SOBU, Oakland


As much as I wish I could say my first encounter with SOBU was completely serendipitous, it was admittedly via Instagram (the ultimate destroyer of chance encounters)… Suffice it to say, I would have likely stumbled upon it sooner or later given my love for Rockridge and the ever-charming College Ave., but alas, one snap of an oversized succulent and custom-crafted furniture later—there I was standing wide-eyed in the doorway.

Having shared the space with Le Kube for a number of years, SOBU recently took over when Le Kube moved their studio to Berkeley. After closing for a month to renovate the space, SOBU reopened its doors and made its official store debut earlier this year. 

Inside SOBU, you'll find an array of home furnishings and accessories from independent artists and makers across the globe: A beautiful assortment of Moroccan wedding blankets, textiles from South African design shop, Skinny laMinx, a collection of work from local ceramicist, Britt Gerhard—to name just a few. Not to mention, SOBU's own line of custom furnishings serve to further define the space with clean lines, organic materials, and a healthy dose of charm.

The architectural and design roots of the husband and wife team behind the store are largely apparent throughout the space. We were lucky to have the opportunity to speak with the creative duo behind Sobu—Laleh and Alessandro Latini—who gave us some more insight to the space itself and the goods within it. Continue reading below...

TMH: You recently went from sharing a space with Le Kube (also a great shop) to taking it over when they moved to Berkeley. How did your independence and extra space allow you to execute your vision for SOBU’s retail space?

Laleh: We were sharing the space with Le Kube for about a year and a half and Le Kube was the original shop in the space, so really the overall look and feel was his. It was a challenge for us to hold back on our creative vision during that time as it would pretty much have entailed clearing everything out and starting from scratch! So, we jumped at the chance to take over when Le Kube decided to move. We closed up for most of January and seriously hustled! Alessandro's past life as an architect really helped us here. Once everything was moved into storage, the first thing we did was knock down the back wall which was blocking a huge, beautiful window. We now have an amazing view from that window and lots of natural light streaming in throughout the day. That alone transformed the space overnight. We then gave everything a fresh coat of neutral white paint and updated the lighting to be a lot brighter. The final two big changes were introducing a bit of architecture to break up the space. Alessandro designed and built a sweet wooden house towards the back that houses (!) our kids' products and he also designed and built with a friend a massive redwood shelving system at the very front when you first enter the space. We were really pleased and also a bit surprised at how dramatic the transformation was!

TMH: You have such an array of products in the store—yet they all manage to feel connected to each other. How do you describe SOBU’s curatorial point-of-view?

Laleh: Alessandro and I like to describe our aesthetic as modern with lots of warmth. We love modern clean lines and silhouettes, materials derived from nature, relaxed vibes...we love materials to show their true colors and characteristics. The less fuss and pretension, the more we love it! We're lucky that as a creative duo (married and partners in the biz) our tastes have a large area where they overlap. I really think that's the only way we're able to work together in a creative capacity and make decisions together about the shop's point of view and what designs to include and offer to our customers. Otherwise, marriage-wise and business-wise we'd be in big trouble (ie. big fights)!

TMH: Tell us a bit about some of the artists and brands you carry and what makes them unique.

Laleh: Now that we have more space to work with, we're super excited to start offering lots more artwork in the shop and in a wide range of mediums. The bay area is filled with so many artists and we're just starting to tap into the possibilities out there. Alessandro and I recently met a wonderful ceramic artist named Britt Gerhard at a design event we were all taking part in. We loved Britt from the moment we met her. She's warm, personable, sweet and authentic. We loved her pure white and elegant ceramic designs and just as importantly really, we clicked with her. She's just starting out as a ceramicist after a career in graphic design and we're super excited to support her in any way we can and watch her grow and blossom as an artist. Another talented artist currently showing his work in our space is the photographer Jeffrey Chery. I was in the shop one day and he walked in and admired the space. We started chatting and by chance he showed me a few of his images on his phone and I was blown away and suggested he show his work with us. He's young, full of great creative ideas, is motivated and again...we admire him as a human. SOBU is such a personal endeavor for Alessandro and I that bringing in anyone into the space with us is inevitably an intimate experience all around. It's not just a store for us...it's where we express our creativity and invite those we admire to take part in the expression.

TMH: How about your own line of furniture?

Laleh: We do carry our own line of furniture that Alessandro designs and is exclusive to us. It's pretty much a dreamy opportunity for him, as any creative person knows who has had a boss, to have full decision-making on a creative project from beginning to end. Alessandro designs for a wide range of other companies, so the designs he does for SOBU are truly his vision and his taste. It's pretty amazing to be able to design and offer your own designs in your own shop. How often do you go into a store and meet the maker/designer of whatever it is they are offering in the shop? Probably never these days! We mostly buy anonymous items from anonymous employees that are so far removed from the original source by the time we get our hands on them. We love that our space really reduces that gap and makes for a much more personal experience. That's so important for us!

TMH: What’s your vision for the shop moving forward? Anything exciting on the horizon?

Laleh: I envision SOBU taking more creative risks down the road. Not sure exactly sure what that is yet, but Alessandro and I are both really excited for SOBU's future and having a space to experiment in and really be creative with. Certainly, we'll invite more artists, designers and makers to join us. We'll design more, create more and really we both hope the SOBU space will be a dynamic part of our family's path and future. I keep thinking in my mind, 'the un-store store'!

TMH: Aside from working in an incredibly stunning space everyday, what keeps you inspired?

Laleh: Inspiration comes from strange and unexpected places sometimes. Architecture is a huge inspiration to me and I always marvel at our ability to build and create. And on such a massive scale too! Skyscrapers, houses, cars. Connections made with other artists and creative people is inspiring. History is inspiring when you look back at all the amazing personalities who preceded us and marked their time with their vision and their creations. Especially, the two little people in our lives inspire us everyday. Our kids Sofia and Bruno (SOBU) allow us to look farther ahead to the future and inspire us to be authentic and true in the choices we make.

A big thank you to Laleh and Alessandro for allowing us behind the scenes!

Visit SOBU at 5451 College Ave., Oakland.

Copy and photography by Ali Hartwell for The Merchant Home. Please credit and link appropriately.