When a neighborhood gentrifies, it risks losing its identity and character as the storefronts and owners change hands from old to new. We have seen a lot of this over the last two decades as Hillcrest has undergone a dramatic change from a depressed business section to the bustling mecca of small bars and independent owners that it is today. Furniture and Treasures owner Amin Usman faced this challenge when he moved his business from La Mesa, where he had become an established member of the professional community for over ten years, to the main street of Hillcrest.
Now the dilapidated walls have been replaced by a light sage color covering the completely renovated interior. The smell of exotic woods fills the room as the light walls contrast and compliment with the rich and dark colors emanating off the aged Indian rosewood (shisham), teak, and elm furniture. A majority of the 10-20 artists and collectors whose work is featured come from China, India, and Indonesia. Each handcrafted piece is personally chosen by Amin, and with over 20 years experience, he knows quality work and wood, when he sees it.
Born in Pakistan, he spent much of his youth traveling Asia and Europe. After settling in Paris where he was partners in a fabric shop, he came to the United States to help his parents as they began to age. In the '90s, conversations with several friends on the condition of Indian imports began to stimulate his interest in carving, carpentry, and lumber. During that time, a depressed economy in India was only just beginning to emerge as the globalization and export capital it has become.
In this early stage, the lumber was being shipped damp, causing it to crack and split a few years later as it dried. ""The first thing I did was buy a moisture meter. I never lost any money on it, and almost no one was using them."" Checking each shipment by hand, Amin quickly gained a reputation for quality pieces from artists, craftsman, and supplies in the east, and from customers here.
With his help, the industry matured, and the highly prized shisham began to be cured and air dried in the deserts of Rajasthan. In 2002, due to his work and reputation, Amin was personally invited to India to the newly built Indian convention center's first furniture show.
The bright exteriors mottled yellow and white is reminiscent of the desert from where the wood gains its distinct characteristics. Featuring a wide variety of styles, from colonial pieces, like the rustic rosewood console table with fluted legs ($495), the antique styled cabinet made from a centuries old modified doorframe, inlaid with ornate flower patterns ($1500), and an oriental styled coffee table lined with drawers with metal ring knobs, an aged dark stain stripped back so the warmth of the woods beneath glows through, and accented with a deep maroon on the legs interior ($695).
Between customers, Amin has designed several of the smaller pieces on his own. Some of the decorative lamps and candle holders are his creations. But design is not his focus, the people are. ""To prosper, you must have a niche market, good prices, and great customer service."" So he spends most of his day with clients, working with them and helping to find and select the perfect piece for their home or office. Amin makes each client feel at home, offering them drinks on hot days, welcoming them to take their time and relax in each item. ""For me, it is about building long term relationships. Someone will browse, three, four, ten times... but on the eleventh time, they will find something."" He describes browsing as like a billboard, something you see everyday and never really think about until you need something.