Photo: Gina Esposito
If we could trade places with one person in S.F., it would have to be Jay Carroll. The former Rogues Gallery brand manager moved to the city by the bay two years ago, to work for Levi’s as a concept designer. That job basically requires him to circle the globe, getting inspired, and buying loads of cool reference pieces, all the while chronicling those adventures on his website, One Trip Pass (Tough life!). With such a rad job and plenty of opportunities to source ridiculously cool goods (and meet their makers!), it’s no surprise that Carroll’s Telegraph Hill home is entirely awe-inspiring. Nestled on the leafy Filbert Steps micro-hood, with sweeping Bay Bridge views from the roof, and filled to the brim with relics of Americana, it’s a masterpiece in and of itself. Check it out after the jump and get ready to be transported.
The adobe-style fireplace (left) and a set of collected pillows (right).
Your place is amazing! How on earth did you amass this much stuff in just two years?
"I brought a couple of things over when I moved from Maine two years ago, but I was mostly wiping the slate clean. I came to S.F. when Levi's hired me to drive cross country to collect American artifacts and ephemera. I hit dozens of flea markets, estate sales, thrift shops, and junk stores, which is what I grew up doing in New England with my mother Cheryl. She has her own interior decorating business and an affinity for objects of character. So, it was a case of my pastime becoming my job, and, in this case, a dream job."
A peek inside of Jay's drawer, filled with pieces from his travels.
Tell us about your professional background.
"I was a stone carver in my early twenties. I carved limestone, sandstone, and marble under a master carver named Nick Fairplay. I was a roadie for a Southern rock band for two years and was based out of Memphis. Then, when I was 24, I moved back to my hometown in Maine to grow a small menswear brand called Rogues Gallery. Given the all-hands-on-deck aspect of the small brand I learned a lot and I learned it fast. When that crumbled along with the economy my friend Ned Martel and I invented our dream job instead of finding new ones. That became One Trip Pass—a search for American culture and craft, the beautiful things, old and new, assembled into a series of temporary art installation retail shops. People liked it and it became a real job."
Jay in his hallway (left) and a glimpse of his hutch built by Kelly Best (right).
Explain exactly what you do at Levi's now.
"I work on a small team called the concept team. Each season we travel to different places around the world to come up with ideas that influence the product assortment and other aspects of the brand like sustainability and presentation. What I like about it is that it isn’t shopping for garments, it's more wild, more out there. We learn about cultures and their crafts, their sustainable processes and ways of living. I also work on a project called Made Here. I find craftspeople from all around and work with them to develop special product within their skills. We sell their goods and promote the craftsperson and their stories both in Levi's neighborhood stores and on the Made Here blog."
Jay's window overlooking the historic Filbert Steps.
How would you describe your space and your aesthetic?
"The place was built in the '20s on the historic wooden Filbert Steps, on the East-facing side of Telegraph Hill. This is really old San Francisco. The natural elements are insane! I live in a tropical garden with wild parrots, a lemon tree, and an expansive view of the East Bay. The space itself is small, but it's perfect for me. It has old plaster walls and an adobe-style fireplace popping out from the wall so that it can heat the room. There are also lots of built-ins features, typical of the period. My favorite thing is the bubble window, which is probably an addition from the '70s."
Were you going for a specific feel or did it just come together as is?
"It’s still coming together. And it changes a lot, which I like. I like to travel. I like to find things and bring them back and remember the road. They're like room tattoos. I also like to get rid of stuff just as much— Collect, edit, find things, and give them away. I try to have an annual Tecate-spiked morning sale and giveaway in March. It's the cosmic American yard sale."
Where do you get your decorating inspiration?
"I don’t call it decorating. It doesn’t feel decorated as much as it does gathered. When odd things from different places come together in the same space they kind of talk to each other. My influences at the moment are Lloyd Kahn, Mary Randolph Carter, the Joshua Tree Inn, and Rick Owens’ furniture collection."
Jay out on his back porch.
What are some of your favorite items in your home?
"This cedar hutch my friend Kelly Best just built it for me. He’s a young and very talented wood worker who lives in the East Bay. I was telling him I needed something to store everything in. I wanted a New England-type hutch in a California style and he made this. I love it. It mirrors the shape of the fireplace and flume and to me feels very Sea Ranch. Then, my friend Louesa Roebuck comes by to hang out often and makes these wild and beautiful flower and plant arrangements. They make the place. Right now there’s magnolia and scarlet abutilon with fig and olive branches, oak leaf hydrangea, and Meyer lemon blossoms. Lou has a unique business where she forages from the land and yards of rich people and does arrangements for her friends and some really great restaurants around town. Lou is a punk rock Robin Hood Ikebana! Another favorite element is a Basquiat lithograph, which I came across during a very unique moment on Hollywood and Vine while traveling through Los Angeles for the first time about 10 years ago. I’ve framed it. Its hanging on the wall above the couch."
A look at the kitchen (left) and the living room (right).
How would you describe your style when it comes to dressing?
"Levi's, Levi's, Levi's, Levi's, Levi's. Salted with Gram Parsons and peppered with Japan."
What items in your closet get the most play?
"Three years ago I got this bandana at Kapital in Tokyo. I have it with me almost everyday. The new suede Levi's x Supreme trucker jacket is one of the best things I’ve ever put on. And a leather thunderbird on a powder-coated safety pin. My friend Rene Houlguin who owns RTH in Los Angeles made it for me. My favorite things come from RTH."
Is there anything in your closet that you have yet to wear?
"Yes, my ex-wife’s underwear. I'm waiting for the next Burning Man."
What's your best cheap score of late?
"I was in India recently and picked up a colorful cotton woven rug and a beautiful hand-embroidered blanket, both for about 4000 rupies, which is under $100."
What's a recent splurge?
"A lift kit for my Tacoma."
Jay on his envy-inducing roof deck (left) and a look at his many tats (right).
You travel so much for your gig. What are your most memorable experiences of late?
"It's tough, but here are my top three. 1.) New Mexico—I went last summer from Albuquerque up the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe, and Chimayo, through the back roads to Taos and then back over to Gallup. I love it there; The dry air and expanse, the regional crafts of jewelry and weaving, the spirituality and miracle culture. There’s something about that place. When I come home from New Mexico it feels like something is missing, there is a legitimate sense of longing. I’m not the only one that can testify to that. There is a reason they call it the land of enchantment. 2.) The South of France—I went there in September on what was my first real vacation. To paint you a picture of what days were like, I got myself a boat off the coast of Cassis. I packed baguette, cheese, cured meat, and rosé and went to the Calanque. I anchored and pitched the canopy. I climbed up rugged limestone cliffs and dove into crystal-clear water. Then I ate and slept. It was true paradise. People know how to live down there. 3.) India—From France I flew to India for the first time with the Levi's concept team. Over the course of 10 days we saw ancient temples, chaotic bazaars and markets, floating palaces, ashrams, dozens of villages, a woodblock-printing school, a recycled-art paper factory, an outdoor textile and screen printing factory, an ancient ikat weaving studio, the oldest and most beautiful textile museum in the world, Ghandi’s house, a recently rediscovered Hindi carved step well, a natural dye facility, a spiritual commune, all along with the most kind and beautiful people we have ever met. The trip was non-stop, overwhelming, and life changing."
What would you miss most about San Francisco if you left?
"The parrots. And the steps. It’s a magic scene."
Are there any new projects coming up that you can tell us about?
"I’m planning to join Occupy Big Sur."
Photographed by Foster Huntington