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San Clemente Journal

Michael Kaupp, Offering Lilacs For the Soul

Aug 23, 2019 11:08AM ● By Donia Moore
by Donia Moore

In the 2005 Tony Award Winning play Doubt: a Parable, a woman gives in to the very real human temptation of gossiping about a neighbor. She soon feels remorse and goes to the parish priest to ask for forgiveness. 

'Not so fast,' says Father O' Rourke. 'I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.' So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. 'Did you gut the pillow with a knife?' he says. 'Yes, Father.' 'And what were the results?' 'Feathers,' she said. 'Feathers?' he repeated. 'Feathers; everywhere, Father.' 'Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,' 'Well,' she said, 'it can't be done. I don't know where they went. The wind took them all over.' 'And that,' said Father O' Rourke, 'is gossip!”
Michael Kaupp, owner and lifeblood of Stanford Court Antiques, feels that this passage from the play illustrates the importance of living with a moral compass. “One person can absolutely make a difference in the lives of others. The difference we hope for is a positive one, but it can also be a negative.”

I first became aware of Rousseau’s Garden when I, too, lived in Claremont while attending grad school in one of the seven colleges in the Claremont consortium. I fell in love with many of the beautiful pieces in Michael’s then-store. And when I relocated to San Clemente a few years later and re-discovered the lovely familiar pieces, I recalled my mom’s term for things of beauty – “lilacs for the soul.”

Michael’s influence on San Clemente and his many friends has definitely been on the positive side with many “lilacs for the soul.” Raised to work hard and contribute whenever and however he could, the life lesson still reverberates. His father was the Assistant Director of Cal Tech for 30 years, a strong role model, the only child from a well-favored family background. Mom was a hard-working, practical parent from a family of 13, insisting on discipline and effort from her own six children. Each child was expected to help with chores. Michael’s specialty was ironing. To this day, he appreciates Jos. Bank’s Traveler shirts that require almost no ironing and still maintain a crisp crease right out of the dryer. 

His parents teamed up to instill a moral compass and strong work ethic in each of their children. His father often took him to work with him. Each visit was an adventure where Michael was exposed to scientists, diplomats, and other educated people. “If you shoot for the moon,” his mom often said, “you may hit the barn door.”

When he moved the family from Pasadena to West Covina, Michael’s father began buying up open property “in the country.” Occasionally, he built houses on the land and then sold the homes. 

Michael studied and taught himself to draw and design landscapes to go with the houses. He was just 15 when he put his portfolio of landscape drawings into his battered leather briefcase and began walking the streets where the new homes were purchased. His offer to design custom landscapes for the new owners netted him three nice jobs the first day he tried it. He was on his way! 

It soon came time for him to graduate from high school and go on to college, and he never had a doubt that he would be successful. His goal was to become a Landscape Architect. Although his high school guidance counselor suggested he might look at trade schools rather than universities, due to his less than stellar grades, his father stepped in and made a suggestion that Michael still treasures today. Following a couple of years spent at a community college completing some outstanding requirements,  Michael applied to, and was accepted, into the Fine Arts program at California State University, Long Beach. 

This route to becoming a Landscape Architect had some other benefits as well. It was here that he met his soon-to-be wife, Sue, an Art Student who was studying painting and drawing, she later went on to get her teaching credential. Michael was also in the Art department working in printing and lithography. Every night he would go home exhausted and covered in ink. He earned his B.A. degree in Fine Arts at the college and later went on to earn a Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from Cal Poly Pomona.
The two eventually married and chose Claremont, California as their home base. The lovely, quaint New England style town just east of Pomona still retains its village charm, its trees, and its consortium of seven small colleges. It was there that Mike and Sue opened their first store, Rouseau’s Garden. Michael rented a small closet, virtually, in one of the older village buildings, for $20 per month. He borrowed $200 from his then-landlord to start his business selling plants in charming pots. One month later, he paid back the full amount and decided to expand the store by offering antiques as props and settings for the plants. 

All this time, Sue was teaching full-time and Michael was working for a local landscape architect in order to guarantee themselves a steady income. They eventually bought the vacant Village Theater in Claremont and refurbished it with the help of nine friends who invested with them in the building. Two stories of quaint shops and a ground floor cappuccino bar appeared there shortly. “I had never heard of cappuccino at the time but it seemed to be the up and coming thing so we tried it. Fortunately people took to the idea and it was a success.” 
Of course, Michael was involved in the community in Claremont, too. He served on the Downtown Business Association and the Department of Parks and Recreation Services. Time became an issue, however, and Michael spent more of it growing his business.

After declaring that he would never move from Claremont, a fortunate offer came up on their house and Sue came home from work to find a For Sale sign on their property. Michael had long enjoyed visiting friends in San Clemente, and believes he might even have been conceived at the Beachcomber Motel there during a rare escape from parental duties by his mother and father.
Michael’s best friend in college, Roger and his wife Nancy, loved antiques. They quickly interested Michael and Sue in them, and the four of them would often attend estate sales or visit antique stores together. Michael always has appreciated the sustainability of antiques as well as their quality of construction. “For about the same price as a piece of modern furniture that is built for obsolescence, you can purchase a finely crafted antique that has been around for 200 years. Antiques are a record of how we have lived through the centuries. What could be more “green” than that?” 

A wonderful eclectic collection of American, Federal and other styles of antique pieces mix beautifully in his Stanford Courts Antique store on Del Mar here in San Clemente.
Michael has more than “paid his dues” on the path to success. Still hardworking and ethical, Michael spent 14 years on the Planning Commission and was head of the Design Review Committee in San Clemente. Stephanie Dory was a member of the City Council at the time and urged Mike to run for City Council. San Clemente was in a state of decline in 1995. His goal aligned with Stephanie’s to see the city become beautiful and vital once again. 
Today Michael looks forward to – not retiring- but working with young people and helping them get a good start towards their own goals. He counts himself fortunate to always keep his friends. He values them and has many that he has known for decades. He attributes it to the three most important life lessons he has learned:
•One person can absolutely make a difference. That difference can be either positive or negative so pay attention to where you are going.
•When you have an idea that is positive and you work to make it happen, people will watch you and support you.
•Keeping an ethical and moral compass comes back to serve you well.
“I am very grateful for the experiences that have been extremely meaningful. For me, life is not about how much money people have, how many things they collect, or what brands they buy. It’s about being a good person and we all have that ability. Think what would happen if we all used it,” he commented.

Stanford Court 106 Avenida Del Mar (949)366-6290