As she leads me around her two downtown stores, Suna Lock giggles with joy at some of her more unusual acquisitions, many of which she picked up from surprising places—including even the city dump—before putting them out for sale at her Walnut Avenue shops. A few doors apart from one another, many people know Stripe and Stripe Men for their brand of eclecticism, which is eight years strong, thanks to Lock and her partner Dana Rader.
At Stripe, the practical-minded can peruse jewelry, clothing, mugs, and perfume. At Stripe Men, those seeking strangeness will find a collection of aspen sticks, a fine assortment of desiccated animal jaws and vintage glass insulators with original dirt inside. Two huge model planes hang from the ceiling, which Lock and Rader found at an estate sale.
Yet Lock’s bigger impact locally may be in Stripe Design Services, the design company she founded, and through which she’s leaving her fingerprints all over Santa Cruz, from midtown to the Westside. She’s created interior spaces for businesses like Venus Spirits, Lifeaid, Santa Cruz Bicycles, and the Pacific Collegiate School. More recently, she handled aesthetics for Mexican restaurant Jaguar and Humble Sea Brewing—a hub of tastefully managed nautical motifs—both of which opened this year. She has also worked on Birichino, a wine bar whose owners hope to open soon on Church Street.
Originally from London, Lock developed an affinity for Santa Cruz while interning at UCSC in 1988 and ’90. “I said, if I ever came to the States, it would be Santa Cruz,” says Lock, who’s 43 and has two children, 11 and 13. She married for the second time this summer.
Lock started Stripe Design in Santa Cruz in 2003, a few years before becoming president of the Santa Cruz Downtown Association in 2009, where she was part of a major rebranding and the sidewalk kiosk initiative. When her term with the DTA ended this year, she joined the Santa Cruz Arts Commission.
Her store is decorated with found objects and a collection of skeleton keys. One of the changing rooms is wallpapered with someone’s lifetime correspondence, which Lock found in a box at the flea market. From inside the dressing room walls, a shopper can trace the woman’s entire adult life, from when she first left home, to when her husband goes off to war, then comes back, right up to when her own children leave home. “She kept everything,” says Lock, who opened the original Stripe store in 2009. “It’s her life on the walls of the dressing room.” It’s a wonderful and arresting piece of voyeurism, and Lock admits, “some people are arguably in there longer than they should be.”
Though it isn’t their stated purpose, the stores serve as an entrée to the design business.
It just happens to work that way, she says. “People come in, like the aesthetic of the eclectic Stripe and Stripe Men stores, and naturally begin to wonder: What if my whole house looked like that?” says Lock, who calls the stores a “physical portfolio” for her design work, with their diverse collection of found, new, and locally made items. “It’s the perfect vehicle. The stores are an extraordinary playground, where we can do anything we like. I can go bananas and express myself creatively.”
Just as Stripe stores can’t be pinned to any one theme or genre, Stripe Design doesn’t claim to be retro, mid-century modern, wine country, or any one of a hundred other styles currently in vogue. In fact, Lock prides herself on being anti-trend. “My aesthetic is the quantifying factor,” she says. “It doesn’t need any other restriction.”
Her clients are as varied as her tastes. She designed Venus Spirits on Swift Street, built to resemble a 1940s speakeasy. The maritime-inspired Humble Sea Brewing features light bulbs hanging from ropes strung overhead and royal blue walls that pop beside the white ceiling. For the Santa Cruz Bicycles, which is housed in the old Wrigley building, she designed a freight elevator with couches, leopard-skin carpets and a “Mad Men”-style bar, replete with a stack of ’60s Playboy magazines. The company loved the elevator lounge—the fire marshal, not so much. (Although it’s no longer in use, a photo of it is on the Stripe website.)
Her true value goes beyond what she brings as a designer, according to Sean Venus, founder of Venus Spirits.
“What I find most endearing about Suna is that she’s a bridge to the community,” Venus says. “She’s a great designer, but she also connects clients with local artists and people that can help with the project logistically. She also helped us navigate the politics. She’s a great networker.”
Casual observers may wonder: Will Stripe stores ever become another Anthropologie? And will Stripe Design become a mainstream interior house design firm? Lock finds the very idea terrifying. “I have a fear of our stores propagating, and losing control over curation. I look at Anthropologie, in terms of a competitive business analogy. They’ve lost something. It’s very disappointing. If those words were ever said about Stripe, part of me would die.”
Those who haven’t noticed Stripe’s impact on the look of Santa Cruz shouldn’t be surprised—it’s by design. “I think it’s really important that no one can walk in and say, ‘Stripe designed this.’ If you have a signature color, then everyone knows it’s you. It’s not about us—it’s about good design.”