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Food & Wine | Heather Day

Meet the Artist Behind the Most Insta-Worthy Café in the U.S.

April 8, 2016 

San Francisco, CA



The food isn't the only thing worth posting on Instagram at this new spot.

The Den, the newest offshoot of super-modern, super-cool Bay Area-area bakery Craftsman and Wolves, soft-opened on Monday. On the menu: Its famously-photogenic pastries like Japanese milk bread and kougin amann, plus a curated menu of sandwiches and salads. But as beautiful as the food is, the most striking thing about the new spot is the decor. One entire wall of the small space is streaked with vibrant shades of blue, a custom mural by Bay Area painter Heather Day. Food & Wine chatted with the artist about how to design a café in the age of food photography, plus what to order when you go to The Den.

How did you get involved with this project?

William Werner, the chef/owner, found me on Instagram. He left it very open-ended and told me that he loved my work and was going to just trust me on it. When I take on a commission, it has to be with someone with an open mind because ultimately my work is unplanned and they don’t totally know what they're going to get. And that's the beauty of it. When I start to plan, it can kind of fall flat, it's less energetic. It's just missing kind of its soul.

What kinds of things were you considering while you were painting?

There's the whole notion of how much we take photos. When people go into coffee shops they’re taking photos of their lattes and, when it’s a beautiful interior, me personally, I’m always Instagramming the location. So I was actually thinking a lot about, “Oh, if someone’s sitting in this area, what angle would they take a photo of the mural from? And what experience are they having just looking at it? And what kind of composition are they going to capture?” You're not only thinking about the experience when someone walks in, you're also thinking about their experience behind the screen.

Did you have a particular inspiration for the mural?

I have a series of paintings called "Proximity to the Ocean," and they’re very much about being in the Bay Area, being surrounded by water, and the relationship of being in the city and the proximity to the ocean. My work is very much about movement and also very much about water, because I’m pushing and pulling and pouring paint and manipulating it.

As told by Food & Wine