Need some inspiration for the upcoming America's Cup, touching down in S.F. next week? Look no further than lovely local Susan Hoff, a sea-centric designer who hawks dreamy bags made out of reclaimed sails. We became obsessed with her accessories after seeing them at some of our fave shops (Voyager, Gravel & Gold, etc.) and just had to meet the woman behind the brand.
Turns out, she's just as unique as her one-of-a-kind creations — and so is her Valencia Street home-slash-studio. The totally rad boat-like space features a rustic work area and a sleeping bunker that the blonde babe made herself, inspired by living on the waves as a sailing instructor. Dive into the impressive space right here, plus get Hoff's sailor-approved guide to the city.
Photographed by Abby Wilcox
Photographed by Abby Wilcox
Tell us how you started making bags and launching your line.
"I've always been a bit of a bag lady, collecting and making bags from a young age. But my first foray into making bags from sailcloth came when I was working as a sailing instructor in Maine and a friend gave me a beautiful old canvas sail. I constructed a rugged tote from it and was searching for something to use as handles when my mom sent me an old piece of horse tack from the farm. It was the perfect thing. From there I started making bags in earnest for friends and a couple of small boutiques in Maine before working up to my first collection that I launched in the fall of '09 in NYC."
What's your professional background?
"I was working as a sailing instructor for the Outward Bound Sea Program in Maine, leading multi-week expeditions on 30’ open boats with 10-12 students. When I moved to NYC I drove a launch on the Hudson while making bags on the side. Shortly after launching the line I moved out to San Francisco and have been here ever since."
Susan, in a Madewell dress, stands in the doorway of her sleek, boat-like nook, which she built herself.
How would you describe your studio?
"This space is constantly evolving, serving as a place for me to experiment with color, material, and pattern in different contexts. I get an idea, build/make something, live with it, adjust it, tear it down, remake, and redesign. I feel inspired here, free to make whatever strikes my fancy. The space is rough hewn, functional, organized, light, warm, and full of creative reuse."
Next to the sleep nook is this rustic-cool studio space, where she makes her sailcloth bags.
Tell us about your history with sailing.
"I first learned to sail on dinghies at a summer camp in South Carolina. Then in college I did a semester program with Sea Education Association, studying nautical science and oceanography, while sailing from St. Croix to Key West. That experience opened doors that ultimately lead to getting my captain’s license and my job with Outward Bound by way of a Ritt Kellogg wilderness sailing grant. Now that I’m a full-time bag maker, I just sail for fun around the Bay and elsewhere. Last year I was fortunate enough to sail from Cape Town to Barbados, but haven’t found the time to escape for such adventures since."
When America's Cup comes to town, will you be involved any way?
"Apart from being an eager spectator, I will be releasing a commemorative series of bags next summer — the America’s Cup Collection — so stay tuned!"
Susan, in a vintage jumpsuit, shows off one of her unique creations.
What are you favorite aspects of the studio?
"I like being surrounded by materials and objects that I’ve collected on various outings and adventures. Everything in the space has meaning and tells a story, inspires me, and grounds me. I also really love the natural light, the ability to build out and experiment with design, and the old hulking printing table that anchors the space."
Reclaimed sails are stacked up on shelves that line the studio.
How would you describe your personal style?
"I would say my personal style is a reflection of my personal story, incorporating aspects of the places I’ve lived and loved. So, Midwest farm girl meets California beach vintage by way of the foggy Maine coast."
Susan sits on her desk, which is surrounded by an inspiration board, plants, and knickknacks.
What three pieces in your wardrobe get the biggest workout?
"A pair of vintage Lucchese cowboy boots that I picked up on a trip home, any simple cotton tee, and my favorite cashmere wrap for chilly San Francisco evenings."
We're pretty much obsessed with Susan's vintage firefighter jumpsuit!
What shops in San Francisco do you love to visit?
"I was recently charmed by Kelly and Rod over at The Perish Trust
and all of their well-curated collections. I also love to spend time in the jungle over at Flora Grubb
, reading surf mags at Mollusk
, and dreaming up ideas at Building Resources
Sea-themed inspiration and fabric samples fill the board above Susan's desk.
You live in the heart of the Mission. What are your favorite spots around your home-studio?
"With so many gems in the neighborhood, it's hard to choose, but within just a one-block radius my favorites include Adobe Books
, Bar Tartine
, The Hideout
, and the corner store that has fro-yo."
A smaller Susan Hoff bag, sealed with nautical details.
Is it ever hard to live and work in the same space or do you love it?
"I love it. The homey, non-toxic nature of my work makes it something fairly complementary to a live/work situation. But I also love being able to work late into the night when I am feeling most inspired, bouncing back and forth between the kitchen and the studio, and having a very short commute!"
Where all the action goes down.
When you're not making bags, what else are you doing?
"Baking, sailing, looking for parking, cruising the Mission on bike or on foot, trekking out to the ocean for a swim or a surf, frolicking with friends, and looking for adventures."
You can take the girl out of West Virginia...
What are your favorite places to sail in the Bay Area?
"It's always fun to sail under the Golden Gate and get a westerly perspective on the city. But my favorite little jaunt is to leave with friends out of the Berkeley Marina and sail upwind to Sam's in Tiburon, enjoy a cocktail on the patio at sunset, then fly back to Berkeley on a downwind run."
Straps waiting for sailcloth on the left, the finished product on the right.
How did you put together your sleeping nook and area? What was it inspired by?
"The actual building of the little nook happened pretty quickly. It is a simple design that I came up with after sketching on bar napkins with a boatbuilder friend of mine. Drawing on the efficiency found in boats, the design aims to maximize the space of such a small footprint and also be comfortable and livable. I am also inspired by the clean aesthetic and efficient use of space found in Scandinavian and Japanese design."
Susan's tiny bunker includes shelves for her clothing and books, a sitting area, and a bunk bed up top.
What's up next for you?
"Long-term goals include expanding the line to include textile design, furniture, interiors, and possibly opening a storefront. As for the near term, I am excited about a new collaboration with Kelly and Rod at The Perish Trust combining vintage textiles with simple furniture design. Stay tuned for the collaborative release this fall!"
The laid-back lady, sitting pretty in her space.