The design world lost a treasured visionary and patron earlier this year. Remembered for her lifelong dedication to design students and her role in the historic founding of the San Francisco Design Center, Clarellen Adams was a champion of the interior design community.
An honorary member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Adams died at home in San Mateo, Calif., on Jan. 12. She was 93.
An unfailing supporter at local and national ASID events, Adams’ philanthropic activities focused on elevating the visibility of interior designers and the wider design industry. Celebrated for her engaging personality, networking savvy and bold fashion choices, Adams loved being out and about among like-minded people. Her charitable largesse extended to the Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA); At the Crossroads, which supports homeless youth; and cancer research. Adams also provided scholarships to students in the interior design program at Cañada College, a Redwood City community college that emphasizes diversity.
Adams had long been recognized for her leadership in the interior design industry. She first made a name for herself riding shotgun as her husband developed San Francisco’s design and decorating epicenter.
Raised in Waukon, Iowa, Adams attended Iowa State University where she majored in home economics and minored in art. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco where she met and married Henry Adams in 1949. The couple played a pivotal role in establishing San Francisco as a vibrant hub of the design industry.
While managing Western Merchandise Mart, her husband saw potential in a new approach. In 1967, he helped found the Ice House, a two-building complex filled with designer showrooms that, unlike the furniture mart, welcomed interior designers. An enterprising developer, he began buying up buildings South of Market Street in a neighborhood of vacant warehouses. Showplace opened in 1971 and Galleria in 1974; the buildings were connected to form Showplace Square.
From the beginning, Adams was her husband’s right-hand woman, nurturing a real community among their tenants, sustained with special industry events and charitable fundraisers.
In 1983, two years after her husband died, Showplace Square was converted into the San Francisco Design Center (SFDC) and Adams became vice president of industry relationships at the center.
Clarellen Adams lived a full and meaningful life and many ASID members remember her fondly:
Linda Kay DeMartini, ASID, CID
Clarellen had boundless energy and loved being with people. She was always the life of any party. We shared many rides to evening ASID events (she didn’t like to drive at night), and she would quiz us to see if we had a scoop to include in the SFDC news. She always had stories to tell. She was a great support to ASID. She seemed so humble and sweet but was invaluable to networking in our design community.
Barbara L. Jacobs, FASID
San Jose, Calif.
You have to have been in this business long enough to remember that Clarellen and Henry first opened the Galleria to lure designers from the Ice House. They would open the roof of the Galleria and set up the grills in the atrium. Then every Friday at lunch time, Clarellen would man those grills and barbeque up a pile of FREE hot dogs for whoever showed up. We all sat down at the picnic tables that were the furniture in the atrium at the time. It was a very sociable event every Friday at lunch!
When I was a student, the Peninsula Chapter and San Francisco Chapters of ASID sponsored a student show on the main floor of the Showplace, which at the time was raw exhibition space used for market week. After the spaces were assigned, we went to work designing them. We had a week to construct and install our space, much like a show house. We borrowed from the showrooms wherever we could and remember, since this was a student show, none of the showroom owners knew us, or we them. After I won my assignment, which I was going to turn into a hotel lobby, I was standing in the lobby of the Showplace and eyeing a very large item that looked like it was a bar that had been removed from someplace. I went to the desk and asked who owned that piece, and Clarellen was pointed out to me. I turned around and introduced myself and asked if I could borrow it for the Designers Debut ’76 show. Much to my delight, she said, “Sure.” I used it for the show and my space won Best in Show and was published in the local Sunday supplement to the San Jose Mercury News as well as Interior Design magazine. It was an exciting time for me. I feel it launched my career and Clarellen was responsible!
Patricia Borba McDonald, ASID, CID
San Jose, Calif.
I’ll never forget seeing and meeting Clarellen and Henry when they first opened the Design Center in its present location. The Ice House was the design center before that, and quite elegant. We were a little curious as to what to expect of the new Design Center. I was impressed with them and what a handsome couple they made. They were friendly to all and really set a positive standard, which brought us into a new design world.
Clarellen was a party doll. She was full of fun and loved to laugh. Being a great supporter of ASID, she attended many events and really cared about the design industry and how to serve us. Her natural talents included mixing and networking, while at the same time being a fashion diva.
Pamela Pennington, ASID
Palo Alto, Calif.
My memory of Clarellen is of a whirlwind. I’ve never met anyone with so much energy and enthusiasm for life. If she wasn’t out golfing with her man posse, the only woman, she was off to an event. She showed up at almost all the ASID celebrations as a wonderful supporter.
Nancy Wolford, Ph.D.
Retired Former Interior Design Department Chair, Caada College
Redwood City, Calif.
Clarellen was the best friend and supporter of design students that one could hope for. She knew these were the next generation of interior designers. She helped students and design programs in the Bay Area in a variety of ways, financially and with in-kind donations. Clarellen served for many years on the Caada College Interior Design Advisory Committee, and she attended graduation and awards events where she encouraged and congratulated students. Her support of the San Francisco Student Career Forum was tremendous. Her enthusiasm, love of color and red boots are probably what most students who attended the Career Forum remember about her.