Artist James Lewis Tucker opened The Aesthetic Union, his letterpress shop and design studio, back in 2013. Based in San Francisco, James brings heart and soul into each project his studio takes on. Whether it’s working with a client on a custom design or creating an art print that’s relevant and inspiring for the times, James and his team continue to bring modern flair to a time-tested tradition.
His 1890 Victorian flat is located on Hayes Street in San Francisco, not far from his studio. James, along with his housemate, floral designer Torryne Choate of Birch, created a home that is filled with meaningful objects and beautiful design. It’s also a bit of SF real estate gold — the flat has all original molding, fireplaces, and enviable 14-foot ceilings. It’s been a peaceful oasis for the artist during 2020, and we’re glad to get a look inside. We had a recent chat with James to learn more:
Tell us a little bit about your home. What do you love most about the location?
The house I rent is from the 1890s and is a typical San Francisco Victorian flat. I really love it for its very high ceilings and big windows. Even though we’re on the first floor we get plenty of light because the flat is free standing with a front and backyard. I love the moldings and location as well. Being between the shops in Hayes Valley and Alamo Square Park is wonderful. Funny thing is, my first apartment in SF back in 2007 is just a few doors down. I used to dream about living in this exact apartment one day.
What was your “vision” for the space? Did you have a decor aesthetic in mind when you moved in, or was it a natural process that happened as you settled into the space?
My vision is really defined by my past. I came to love vintage and found objects because, as an artist, I had a limited budget to work with. As I became a little more established I invested in art and well-made furniture. In terms of aesthetics, I’m really drawn to simplicity and “lived-in” things. I select items that are going to be staples and last a while, so a lot of my furniture, art, and even clothing, has lasted me a decade or more. I also have a slight book addiction. Luckily, piles of books always look cozy.
Since we’ve all been stuck at home for a few months now, it’s become more of an important space than ever. What do you love most about your home? Do you have any favorite routines or rituals on a typical day at home?
I found it so important to have a balance and routine during this time. Luckily it was something I was working on already before the shelter-in-place happened. I take my time in the mornings for myself. I wake up and stare at the ceiling for a bit, reminding myself I’m alive and then I make tea while making my bed. I find that keeping my space tidy, even if I’m the only one seeing it, keeps me on track. Meditation has been a big part of my experience as well. It keeps the stress levels down in such a stressful time. I usually write poetry after since my mind is open enough to record thoughts buried inside. After that, I’ve been fortunate enough that I can go to my print studio and work. I keep the place where I work and live separately to give my body and mind clarity in those spaces. I’m very grateful for the square footage I have to myself in my apartment because I know not a lot of people have that. Even though there’s two of us here, it feels like we’re in two separate flats most of the time, until we want to be together and that’s wonderful as well.
Speaking of, your housemate is a talented floral designer. How is her work integrated into the design of your space?
My housemate and good friend Torryne also has an amazing sense of style. Since she’s a florist and ceramist the house always has the most amazing floral arrangements and the best plates, bowls, and other items. I’ll come home from work and always find a new beautiful piece or arrangement of objects around the house. She has also been going to the desert recently and bringing back the most amazing items- some of which hang on our walls.
How have you adapted your business during COVID-19?
Starting a business that specializes in craft in an expensive tech city really prepped me to be flexible and sacrifice (maybe more than I should) to keep the studio running. When it first hit we applied to every loan and grant that we found, eventually getting a PPP and EIDL and two smaller grants. These have been really helpful since we saw a 70% decrease in sales. Since printing was deemed an essential service we kept custom printing when we could and shipped through our online shop as our project manager worked from home. A big part of our business was hands-on letterpress workshops, so we started doing virtual workshops! These are fun, accessible, and upgradeable. You can join in and just watch or you can buy the print we’re making, too. There’s nothing like printing in-person but this is pretty close.
Take a tour of the flat in the slideshow, and check out prints + postcards by The Aesthetic Union here.