Indie Boutiques: Rare Device


I am a big family person. That’s why I live in Delaware and not anywhere else in the country, all my family lives here. Sometimes I think to hell with them, I’m moving to a city. Any city will do really, but I think San Fran would be very nice. Especially, since it seems to be a mecca of indie design and that seems like a good place for me!

One of all the places I’m sure I would be visiting often, if I lived in San Francisco, is Rare Device. Run by former jewelry designer Rena Tom and artist Lisa Congdon, Rare Device is a boutique committed to sharing indie goods for you & your home. Rena first opened Rare Device in Brooklyn in 2005 and then added the San Francisco location in 2007. The Brooklyn shop is now closed, but not to worry since everyone can shop online!

I recently sat down with Lisa and asked her some questions about running the shop & what’s coming new for Indie Boutiques.


1. Tell us about Rare Device. How did it come in to being, what do you sell and what does the name mean?

Rena Tom founded the store in 2005. She is a former jewelry and graphic designer who loves design. She was so inspired by all of the fabulous, creative designers she met along the way, both in person and online, that she decided she had to share her discoveries, and she opened Rare Device in Brooklyn. The webshop opened in December of that year and, combined with a lively and generally topical blog, has developed into its own microcosm of design.

In 2007, Rena partnered with artist Lisa Congdon to open a second Rare Device in San Francisco. Our larger location also accommodates an art gallery with monthly shows by local, national and international designers whose work meshes with the Rare Device aesthetic. Rare Device Brooklyn closed in May 2008 so that Rena and Lisa could focus on growing the flagship store in San Francisco.

We sell housewares, design objects, design and art books, bags, jewelry, original art and art prints, stationary items and some clothing. Our storefront and online shop is a place to promote designers, artists and artisans and to help them grow by taking on new projects and collaborations. We sponsor many events for artists, including gallery shows, trunk shows and other events. Soon we’ll be sponsoring pop-up shops for designers within our store!

We get lots of questions about what our name means! If you are an English major or an English teacher, you know that ‘Rare Device’ is from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan. (If you are a true bookworm, you know that Ray Bradbury took a stab at that phrase too.)


2. Can you describe Rare Device’s aesthetic? What types of goods do you like to carry?

Every object in the store has its own story, and has been chosen because it is either handmade, well-designed, useful, beautiful or all of the above. The aesthetic is modern and quirky while remaining warm and inviting – design that is accessible to all. Influences range from comic book art to entropy in nature, laser-etching to hand-lettering to nautical lore.

Rena Tom & Lisa Congdon

3. Who is behind Rare Device? Share a little about yourselves ladies.

We are both obsessed with art and design– fashion, industrial design, graphic design, art, on and on. Rena is a former graphic designer and jewelry designer and Lisa is a working artist and professional commercial illustrator. We are both amateur interior designers in our own homes! Our design taste is so similar that we like to say we were separated at birth, even though we are six years apart in age, different ethnicities and 5 inches different in height! We love curating for the store. We can be seen walking together at design shows, craft fairs and trade fairs with a shared brain (invisible, of course!). This shared aesthetic helps us to work together strategically. Rena curates most of the jewelry, ceramics and art books, for example, while Lisa curates the gallery shows, paper goods and t-shirt selections. We love working together and love what we do here.


4. What is the best and the worst about running your own shop?

Of course paying bills and prepping for tax time is no fun, but we pretty much love everything about what we do! You have to love design and customer service if you are going to own a shop like Rare Device. Having a partnership that works also really helps. We know that neither of us would like to do this on our own. It would be too lonely. Because we get to share all the responsibilities (including the yucky ones), nothing ever seems all-consuming or horrible.


5. What’s new that you are super excited about?

As we mentioned above, this December we are going to feature “pop-up” shops for independent designers every couple of months. Designers will share part of our space for a month or two at a time and sell their wares and show off their new designs. We think this will continue to make our shop more interesting, fresh and cutting edge.




  1. I miss Rare Device Brooklyn! It was right around the corner from my apartment. It was the perfect place to drop in when I was looking for a gift, which often lead to a gift for myself!

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