Like many before him, he didn’t anticipate the irresistible impact of Northern California’s redwood trees. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, during a break in production from shooting the Subaru commercial, which was filmed all over Marin County, from GGNRA land to Nicasio, Albee took a stroll from the Mill Valley Inn where he was staying.
“I walked into Old Mill Park, looked around in awe and said to myself, ‘this is a city park?’” he says. “It looked nothing like the city parks I’m used to seeing in Los Angeles. It was just incredible. Then I set off down Cascade Drive, and I was just bowled over by the homes in that neighborhood. I even took a photo of a house I loved.”
Fast forward 10 months, and Albee, his wife Julia and their two sons live in Mill Valley, in a cabin they rented on Cascade Drive – the exact same home he took a photo off on that January jaunt. And they’ve just opened Prevalent Projects, a home decor shop at 61 Throckmorton Ave., half of the long-empty space that was vacated by the Tyler Florence Shop in 2014. It’s geared toward interior designers looking for the perfect items for their next home design project, as well as people on the hunt for a special addition to their home.
“Initially it seemed daunting, but then we realized that as you come down the hill towards it, the far wall seems like an entire billboard for the store – we could just envision the whole thing and it felt like the best location we could possibly ask for,” Albee says of the store, which the couple had been considering for the past few years, drawing on their own design backgrounds, with inspiration from friends who have done the same.
More than anything, they want the shop to fit the community they’ve fallen for.
“We’re trying to make this a really personal experience,” Julia Albee says.
“With what Amazon and the internet have done to traditional retail, if you’re going to get anyone out of their house and their pajamas, it’s got to be fun and nice and a pleasant experience,” Floyd Albee adds.
The Albees say that they’d been thinking of moving out of Los Angeles for some time – ready for a new experience, tired of the crazy LA traffic, particularly with two children. But their life change, they say, has been more about how much Mill Valley has been a revelation than simply their desire to leave LA.
Beyond the parks, the infrastructure and the sense of community, they’ve been taken by the breadth and depth of fundraising for local schools, as their sons attend Old Mill and Mill Valley Middle.
Measure J, the $149 per parcel Tamalpais Union High School District tax, which garnered support form more than 73 percent of voters, “was like watching democracy in action,” Floyd Albee says. “This is how you were told government works as a kid. This is not how things happen in Los Angeles.”
“The nature, the community, the school’s – all of it – it’s just absolutely incredible,” he adds, noting that all four Albees chuckle when friends complain about local traffic. “We’re so enamored with what’s happening here.”
A fourth generation Californian born in Carmel, Floyd Albee was something of a nomad as the son of a General Motors employee, having lived in Monterey, San Ramon, San Jose and New York over the years. The family moved back to California in 1987 and he lived there until the family’s move to Mill Valley.
Albee studied architecture in college and landed a role at the firm of legendary architect Frank Gehry, later opening his own firm. In the midst of working on a home remodel for a film director, his client taught him what a production designer did and suggested he explore it.
“It never occurred to me that that was a job,” Albee says of the person charged with identifying a design style for sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, camera angles and costumes in a film, television or commercial shoot.
His first big production design job was on Tombstone, the 1993 Western starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. “I drove out to Arizona, and on the first day of filming, there were 300 extras in western attire – it was like being in 1885,” he says.
Albee enjoyed a long, illustrious career as a production designer that sent him all over the world for film, television and commercial work. At the same time, Julia Albee was an established commercial photographer in LA, having studied at Santa Monica College and landed jobs working with a celebrity photographer and shooting for a number of brands, including Kelly Cole and Le Swim.
She later worked with her husband on his production design projects, and as they navigated the ebbs and flows of an ever-changing media industry, the couple launched their own interior design business, Prevalent Projects, partnering with a former designer who previously worked at Commune Design in West Hollywood, best known in the Bay Area for its work with Heath Ceramics, Tartine and Farmshop.
In crafting the aesthetic for their home decor shop, they also drew inspiration from Wilder, a design shop created by some friends in Nashville Tennessee. The model as they see it, is straightforward: you curate and handpick products that show your tastes and sensibility, and designers and homeowners come to select pieces to include in their projects.
“Those conversations with friends were so inspiring to us, and we decided to make the leap,” Floyd Albee says.
In less than a year, the Albees have found community in Mill Valley, and they say they’re thrilled to have their new friends and those they haven’t met yet into their downtown Mill Valley shop.
“Everything is coming up roses,” Floyd Albee says.