SAN FRANCISCO — It started as a joke--"Your computer would go faster if it were painted red"--but blossomed into a business.
Now Stuart MacNee and Diana Goldman, both 35, are painting computers for a living. They've started their own company, Eclipse, in the Excelsior District.
MacNee and Goldman both worked for MACadam Computer Inc. in San Francisco, he as a technician, she as a sales representative. After Goldman joked about painting MacNee's computer red, she followed through and painted it not just red but with red flames. He in turn painted her laptop red and added a solar eclipse design.
"People we worked with were enthusiastic about it. We thought we were on to something," MacNee said. That eclipse design inspired the company's name and became its logo.
That was about a year ago. Now the partners are working for themselves.
MacNee also had noticed that some of the computers he repaired bore stickers that personalized them. He realized that computers "have gone from being a geek toy and a company tool to something people have in their houses."
Because the company is just a start-up, it relies mainly on word of mouth to build business. Most of Eclipse's customers are home computer users who want something more interesting than gray or beige. Suzy Bates of San Francisco is one of them.
Bates is a former registered nurse who decided to become a full-time writer. "After eight hours a day in front of that gray computer, I felt gray myself," she said, so she had Eclipse paint her entire setup--keyboard, monitor, tower, mouse--aqua.
"It's just beautiful and so cheerful-looking. I love color. It goes along with my philosophy," Bates said, adding that she's nearly finished writing a mystery novel.
Another aspiring author, Caroline Paul of San Francisco, had her computer painted by Eclipse after "I got big writer's block." It was so bad that she consulted an expert in feng shui, the Chinese practice of arranging one's physical surroundings for maximum benefit. Among other things, the consultant recommended "colors to unblock creativity" and came up with turquoise with a small flame graphic.
Eclipse "did a great job, and [the paint job] worked great," Paul said. No more writer's block.
John Charles, owner of Charles & Associates, an Apple service provider in San Francisco, had seen Eclipse's work. "I thought it was pretty cool, especially the one with the flames," he said. He wound up having his logo painted on one of his computers, then decided to have another painted blue, his favorite color.
He noted that computers that sit in the sun tend to turn a yucky yellow. Therefore, he refers customers with the problem to Eclipse.
"It's like giving your car a new paint job," Charles said.
Although some Eclipse customers opt for just one color, others go for stripes, banners, the gay pride rainbow or other designs. One woman gave her grandson a computer painted in 49er colors to inspire him to use it.
MacNee does the basic painting, while Goldman does the more intricate designs. "We're open to anything we haven't thought of," he said, adding: "We'd love to do things like tie-dye."
The partners will paint any computer component or peripheral including the keyboard, but not the keys, which are too labor-intensive. Using nontoxic water-based enamel paints, they apply eight to 10 coats. Because they allow four to eight hours of drying time between coats, a desktop computer set takes about five days to complete, MacNee said.
Therefore, they recommend that owners either have their new computers painted before taking delivery or have the work done during vacation.
As the business grows, they're also developing a Web page, and they'd like to hook up with a computer shop where they can customize customers' new components.
They charge about $200 for a basic package of computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. They will pick up and deliver only by special arrangement, Goldman said.
Although Eclipse isn't profitable yet, MacNee said it's close. "We just need more exposure."
MacNee sees the company's customer base coming from "people who are the next tier of computer user. They're not techies. They're everyday people who aren't concerned with the internal technology." They just want a computer to perform desired tasks and look good in their homes.
"They don't want it looking like [something] in a stock, Dilbert-like rat hole. They want something that's personal," MacNee said.