Once Upon a Frame debuts new art gallery space on N. Cedros

Once Upon a Frame's Nadia Bucquet, Jimmy Reardon and Yael Gmach.
Once Upon a Frame’s Nadia Bucquet, Jimmy Reardon and Yael Gmach.

Solana Beach custom framing business Once Upon a Frame has unveiled a new art gallery space at the end of North Cedros Avenue.

Carlsbad painter Kate Joiner is the first artist in residence—her work was featured in the gallery’s grand opening exhibition in August and will be on display through the coming month. The new Once Upon a Frame gallery and showroom plans to have a new artist in residence every three months as well as feature work from local artisans and designers.

With over 20 years of experience in the framing business, owner Yael Gmach and her team have framed just about everything: From a wedding dress to 18th-century Persian armor; a 10-inch stamp to a job last month framing a 10-foot by 9-foot portrait of a customer’s beloved mother who had passed away. The project took three hours to complete and hang inside the La Jolla home because the painting would not fit through the front door.

“What a sweet position for a framer to be in, to do this for a family,” Gmach said. “It was an honor.”

Once Upon a Frame’s trio of Gmach, Jimmy Reardon and Nadia Bucquet take a lot of pride in what they do—seeing their job as “art enhancing”, creating a custom frame that reflects both the beauty and emotions of a piece and the tastes of the owner. They take ownership and care of every project they take on.

Gmach’s framing business started in her garage back in 2000, before moving into a workspace in the Cedros Design District. A longtime Cardiff resident, the free-spirited Gmach was born in Paris, France and moved to San Diego with her family at age 11. (Fellow framer Bucquet is also French, lending a European flair to the studio’s aesthetic.)

“I fell into framing almost by accident. Framing is a fantastic job but nobody has ever decided at 17 to be a framer,” she said with a laugh.

Framing started out as a hobby while Gmach was working as a veterinary technician at Helen Woodward Animal Center—she had even once pursued going to veterinary school. She had framed all of the doctors’ diplomas and would find herself taking on the odd framing job for veterinary clients.

As word of mouth spread and she got more framing gigs, she eventually turned to her then-partner Jimmy Reardon and said: “Let’s just frame.” While their love story ended, their business continued.

Gmach got educated in the craft of framing, taking courses and attending conventions: “I became a total dork of framing,” she said.

She learned about conservation methods when working with lithographs (as improper framing can corrode or discolor a lithograph),the professional standards on how to handle items of great value and got her credential as a Professional Picture Framer—at one point she was even the president of the Professional Picture Framing Association in San Diego.

Very dedicated to her work, it was not uncommon that Gmach would be head down in her studio from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. or later, six to seven days a week.

Gmach had always been artistic in how she saw fashion and was always around artists but had never discovered her own art medium –- framing was a way to express her creative side while taking great care of people’s treasured works of art, photographs and collector’s items.

As someone who adores art, she understands how much the pieces mean to their owners. Just as there are no limits in art, there are none in framing and her team puts a lot of thought into visualizing what might look best for the piece, a process that can take 10 minutes or three days of musing.

One of her favorite things is working with interior designers and their ingenious minds. She said she finds herself saying “yes” to everything they envision, no matter how challenging it will be to achieve: “I love being a part of what they’re trying to do,” she said.

The business opened up the new gallery space in their North Cedros building in March. The front of the building has a clean atelier look where they display the artwork while the back is the fabrication room and workspace packed with mouldings, mats, tools and a visual feast of future projects.

Gmach said sometimes she wishes she didn’t love framing as much as she does because she tends to completely immerse herself in the work so there is little time for anything else. However, in 2008, she finally did discover her art medium in poetry— the poetry evolved into music lyrics and singing and playing the guitar. Now when she is not framing, you can find her playing gigs on the weekends with her band Big Boss Bubeleh.

“I’m so grateful that this business is working,” she said. “This new step of being an art gallery is something I’ve never done. It’ll be exciting and it’s hard, there’s nothing harder than selling art.”

She’s moving forward framed by confidence: “I have a feeling that I can’t fail.”

Once Upon a Frame is located on 132 E. Cliff Street in Solana Beach. For more information visit onceuponaframe.com. Follow them on Instagram at @once.upon.a.frame