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How Hudson Grace's Owners Combine Practical with Whimsical

Nothing says love and friendship like a good old-fashioned leveling tool. At least Gary McNatton thinks so. The co-proprietor of the Presidio Heights design shop Hudson Grace gifted one such gizmo to his best friend and business partner, Monelle Totah, to help her straighten the menagerie of flea-market food art hanging in the dining room of her Marina flat. “Hello, I live in the city!” she says. “There are buses that rumble by my house and shake things up.”

Not that McNatton doesn’t appreciate a little lived-in charm. Though you might not know it from looking at his stark St. Helena home. But at Hudson Grace, which opened last fall, the painstakingly curated inventory is “hardly lined up like soldiers on a shelf like at Crate & Barrel,” says McNatton, a former senior vice president at Gap Inc. From chunky hand-woven baskets to overstuffed linen pillows and everyday trattoria glasses, products at Hudson Grace are effortlessly nestled, layered, and stacked, evoking the unmistakable undone-ness of home.

Not surprisingly, the shop’s soulful tableau is more in sync with Totah’s personal style. A Louisiana native, she’s a die-hard collector of all things artisanal and timeworn, and she’s cultivated an enchanting look over a lifetime of flea market reconnaissance. That is not to mention her 22 years as director and VP of design at Williams-Sonoma Home. “In a way, I’m the ultimate consumer,” she says. “I don’t just design with beauty and practicality in mind. I buy that way, too.”

As such, nothing is off limits in Totah’s home, a haven of European eclecticism. She unapologetically displays her collections, intending them to be used rather than just admired. For her regular dinner parties, she doesn’t hesitate to serve shrimp-and-chicken-sausage gumbo in one of her vintage silver soup tureens. And she always lights the candles on her fireplace mantle with matches sparked on one of her rare glass-and-silver match strikers. Highly collectible, black terracotta pieces by Astier de Villatte hold things like fruit and cheese. And the coffee table books? They’re actually reading material.

The merchandising at Hudson Grace tends towards the lived-in homey look.

“I love when my guests enjoy my home to the fullest,” says Totah. “That wouldn’t be possible if they were too afraid to touch things.”

At Hudson Grace, such interactions are also encouraged. And quite often, they can’t be helped. After all, who could resist reaching out to feel the storied texture of a wooden cutting board from turn-of-the-century France? Colorful linen napkins, rumpled just so, reward outstretched fingers with a supple, worn-in feel. And HG’s private-label dinnerware—handcrafted by European artisans using archival molds—is indulgent in its heft, size, and sometimes catawampus shape.

Take, for example, one of the oversized dinner plates, originally designed by McNatton and Totah for Banana Republic in the mid-1990s. “It’s got that soft, undulating edge, that curve, that organic feel,” says McNatton. “Think of the silhouette as an object’s personality, the shape of its presence in your life and your home.”

Such attention to form isn’t just quixotic, it’s exacting—driving Totah and McNatton’s natural scavenger instincts to flare up on their far-flung buying trips. “When we’re on the hunt, it’s like we’re satisfying a hunger,” McNatton says.

Antlers abound by McNatoon's sleek outdoor fireplace

On a recent jaunt to Paris, the duo unearthed curvaceous antique cake stands and full-figured vintage wine bottles, among other treasures, at a flea market. McNatton is rapturous about these simple yet formidable shapes. In the naturally modern Wine Country home he shares with his partner of 23 years, Michael Bodziner (a partner at Gensler who also designed HG’s Sacramento Street space), such profiles are even more striking in an edited setting. “The simplicity helps quiet my mind,” says the Kentucky native.

His marble kitchen island is the site of many baking triumphs; its sleek surface hosting the ingredients for a three-layer chocolate cake, painstakingly measured and organized for one heck of a mise en place. Armchairs from the 1950s (sourced at Erin Martin’s St. Helena showroom) are as boxy as midcentury furniture gets, but their cowhide coverings provide an organic foil to the clean, modernist lines. Inside a living room cabinet is a wealth of white plaster oddities, from lips to eyes to feet, hinting at McNatton’s wild side. “I collect things, too. I just keep them behind closed doors,” he says.

Out in the open are black-and-white photographs depicting architecture (a 1940s image of the Guggenheim Museum) and anatomy (a nude portrait by Herb Ritts)—an edgy counterpoint to the home’s rustic wide-plank oak floors and antlers galore. The picture frames lean against the wall in a casual arrangement that requires no precision instrument. Apparently, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. “What can I say?” McNatton laughs. “Mo and I are always learning from each other.”

This article was published in 7x7's April issue. Click here to subscribe.