Carl Croft and Steve Fletcher Create the Definitive Holiday Destination

Carl Croft and Steve Fletcher are the owners of Dandelion, San Francisco's destination for all things holiday decor.For many San Franciscans, the holiday season doesn’t begin until a visit is paid to Dandelion. The day after Thanksgiving, the design-district shop—a destination year-round for stylish gifts, tabletop and books—debuts its holiday finery. The store is filled to the brim with festive wraps and crackers, sweets and music boxes, cards and calendars, tabletop decor, and hundreds of ornaments displayed on 10 fanciful Christmas trees. Accompanied by the aroma of hot mulled cider and music, it doesn’t get jollier than Dandelion in December. We talked to life and business partners Carl Croft and Steve Fletcher, the real-life elves who mastermind the store’s annual holiday wonderland. 


Where did your holiday obsession start?
: Both our mothers were teachers and had to decorate their classrooms. My birthday is three days before Christmas, and my mother and I did the family tree each year.
SF: Mom had a huge closet of decorations that came out every year. When our store opened over 50 years ago, we first became famous for elaborate candy houses; when that got out of hand, we put a tree in the window with our favorite ornaments. When we moved to this location 17 years ago, there was no window display so we started doing the trees.

A festive silver and gold tree at Dandelion in San Francisco.The trees correspond to different areas of the store: children, pets, books. What inspires the different treatments?
: Carl is always writing notes and making sketches, but it’s all in his head. The color combination of curtains in a restaurant will catch his eye, and his friends and I will say, “I think I see a tree coming.” 
CC: We buy ornaments in January, and I’ll have what I’m looking for kind of sketched in my mind as themes. When they’re delivered in the summer, I put them away separated by tree. 

How do you manage the logistics of the instant switchover from Thanksgiving?
: The night before Thanksgiving, we close at 6 p.m., and I start bringing out the trees I’ve had laid out in back. I work the next day practically until Steve calls and says our dinner guests have arrived. Friday morning I come in early, and when the doors open at 10, you can’t believe how many people come in to see if we did it again this year.

A peek into San Francisco's Dandelion decked out for the holidays.

Can you choose a favorite tree?
: I did a tree for the symphony with photos of all the orchestra players arranged as on stage: first and second violins beside the cellos, etc. The symphony ended up buying it themselves at silent auction!
SF: I’m always partial to the Western tree with cowboys and cowgirls, horses, wildlife and birds. I grew up on an Oregon ranch-—those are my roots.

Do trees ever go wrong?
: I got a flocked tree, thought it would be nice for the Western bird tree. But it was a mess. I got deep in flock doing it—all that white stuff falls off, and you have to vacuum all day. 
SF: We used to put electric trains running around the trees, but people’s dogs would derail them. Some of the strange color combinations are goofier, and I think Carl plays with me to see how far he can go. One year he did this crazy tree, chartreuse and purple together for a ’50s–’60s look! Turns out it was immensely popular.

What specially themed tree will you do this year?
: I’m doing an industrial tree with wonderful architectural models I found—all stainless steel, stars and snowflakes with a splash of red every once in awhile. I don’t know that it’s been done. We’re in the design district, and I think it’s something the designers will appreciate. 

A nutcracker is part of the holiday display at Dandelion in San Francisco.How about ornaments?
: I think black ornaments make a sophisticated tree. Know what your own ornament look is and add to that every year. If you’ve always done a blue tree, be on the lookout for this year’s blue ornament edition. 
SF: The selection changes every year. If you see something you like, buy it now.

What advice do you have for people who aren’t confident about decorating?
: If you don’t feel like putting up your tree, have a party and invite people to come help. You get to see friends, and everybody gets to decorate.

How do you celebrate at home? 
: You know somehow you just don’t want to go home and do your tree. My family was coming one year and I said, “Couldn’t we all just go to the store?”

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Take a Bough.