The Eames Institute acquires William Stout Architectural Books of San Francisco


A relatively new nonprofit in the Bay Area has announced the acquisition of a sustainable business San Francisco institution that served as a mecca for architecture and design bibliophiles for just under 50 years: William Stout Architecture Books.

The news comes after a year of talks between the Petaluma-based company Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity, which officially launched last April, and the sole owner of the beloved bookstore. Emerging from the turmoil of the COVID crisis in 2021, Stout, like many longtime small business owners battered by the pandemic, has begun to consider retirement. It was then that the young Eames Institute, directed by Charles and RayLisa Demetrios’ granddaughter as chief curator with support from Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, stepped in to discuss how best to preserve the legacy of Stout Books.

As detailed in a press release announcing the change of ownership, which was officially completed on October 1, little will change in terms of day-to-day operations following Stout’s departure. Famous for its wide selection of titles (especially rare and sold out volumes) concerning architecture, landscape architecture, urbanism and design in its many forms, the bookseller’s physical location at 804 Montgomery Street in the historic Jackson Square district of downtown San Francisco, ne going nowhere. The stores online showcase will continue to serve customers all over the world. Staff members are also maintained during the transition. And as for Stout himself, he will go down as a wisdom-holding consultant who obviously knows the store’s massive inventory – and its sizable legion of loyal customers – better than anyone.

Bill Stout opened his eponymous bookstore in 1974. (Leslie Williamson/Courtesy Eames Institute)

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

“The Eames Institute’s shared passion for design makes it a logical choice for the boutique,” he added. “I am happy to pass on the operation of the shop and am delighted to continue to be involved as a consultant to the Eames Institute. I would like to thank everyone for supporting the shop over the of its 48 years of existence.

(Dig the way back in the A archives, you can read a 2009 interview with Stout here.)

As for Gebbia, main patron of the Eames Institute, he is also a long-time client of the legendary architecture bookstore in San Francisco. 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-19s. And like all San Francisco-based designers and design enthusiasts, William Stout’s bookstore quickly became a staple.

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

“William Stout is a true testament to the importance of design, and his store is a real treasure,” Gebbia said. “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 bring these two together through through the Eames Institute.”

As mentioned, the Eames Institute was officially launched this year with headquarters located at William Turnbull– designed Eames Ranch in Petaluma, a small town in Somoma County in the Bay Area’s North Bay region. Still operating as a working farm as when purchased in 1992 by Lucia Eames, daughter of Charles Eames, the ranch is currently undergoing a major revitalization effort over several years before its eventual opening to the public. In the meantime, Stout Books will serve as something of an outpost for the institute where patrons and the public can learn more about the mission of the Eames Institute and its holdings. In addition to the ranch itself, these holdings include the Eames Collection, which includes the lion’s share of the contents of the original Eames office in Los Angeles. Although it has not held any in-person exhibitions, the Eames Institute has presented a series of online exhibitions since its launch. This includes the recent Return to sender, who showcases a delightful treasure trove of globetrotters, mail correspondence from Charles and Ray Eames.

A will know more about this changing of the guard in the coming weeks.


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