Far too many months passed between the time we got the keys for 108 Beacon Street and our opening day. (In fact, as we write this, we still haven't opened.) But during that long period of waiting there would be carpenters and painters and deliveries arriving—and they'd need to find this place. The building as we found it had those stupid dancing house numbers, and we took them down as soon as we could. What replaced them is infinitely better—even if a bit incongruous.
The house face for Katherine Small Gallery is Cyrus Highsmith's Benton Sans—which was based on Benton Gothic (which was based on News Gothic), an early design by Tobias Frere-Jones. As the gallery (and the office that shares the space) is a place about work, we like that Benton Sans is industrial and workmanlike—and comes with small caps and small cap figs. And so it made sense that our building numbers would be Benton Sans—or based on Benton Sans. Rather than having custom vinyl numbers made or hiring one of the many local sign painters to brush them on our doors, we asked Jesse Marsolais to carve our 108 in slate.
Traditionally one would draw or brush the numbers onto a stone prior to carving, and more often than not that gives a calligraphic or hand-lettered feel. We bet every hand carver would disagree with us, but we're of the opinion that a smooth piece of dark gray slate is hard and perfect, cool and almost industrial. Carving pretty letters and calligraphic flourishes into it seems unnatural. And so we asked Jesse to carve the mechanical Benton Sans into the hard slate surface—or, more accurately, we asked him to use Benton Sans as a starting point. Even if we're ignoring the long traditions of lettering and stone carving, we had to acknowledge that the stone and chisel have their own ideas and requirements. We asked for letterforms that would accommodate our tastes and the tools Jesse would be using. No doubt diverging so far from tradition to satisfy our half-baked theories was an anathema to Jesse, but he indulged us—for which we are grateful. And our carpenters, painters, clients, and customers seem to find this place without minding in the least.