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Paris by the Bay: Bell’occhio in San Francisco

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Paris by the Bay: Bell’occhio in San Francisco

October 9, 2012

In an age where everything is beginning to look increasingly homogenous, an idiosyncratic store like Bell'occhio in San Francisco stands out all the more.

Claudia Schwartz, the proprietress, travels the world in search of rarefied merchandise from small ateliers: Austrian felt rucksacks, handmade brushes from Sweden, a huge selection of ribbons and ric rac from France, Pineider stationery from Italy. Long before the advent of online shopping, Schwartz would buy up European telephone books seeking out interesting places and fax ahead to set up meetings. "You can find something interesting anywhere you go," she says. "Discoveries are usually a result of talking a long time" (example: a trove of metallic flowers Schwartz sleuthed by chatting to a women in a market in Montpellier, France). Lucky for us, Schwartz likes to talk. To shop online, go to Bell'occhio.

Photography by Mimi Giboin for Remodelista.

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Above: The day we visited Bell'occhio, we were greeted by the sounds of Alpine cow bells (a shop staple), followed by Schubert and Rossini (Schwartz's husband creates a daily playlist for her from an enormous pile of CDs).

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Above: Schwartz's store is layered with detail; the wall of shelving is from a Dominican convent.

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Above: The two chandeliers are suspended from a custom boom, rigged by a nautical specialist. "When we need to change bulbs or ornaments, we simply loosen the ropes and the chandelier comes down via a pulley," says Schwartz.

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Above: French ribbons are a staple at Bell'ochio.

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Above: The store is known for its handmade boxes; the Aqua and Red Boxes range from $18 to $34.

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Above: Schwartz commission her own H2 Eau Carafe, inspired by some vials she bought in France.

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Above: The pile of hats on the left are Lavendiere Chapeaux traditionally worn by French lavender harvesters; $72.

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Above: A collection of baskets are from the southwest of France. Schwartz employs an in-house calligrapher who hand-letters all her signs.

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Above: An assortment of brushes.

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Above: From Schwartz's Tyrolean Collection: Tyrolean Hat; $56, Checked Shirt, $36; Lederhosen, $100; Socks, $30; and Austrian Felt Rucksack, $195.

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Above: Schwartz occasionally carries select fashion pieces: "Growing up, we had a dressing-up drawer that was packed with clothes discarded by my mother; everything from white Victorian night gowns, Marimekko dresses, silk slips, to her wedding dress."

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Above: Proprietress Claudia Schwartz in her signature ribbon bow made from antique French ribbon; Schwartz wear a Pip Squeak Chapeau dress.

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Above: Bell'occhio means "beautiful eye" in Italian. When the eye is open, the shop is open; when it's reversed, the shop is closed.

N.B To see more, go to: A Store That Separates the Wheat from the Chaff.

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