San Francisco has been a beacon for artisans from all trades since its earliest days. Woodworkers, silversmiths, furniture makers, painters, sculptors, and many more gifted craftspeople moved into the world’s most beautiful seven-by-seven-mile plot of land generations ago.
Our family, thankfully, was one of those families that made it and stayed in San Francisco. There were dozens of others, but that number continues to shrink. That’s why we feel it’s important to talk about the businesses that continue to offer old-world craftsmanship at a high level.
Our friends at Cow Hollow Woodworks operate with the knowledge and skill born from decades of experience. Enrico Dell’Osso is one of San Francisco’s premier furniture restoration and finishing experts who we trust with pieces passed down from our parents.
Where Cow Hollow Woodworks Started
Cow Hollow Woodworks started as a small restoration shop in the Presidio operated by retired general Travis Brown. Ron Hazelton, who became a beloved DIY home improvement television host, opened the business at Steiner Street in 1978. Ron built a reputation for expert repair and restoration while continuing to create an on-air personality.
Enrico came on board in 1990, acting as Hazelton’s estimator. Three years later, when Ron went into TV full-time, Enrico purchased the business in 1993.
“We’ve been fortunate that there’s always been consistent demand for furniture restoration and repairs,” says Enrico.
A Passion for History
Beyond repair and restoration, Enrico feels it’s essential to inform and excite people about the vintage furniture around us.
“When someone brings, say, a table in, I’ll tell them all about it. I’ll show them the care the person took to make it. I’ll point out the marks that the person made 100 years, 200 years ago,” he says excitedly. “Marks like that are direct connections to our history. I get excited about that. In a way, we’re able to communicate with the dead. That’s a big deal.”
One of Cow Hollow’s missions is building connections from one generation to the next. Another is to restore the furniture to its original beauty. “We want everything that comes through here to continue to be useful,” he says. “A conservationist might want to freeze an antique in time. We want it to be used because if it stays useful, it will survive. As soon as something loses its utility, it will die.”
The Cow Hollow Specialities
Ensuring furniture retains its usefulness means that Cow Hollow focuses on specialties rather than specific periods or styles.
“One of the things that we do particularly well is inlay work,” Enrico says, “which you can find in pretty much any century and most countries, particularly France, Germany, England, and Russia.”
The company also concentrates on French polish finishing. “It was the go-to finish for 200 years,” Enrico explains. “If you had an expensive piece, you would want French polish because it has extraordinary clarity and enhances the natural beauty of exotic woods like rosewood or mahogany.”
The history of French polish dates back to the 18th century. The process involves the application of several thin coats of shellac that has been dissolved in denatured alcohol.
“It’s sort of corny, but it’s called the Finish of Kings and the King of Finishes,” he says with a laugh. “It’s accurate, though, because it’s so beautiful. It’s delicate and durable but susceptible to water and alcohol.
“We respect and revere the French polish process,” he continues. “That’s one of the things that sets us apart from other restoration places.”
Many pieces that come into Cow Hollow feature lacquer, which became popular in commercial use during the 1920s, water-based, catalyzed finish, and spray lacquer coatings.
“We work with what we find,” Enrico says. “We are going to respect how a piece was done originally, and that’s how we’re going to repair it.”
Working with Biro & Sons
Enrico and the Biros have a long-standing mutual respect relationship.
“When we need hardware for a piece of furniture, there are really only two options, mail order or Biros,” Enrico says. “It’s a lot simpler to call the Biros rather than paging through numerous catalogs and hoping we get the right thing.
“I much prefer going over and talking to Rick and Martin, showing them precisely what we need,” he adds. “It’s done right, the dimensions are perfect, and our customers are always happy.”
A Local Resource
Enrico’s passion for vintage furniture means that he’s passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience. “We have time for anybody that wants to come in with a question or a concern or needs advice,” he says. “We’re happy to do that because we want to keep all this beautiful furniture around.”
The best way to schedule an appointment is to call Cow Hollow Woodworks at (415) 929-0218.