In San Francisco, the best retail window displays can be found in one of the most unlikely places – a hardware store. With four locations in San Francisco, Cole Hardware has been serving local do-it-yourselfers since 1926. It lives by its slogan: “Hardware for the soul.” That soulful spirit is visible in its amusingly artistic window displays created by the two-women visual merchandising team – Noelle Nick and Dominique Tutwiler.
Nick, an engineer who once worked at Bechtel, and Tutwiler, who majored in illustration at San Francisco’s Academy of Art, have literally turned circular saws, toilet balls, rubber gloves and other utilitarian objects into works of art. One display, which they titled “Louvre,” presented ornately framed “recreations” of Van Gogh’s sunflowers made from yellow-rimmed circular saws in a yellow vase and Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel made from two rubber gloves striking an imitative pose. Benjamin Moore paint dribbled onto a canvas paid homage to Jackson Pollack’s abstract expressionist art. These window displays are not a departure from Cole’s hardware products. Nick says that they are made entirely out of products carried by Cole.
Cole windows generate the kind of warm accolades that people reserve for local theater groups and neighborhood events. They make passersby pause and chuckle. The Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association gave Cole its Outstanding Holiday Display award, and Yelp, a San Francisco blog where people can post their review of local restaurants and shops, called the windows “awesome.” In an age of slick manufactured displays, Cole windows exude a playful creativity that make people feel good.