Business Briefs: Store furnishes the Bay Area with Nordic designs

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday November 8, 2017
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At their Scandinavian furnishings store Norden Living, Terje Arnesen and Christopher Sharpe showcase contemporary designers who have put their own twist on classic styles from their native Nordic region.

All of the furniture, lighting, and home accessories they carry come from companies based in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Many of the items aren't sold anywhere else in the Bay Area.

"Scandinavia and Denmark have a strong design history, but I didn't really find that here in San Francisco in the same way. I always wanted to bring that sense of design to San Francisco; really it's been a dream of mine since I moved here," said Sharpe, 51, who grew up in Aalborg, Denmark and graduated in 1993 with an architecture degree from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in Copenhagen.

After three years in Berlin, Sharpe relocated to San Francisco in 1996 and worked for a dozen years in architecture before becoming a licensed real estate agent. Three years ago he and Arnesen, who are both gay and have been friends for 20 years, started talking about opening a Nordic furniture store together.

Arnesen, 56, grew up in Oslo, Norway and moved to the Bay Area in 1982 to attend San Jose State University, where he earned a degree in journalism and mass communication. After stints in New York and Los Angeles working in the fashion industry, he returned to San Francisco in 1994 and opened his own antique furniture store called New Deal and an interior design office. Initially located off Market Street near Zuni Cafe, the store is now located in the Castro at 4529 18th Street near Douglass.

"As an interior designer I was always seeking modern Nordic design but didn't find anything affordable," said Arnesen. "I had set out with a whole business plan to open a store but it was a lot to take on by myself because I have the two other businesses. It was just a really perfect coincidence we talked about this."

The business partners focus on contemporary younger Scandinavian designers who take mid-century designs and update them for modern tastes. For the last three years they attended the Stockholm Design Fair, held in February, to strike business relationships with Nordic design companies as they worked out the business plan for their store.

"People are not buying antiques anymore," said Arnesen, "or now they are only buying a few things."

The Nordic furnishings, he said, fit perfectly with the design tastes and needs of today's urban dwellers. And their more subtle designs, added Sharpe, "don't dominate the space" of a city apartment or home.

Many of their customers are already informed about the brands and fabricators they carry, said the business partners, as they have researched them online and are familiar with their products.

The advantage of being able to come to Norden Living, said Arnesen, is they "can sit on it and look at it" before committing to the furniture, which they can buy while in the store or later from its website at

"Plus, you also get professional advice," he added. "You may be able to shop for it online, but there is no store to take it back to if you don't like it. Dealing with European websites can be a bit of extra work. We are taking that whole problem out of the experience."

Although they limit the amount of inventory inside the store, Arnesen and Sharpe feature a larger selection of items on the store's website and can work with customers to secure whatever furnishing they need. They frequently change what is shown in the shop, with items from Muuto and HAY, two Danish design firms, arriving in late November for the holiday shopping season.

"Those brands are highly popular in Europe and other parts of the world, but there is little to no access to see their products in San Francisco and the Bay Area," said Sharpe.

Arnesen added that their customers "have been asking for those companies."

Currently on display in the store are a Peppy two-seater sofa ($3,260) and a Nakki lounge chair ($2,510), both made by Woud, and an Era low lounge chair by Normann ($1,595 in wood and cloth, $2,046 in leather).

They also carry a variety of Krenit bowls in different sizes and colors ($109-$145) and bell-shaped lamps in various sizes and colors by Bell ($400-$630) that are one of the store's best sellers.

"There is humor to it," noted Sharpe.

Either for decoration or a high-end toy are wood animals by Nunu in the form of elephants ($76) and swans ($100) or wooden ducks on wheels by Ducky in several colors ($140). Another top seller for the store has been thick wool blankets ($295) from the Norwegian firm R�ros Tweed in designs from the architecture firm Sn�hetta.

Arnesen and Sharpe opened the store at 3618 17th Street on April 20, though Arnesen didn't realize the significance of the date, which is an annual holiday celebrated by users of marijuana.

"I kept wondering why is everyone giggling," he recalled about telling people when Norden Living would open for business.

Since then, despite the store's out-of-the-way location between the Castro and Mission business districts, the co-owners have seen a steady stream of customers. They have been participating in the Castro's recently launched monthly art walks and hosting in-store events to promote the various design firms they carry. During the four Sundays of the Christmas Advent calendar in December they will be lighting a candle, part of a Nordic holiday tradition, and holding special events at the store those days.

"People are becoming more small business oriented, especially in San Francisco," said Arnesen. "They want to support local, small businesses."

Norden Living is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

Couple to open gay bar in Redwood City

The couple aiming to open a gay bar on the Peninsula have selected Redwood City as the location and hope to welcome their first patrons next fall.

As noted in the August business column, boyfriends Brian Roby and Michael Wright had scouted locations throughout the South Bay for their bar, which would be the only gay nightlife establishment in San Mateo County. The East Palo Alto residents have also been hosting Guerrilla Gay Bar events in the area to drum up support (and future customers) for their proposed bar.

In a note to supporters last month, the couple announced they would open their bar in the county seat and reveal its name and branding in February. They did not disclose the bar's exact location in Redwood City, nor respond to a request for comment about the lease details.

"We're excited and proud to share that we were able to complete the first phase of development ahead of schedule, and barring any major setbacks, we hope to open our doors in Redwood City just one year from now!" stated the couple's message, posted October 23 to their Facebook page for the bar at

They are hosting their next Guerrilla Gay Bar event from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, November 10, at The Blacksmith, 2048 Broadway in Redwood City.

Castro Merchants welcome the holidays

The annual Christmas decorations in San Francisco's gay Castro district will be going up earlier this year and staying around a little longer as businesses look to draw in more customers during the still important season of shopping. The Castro Merchants will begin wrapping the Palm trees along upper Market Street's median with red and silver bows and switching on the lights decorating the throughway's sidewalk trees the week of November 20.

"We want to create a warm village glow along Market Street," said Daniel Bergerac, president of the business association.

The morning of Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23, will see the installation of the 28-foot-tall holiday tree in the plaza in front of the Bank of America building at the corner of Castro and 18th streets. And the traditional tree lighting ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, November 27, emceed by B.A.R. society columnist Donna Sachet. Expect a visit from Santa and his elves as well as performances by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Band.

The December 7 edition of the recently launched evening Castro Art Walk events, held on the first Thursday of the month, will be themed to the holidays. And for the third year in a row the Castro will host a Hanukkah Menorah lighting ceremony, taking place this year at 6 p.m. Wednesday, December 13, in Jane Warner Plaza on 17th Street at Castro and Market.

Another holiday tradition returns the Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving at Cliff's Variety (479 Castro Street), when the family-owned general store will give shoppers 20 percent off their purchase if they donate $5 to the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, the nearby public elementary school. The store will also be donating 10 percent of its proceeds on Friday, December 1, to the AIDS/LifeCycle, the yearly June fundraiser for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected].