Adjunkt “A collection of non-essential things that support an essential lifestyle.”
By Craig Smith
Longtime Napa artist recently opened Adjunkt in First Street Napa. Located next to the Kitchen Door, Von Saal describes the business as, “A collection of non-essential things that support an essential lifestyle.” He has been making and creating furniture, lighting, rugs, and other artwork virtually his whole life, and Adjunkt is a collection of that plus new works he’ll introduce. Regular visitors will find an expanding collection that includes the work of other artists whose works, “Catch my eye and pair well with my style,” Von Saal said. He’ll also add a bespoke fashion area – “Come in and let us bespoke your wardrobe.” You’ll find instruments, an area for live painting with a community canvas that anyone can add to before it’s framed and sold. Then, all who touch it will get a cut of the sale. “Adjunkt welcomes people to the space for an experience to enjoy as much as the art.”
Space is incredibly important to Von Saal. Textures, colors, how furniture adds to it, the way lighting plays off of everything else – Von Saal is almost obsessive about all of it working together. As a kid, he constantly rearranged his room.
“I had a roommate in my twenties,” said Von Saal. “He told his friends that when he came home, he never knew what the house would look like.”
The odds are good that most people have seen Von Saal’s work. He and fellow artist John Bonick designed the first BottleRock. “We placed the stages, booths, art and everything else.” He did the same thing for the Napa Valley Film Festival. He’s also designed numerous tasting rooms, including Ghost Block, Prisoner, and Covert. Recently added to his portfolio is the newly opened Serial Wines Tasting Lounge in downtown Paso Robles, which USA Today named as “one of the best new wineries in North America.” He designed the spaces for JaM Cellars, John Anthony’s offices and the John Anthony Mansion. And Von Saal’s contributions aren’t limited to just the rooms – in most cases he designs and builds the furniture and the lighting for all his projects. He is also responsible for the look of the Napa Opera House – recently added to his portfolio.
Von Saal may very well be an artistic genius, but as a kid, school was never his strength. “I was held back in the fifth grade. My grades were great, but the teacher justified it saying that I was emotionally immature. I was ten. How mature was I supposed to be?” His confidence in the system was shaken but he was to face more serious challenges. A doctor recommended amputating his arm after a serious freak accident when he was 19, and he faced a bout with cancer at 23, for which both chemo and radiation were prescribed. In both cases, he chose to manage his own recovery. With the cancer, diet and juicing became a big part of his self-prescribed treatment. It also shaped his early business career.
Walking in downtown St. Helena one day, he came across a store that included a juice bar, which the owner was closing. Von Saal talked to the man for a while, then bought the business on the spot. A couple of years into it, he opened Mixers Eclectic Café on Jefferson Street in Napa, originally as a juice bar and which he later expanded into a full restaurant. “I had no experience whatsoever with restaurants, but was excited about the project,” he said. He also completely designed the store space and built all the furniture and countertops. “I was self-taught about every aspect of it.” He loved design, but never thought about that as a career path.
That changed when a customer gave him a book, “A Home for the Soul.” He opened it to the Vedic proverb, “Place is more important than strength.” It struck Von Saal to his core. “I thought about it a while, and decided that I am an artist/designer.” Soon after, he told his employees that he was closing the restaurant to become a designer. And he did just that, starting RVS Designs.
A friend suggested that Von Saal could make a lot of money as a hairdresser as he built his design business. For the next few years, he did hair by day and designed furniture at night. “I always thought of myself as a designer who does hair, not as a hairdresser who does design.” He also knew that when he’d reached a certain level of success, he would put down the scissors and hair dryer for good.
One day, he met a woman who told him she was having dinner with a winery owner and his wife, and invited Von Saal to join her. By the end of the meal, RVS Designs had its first client – he designed the winery owner’s home and later a wine cellar. He did all the work by hand, and when neighbors saw it, he had more clients.
The TV show Trading Spaces heard about him, called him for a series of auditions, and offered him a spot on the show. “It required being in LA for two weeks, and I didn’t want the distraction from building my business.” Many, included the show’s producers, thought he was crazy, but it was outside of his grand plan, and he politely declined.
Soon after, his discernment was rewarded. He got a call from a cave digging contractor who said, “I had never made a door. “I’ve always talked my abilities up and never had any fear that I couldn’t figure it out.” He got the job, and then he had to produce. “I designed a door that looked like a wine barrel was being pushed out of it from the inside. The client loved it.” Von Saal has done wine cave doors for Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg, Six Sigma in Lake County, and Keever in Yountville.
Since then, Von Saal has enjoyed a successful twenty-plus years in design. He said that all his careers in life have been about helping others. “People are relying on my creativity to succeed in their own business. I take that very seriously.” He’s also a Napan through and through. “I love my town. I want to help build it in any way I can.”
Stop by Adjunkt Tuesday through Saturday. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy meeting Von Saal.