Earlier this month I got a note from Dan Friedlander, my friend and one of my first real “bosses” in San Francisco. It read simply “Life is not just an unpredictable economy or worries about how it might affect us. It is the mix of everything, from the morning stomachache to the refreshment that comes from a long walk. It should be the surprise that awaits us all as we round the corner, that delight that only comes from the release of attachments so that we can glory in the New. In this way, I’m saying goodbye to LIMN so that I can find myself.” Attached was the notice that he would be closing his groundbreaking furniture showroom and gallery and moving on to other things.
The attached letter nearly moved me to tears. Not because it was an end but because it reminded me of the importance of people like Dan in my life. People who saw something in me that I didn’t even see and figured out how to bring that out.
In 1997 I was a 24-year-old kid living in San Francisco with no real idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I had just spent three years in New London, Connecticut studying environmental psychology. I knew that architecture, urban planning, and the nebulous idea of place really got me going but didn’t have a clue as to how that would play out in the real world when I had things like rent to pay.
My friends and I had started a little ‘zine called Dodge City Journal that allowed me to explore my fascination with places I’d never been, but my world was still relatively small . . . until I met Dan. He had seen Dodge City Journal and he liked what he saw. He had a dream of starting a magazine that would merge his great loves of art and design and he asked me to help him. My world was changed forever.
Dan had started LIMN in 1981 at a time when modern (modern, not “contemporary”) European design was little known in the States outside of New York City. On the west coast it was unheard of save for a few hardy design souls who dreamed of merging the whimsical soft edges of the wide-open California landscape with the biting, boundary pushing designs coming out of Italy. He had been inspired by the work of Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Collective and introduced their work to California in 1984. He passed that love on to me and I would never look at furniture or a building the same way again.
Dan gladly had me partake in meetings with people from all over the world, allowing me to sit and take in this new-to-me global perspective of design. The idea that design (architecture, furniture, graphic, whatever) guided everything—bad design led to bad experiences and good design could lead to great, life altering experiences—in everyone’s life seeped into me in heaps.
It wasn’t just me that Dan took a chance on. He took a chance on San Francisco opening the flagship store in the decrepit South of Market neighborhood in 1981 two blocks away from what is now the San Francisco Giants’ beautiful ballpark. The neighborhood whose highlights prior to Dan included filthy streets, lots of drugs, and cold winds has become the glistening South Beach neighborhood, the jewel of San Francisco’s growth. He took a chance on his hometown of Sacramento, opening the second LIMN in the seedy Del Paso Heights. He took a chance on all those who helped put out those crazy issues of LIMN.
Working with Dan was no walk in the park, but he pushed everyone he came in contact with to question what they were doing and pushed them to be better. He pushed them to learn. He pushed them to think. He pushed them to explore, and he took each and every one of us on an adventure that we never dreamed of and changed our lives (wittingly or not) in utterly dramatic fashion. As my friend Patrick Hinds said about our LIMN days, “We shared in some truly amazing, creative and challenging times there. It was more like grad school than a job with a wonderful mad professor at the helm.” An apt description to be sure.
This seems like a good time of year to look back on your life and remember those who helped you out along the way and say thanks! It’s a rare and lucky thing to have a mentor who can inspire and move you in ways you never dreamed. Reach out and let them know. We need more people like Dan in the world!
In typical Dan Friedlander fashion, he is closing the doors much the way he opened them—by sparking people to think about the design world and what it means. Hope you’ll take a minute to read his final salvo; it’s well worth the time. Enjoy!