Eames Institute acquires San Francisco’s storied William Stout Architectural Books

A New Chapter

Eames Institute acquires San Francisco’s storied William Stout Architectural Books

Bill Stout at Bill Stout Architectural Books in Jackson Square, San Francisco. (Leslie Williamson/Courtesy the Eames Institute)

A relatively new-on-the-scene Bay Area nonprofit has announced its acquisition of an enduring San Francisco institution that has served as a mecca for architecture- and-design-minded bibliophiles for just shy of 50 years: William Stout Architectural Books.

The news comes following a year of talks between the Petaluma-based Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity, which formally launched just this April, and the beloved bookstore’s namesake sole proprietor. Coming out of the turbulence of the COVID crisis in 2021, Stout, like many longtime small business owners battered by the pandemic, began to contemplate his retirement. This is when the fledgling Eames Institute, helmed by Charles and Ray’s granddaughter Lisa Demetrios in the role of chief curator with backing from Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia, stepped in discuss how the legacy of Stout Books could best be preserved.

As detailed in a press release announcing the change of ownership, which was formally completed on October 1, not much will change in terms of day-to-day operations following Stout’s departure. Famed for its vast selection of titles (particularly rare and out-of-print tomes) relating to architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and design in its myriad forms, the bookseller’s brick-and-mortar location at 804 Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco’s historic Jackson Square neighborhood isn’t going anywhere. The store’s online storefront will continue catering to customers far and wide. Staff members are also being retained during the transition. And as for Stout himself, he will stick around as a wisdom-holding consultant who obviously knows the store’s massive inventory—and its sizable legion of loyal customers—better than anyone else.

bookseller william stout outside of his namesake san francisco store
Bill Stout opened his namesake bookstore in 1974. (Leslie Williamson/Courtesy the Eames Institute)

“The stars seem to be aligned in 2022, and I am so excited about this new chapter for Stout. We’ve all decided to keep the direction of the shop intact for the future, which I feel is a tribute to all parties involved and a real boon for the design community as a whole,” Stout said in a statement.

“The Eames Institute’s shared passion for design makes it a logical fit for the shop,” he added. “It is with pleasure that I hand over the operation of the shop and am excited to continue to be involved as a consultant to the Eames Institute. I want to thank everyone for being supportive of the shop over its 48 years of existence.”

(Digging way back into the AN archives, you can read a 2009 interview with Stout here.)

As for Gebbia, principal patron of the Eames Institute, he’s also a longtime customer of San Francisco’s fabled architectural bookstore. The Georgia-born billionaire moved to the city after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design to work as a designer at Chronicle Books in the mid-aughts. And like all San Francisco-based designers and design lovers, William Stout’s bookstore soon became a fixture.

interior of a large architectural bookstore
Inside Stout Books, a longtime San Francisco fixture that will continue under the ownership of the Eames Institute. (Leslie Williamson/the Eames Institute)

“William Stout is a true testament to the importance of design, and his store is a complete treasure,” said Gebbia. “The legacies of Ray and Charles Eames and William Stout go hand in hand as some of the most cherished and influential people in the design community here in California, and it’s an honor to meld these two together through the Eames Institute.”

As mentioned, the Eames Institute was officially launched just this year with headquarters located at the William Turnbull–designed Eames Ranch in Petaluma, a small Somoma County city in the Bay Area’s North Bay region. Still operating as a working farm as it was when purchased in 1992 by Lucia Eames, daughter of Charles Eames, the ranch is currently undergoing a major, multi-year revitalization effort ahead of its eventual public opening. In the interim, Stout Books will serve as an outpost of sorts for the institute where customers and the public can learn more about the mission of the Eames Institute and its holdings. In addition to the ranch itself, these holdings including the Eames Collection, which is comprised of a lion’s share of the contents from the original Eames Office in Los Angeles. While it has not staged any in-person exhibitions, the Eames Institute has presented a series of online shows since launching. This includes the recent Return to Sender, which showcases a delightful trove of globetrotting, snail mail–based correspondence from Charles and Ray Eames.

AN will have more on this changing of the guard in the coming weeks.