Shop Talk: Inhabiture to close in Palo Alto

Also: no-frills House of Foam hangs on in downtown

TIME WARP AT HOUSE OF FOAM ... In the land of startups and cutting-edge high tech firms, there is one business that hasn't changed in decades. House of Foam, 150 Hamilton Ave., is a throwback to a simpler time. "I know this is unusual to say, but nothing has really changed here since the 1950s. It's just foam. That's all I have," said House of Foam owner Bob Tallman, who has no employees "except for my sister. She comes in once a week." The store in downtown Palo Alto is decidedly untrendy. No frills, no flourishes, just practicality. The unassuming and affable Tallman, dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt works out of an aging wooden desk in the back of his shop. "I bought this desk in 1980," he said. On the desk is a small fan and a large, outdated calculator. "That calculator has got to be at least 30 years old," he said. "I don't get rid of it because it's still hanging in there." Further back in the 1,800-square-foot space is Tallman's work area. On the walls are racks of dozens of old baby food jars filled with nails and screws. "These are from the 1950s, from the original owner," he explained. Tallman does not advertise. "I think the last time I placed an ad, it was in the Yellow Pages. That was eight years ago," he said. "My customers hear about me from word-of-mouth. They are just regular people off the street who want to recover their dining room chairs or get their sofa cushions restuffed. People also bring in their guitars, rifles, cameras, anything that needs to be packed. I do custom cases for them," he said. Almost as an afterthought, Tallman added, "Oh yeah, there's also NASA. They call whenever they need foam. They used our foam on the space shuttles. I remember looking up in the sky when the shuttle did its last fly-by and I knew it was my foam on board. That made me proud." Tallman took over House of Foam in the 1970s. "A friend of my dad's owned the place. He was selling so I decided to buy it," Tallman recalled. Regarding any competition: "There used to be other places around here that sold foam, but they all quit after Katrina hit. Since foam materials are petroleum-based, prices escalated as much as 200 percent after that. Fortunately, I have a fantastic landlord who keeps this place affordable for me." Tallman, who is 64 years old and a Redwood City resident, says he has no plans to retire. "I'll go out of here feet first, toes up, and with a smile on my face," he said.

INHABITURE TO CLOSE ... The eco-friendly furniture store with an eye toward local vendors, Inhabiture, 248 Hamilton Ave., is scheduled to close this month after opening just over two years ago. Observers may have been able to predict the closing. In September, the store announced its anniversary sale, with merchandise at 25 percent off. Then in October came the moving sale at 40 percent off, and this month was the final sale at 50 percent off. While the employees say the store is moving, no one was able to say exactly where or when the move would take place; only that the store was closing at the end of November. But an industry source who preferred not to be identified said that Inhabiture was simply another occupant of the corner space at Hamilton Avenue and Ramona Street that has come and gone over the years. "Inhabiture is just the latest," said the source. "This space should be a desirable location for retailers -- a busy corner in the middle of downtown -- but for some reason, nothing seems to last there."

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


7 people like this
Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2014 at 9:36 am

@Daryl - Observers might have been able to predict the closing of Inhabiture because the landlord is about to tear down the building. The City has approved plans for another huge glass box that is underparked and not in compliance with existing zoning. This will completely ruin the human scale and architectural style of the entire block.

5 people like this
Posted by tonidee
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2014 at 10:38 am

Actually they were FORCED out of that perfect location!!
YES, its yet another unfortunate decision to build yet another high rise
office building that has caused this business (one of the longest best businesses
in that location) to move out so they can knock it really
not their choice or decision at all, just for the record.

7 people like this
Posted by Ken Hayes strikes again
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 1, 2014 at 10:50 am

Blame the victim, Industry source, why not. Radio Shack was in that space for years and years.
Another oversized box by glass-building designer Ken Hayes.
He knows how to get the Planning Dept to approve his oversized plans again and again. Who is the owner?
Greed is still in fashion, until we decide we've had enough.

2 people like this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2014 at 11:08 am

Speaking of downtown businesses which remained untouched for decades: One was sweet Irma Schwabels, notions and such; the second was Liddicoats Market, best butcher meats in the mid-Peninsula because of the butcher business Duca-Hanley located inside George Liddicoats store...

I have traveled throughout this country and never found another House of Foam.

3 people like this
Posted by Ken Hayes strikes again
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 1, 2014 at 11:16 am

The owner is Sal Giovanotto, whose offices are at 459 Hamilton Ave. He has multitudes of LLCs so he can keep his name out of the public documents. This one is called Forest Casa Real LLC.

6 people like this
Posted by Requiescat in Pace
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 1, 2014 at 1:12 pm

The problem with Inhabiture were the high prices for cheaply made furniture. With PA retail rents being outrageous, the prices probably had to be outrageous just to break even.

In reference to Ken Hayes, that building of his on El Camino and El Camino Way is an eyesore--and has no parking. The building is actually stealing the parking lot of the veterinary office next door! This even has the contractors shaking their heads in disbelief

1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Hayes is following Henry J. Kaiser's motto: Find a need and fill it. He fills the market for cheap cookie cutter boxes to house high-priced offices. Minimize the capital, maximize the profit. It's only Palo Alto, you know.

2 people like this
Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm

And the city's Architecture Review Board always falls over itself praising Ken Hayes almost identical glass boxes, defending them as in harmony with the neighborhood because of their high quality. High quality glass?

Also, city staff have given the property owner extra square footage that came from a non-qualifying 6' high storage loft, plus exemptions from parking! City staff have stated it is their job to make it possible for developers to maximise their square footage and find every rule in the book to interpret in the developer's favor.

If I wanted to build a multistory house on my property and provide no parking, do you think staff would allow me to do it?

1 person likes this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Ken Hayes designed buildings will be the downfall of Palo Alto. Before we know it, we will be living in an ugly town that will become undesirable over time. Another city will become the hip and trendy place to live. People in California don't understand that. The state is too new. Just think of all the once beautiful, thriving East Coast cities that were ruined with trains running through them, and other bad decisions by town leaders. Palo Alto's City Hall is corrupt and is destroying this town.

2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2014 at 5:12 pm

"the city's Architecture Review Board always falls over itself praising Ken Hayes almost identical glass boxes..."

To ARB types, pushing ugly shows their superiority over the common sweathogs who lack the architectural sophistication to appreciate the finer points of the aesthetic. Cut 'em some slack...that's all they know.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ducking
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2014 at 10:49 pm

This is earthquake country. What happens to all that glass on the glass boxes when an earthquake hits? Don't be standing next to one, or try to exit if you are inside.

Like this comment
Posted by local
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2014 at 3:25 am

Love House of Foam. I'm glad we still have some useful businesses downtown!

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 2, 2014 at 8:56 am

Sorry to see Inhabiture go. Unique and finely crafted eco-friendly furniture. The design firm is also first rate. They are moving to offices on El Camino. Looks like the store will be a casualty though.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2014 at 8:56 am

Inhabiture site is also original home of Palo Alto Times which the Weekly never mentions because they want to pretend there is no such thing as real journalism just their kowtowing to the powers that be, mostly the landlords.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 43 comments | 2,230 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 663 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 338 views

Reflections on Pal0 Alto's Centennial -- now it's the city's 125th birthday!
By Diana Diamond | 2 comments | 100 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.