Will and Lori Ford feature homegrown, sophisticated style at their flagship pier avenue shop and cafe
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Paul Jonason
When I stop by the tidy Craftsman bungalow that’s home base for Gum Tree, Will Ford is parked outside, pulling fresh ingredients for the day’s cafe menu from his car. Inside, his partner and wife Lori is settling back into the boutique. (Just a day earlier, the two had returned home from a big trade show in NYC) Their daughter Lily will soon be stopping by the cafe after school with a friend for a snack, and Will, their youngest, can be found be toddling throughout the place, too.
Sitting in the fireplace cafe on a blustery day, the home, built in 1911, is a scene in down-home sweetness. There are glossy wood floors and beam ceilings, and lots of sunny, full-pane windows. But it’s also a place of modernity, from roasted beet salads and charcuterie plates to made-from-scratch Aussie meat pies—the last a nod to Will’s heritage.
He was raised in Australia, hence the top-selling Avocado Toast (an item popular in Australia for about the last 20 years) and Vegemite Breakfast Sandwich (“We threw it in for a laugh and it did really well,” he says.)
The story of Gum Tree is really the story of Will and Lori Ford, with great by-products for the South Bay shopper. In addition to their flagship shop and cafe, the pair have a children’s store steps away (Gum Tree Kids on 323 Pier Avenue). Their latest is Gum Tree Manhattan Beach, born from a downturn the Ford’s turned into a big positive. “We had a flood at our kids’ store about two years ago,” explains Will, “so we did a pop-up shop for a month in Manhattan Beach at the mall.”
The two discovered that the bulk of their Manhattan Beach customers had never heard of Gum Tree’s Hermosa location, but loved their stuff. After securing the right location, the Ford’s opened a permanent shop at 324 Manhattan Beach Boulevard in November, and with it, more local success. “Without that disaster happening we would never [have] had the opportunity to move to Manhattan Beach,” he says.
At the original Gum Tree location, the cafe is the domain of Will, a culinary who was operating his NYC restaurant Eight Mile Creek when he met Lori, who was a Manhattan Beach native working as a designer in the Big City. It’s her unique aesthetic that distinguishes the home and gift store, and has much to do with its success for the past eight years. “It’s very personal,” says Lori when asked about how she selects items. “I try to stick to my vision and buy what I like, and it really all comes together in a cohesive way when it arrives.” There’s a charming rotation of coastal aesthetic decor, from rugs and pillows to frames and coffee-table books. It’s diverse but sophisticated, and Ford keenly stages items in such a way as to give vision to how a customer might fit them in their own life.
Goods are seasonal and change with the weather, down to the personal accessories. You might find leather purses and wool hats in the winter, then come back in warmer months to bright brimmed hats and flowy caftans. There’s a good amount of jewelry across aesthetics, from delicate gold rings and bracelets to more trend-conscious pieces, like stone and bead encrusted statement necklaces. “We have bracelets for $20 or $300, and everything in between,” remarks Lori. “You can really find a gift for everyone.”