’s a kind of an elegance and discovery when new clients find us.”Lynda Jolley, co-owner, Jay Jay Gallery
In addition to collaborations on home tours, Kelly works with custom residential homebuilder Doug Robinson, whose One Home shop is located a few blocks away from Kelly’s, on 57th Street. The pair has teamed up on model homes and new construction projects. “She and I refer back and forth to each other,” he says. “She sends people to me and I send people to her, and I pretty much try not to let her down.”
Robinson also refers people to Fence World Iron World on 65th Street and Elvas Avenue for custom iron. Fence World Iron World is housed in one of the oldest buildings on the avenue, and has been in the same location since 1978. The 100-year-old brick building originally served as home to the family-owned chain link business, but owner Stephen Lyman imagined it as more. “My dad wanted to stay in the chain link business, but I was interested in getting into the iron business and custom work,” Lyman says. “And I won out.”
Lyman learned the blacksmithing trade and pushed the business in a more artistic direction, focusing on custom ornamental and wrought iron work. He also converted the front lobby of the business to an iron gallery called FE (the symbol for iron) Gallery, where some of the shop’s decorative iron work, and that of contributing artists, are displayed.
Jay Jay Gallery, a contemporary art gallery on Elvas Avenue, planned a collaborative event with Lyman and the FE Gallery in 2015 to bring attention to the area’s art and businesses. “We are very interested in that kind of networking,” says co-owner Beth Jones, “so others know what kind of inventory we have and just how much.” Jones and co-owner Lynda Jolley work with designers and clients searching for collectibles, fine art and original art, and view Bustamante’s idea as visionary. “I think we are ready for the next wave of development,” Jolley says. “It’s easier to navigate here, there’s ample parking. There’s kind of an elegance and discovery when new clients find us.”
For Bustamante’s part, he plans to open his new showroom space later this spring as a gathering spot for designers to exchange ideas on project and design opportunities, and serve as the host site for participants and designers to gather before and after the Sacred Heart Home tour. The new design studio, which is housed in a former 1975 Mercedes Benz service center on Elvas Avenue, is being repurposed as a modern industrial showroom, complete with glass roll-up doors, steel staircase, white walls and maple wood flooring.
Eyeing the Future
Bustamante’s stable of clients include many of Sacramento’s movers and shakers, including Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who worked with Bustamante to completely gut and redesign his home. “I remember … [Steinberg] would say, ‘Sacramento is going to be a great city, you don’t want to miss out,’” Bustamante says. “There are few people that could say that in a way that’s as penetrating as him, particularly since he’s been so deeply involved in believing in Sacramento for a very long time. I took that to heart.”
Steinberg says that attracting creative professionals with reach like Nar’s is exactly what he hopes to see more of in the future as part of a broader mission to diversify Sacramento’s economy, which historically has been heavily reliant on public service jobs. To increase economic activity and improve public spaces through art, food and technology, the City of Sacramento launched the Creative Economy Pilot Project last year, offering up to $500,000 in grants to support projects such as pop-up events, art installations and street performances. Last fall, the City announced 57 award recipients.
“I just love the idea that a guy like Nar, whose company has been based outside the city for a long, long time, sees the energy and possibilities in the city center here,” Steinberg says. “We want to attract more people like him, who are on the creative edge and who have a vision for an even more modern, cosmopolitan city.”
A design district in East Sacramento could get a bump in momentum with the additions of nearby McKinley Village, a 49-acre development of 336 homes, which opened in 2016 (and will take an estimated three years to be built out), and the Sutter Park Neighborhood, which is slated to open in 2019 with 100-plus homes and a 1-acre park. “New residential development brings new commercial business, always,” says Jones, of Jay Jay Gallery. In addition to designers and new housing developments, this East Sacramento neighborhood already has a good foundation of cafes, restaurants and shops to round out the offerings for patrons.
Development and revitalization happening throughout other parts of Sacramento, particularly downtown, may also give a boost to a new design district. The Residences at The Sawyer in Downtown Commons — next to the Golden 1 Center — has the potential to bring in new business for local designers. Kelly is working with the brokers selling the units, along with individual homeowners, to help design the spaces.
Ultimately, creating the design district in East Sacramento will be the result of an organic, grassroots effort by those businesses already in the area, and those looking to relocate there and become part of something bigger. While Steinberg and other city officials may be supportive of the plan, the designers, artists and other creative businesses in East Sacramento are the ones spearheading efforts to make it happen, including working with the City to attract more design-related businesses to the area, as well as seeking out developers who share the vision to create a designated artistic and design district.
With his showroom months away from debuting, Bustamante is eager to embark on the next step by building on the design community’s assets and carrying them to the next level. “There’s already a lot going on here that we can expand on,” he says. “And I’m excited to get started and do my part.”