Monthly Archives: July 2010

DesignCraft Heroes: Zack | DeVito

One of my favorite stories in designlore is that of famed Swiss architect LeCorbusier (Corbu to you insiders) and his design of La Villa Savoye, outside of Paris.

Corbu took it upon himself to design a “machine for living,” a rigorously stark (more charitable people say “pure”) version of a modernist home. (Corbu was so convinced that it was the perfect machine for living that he protested–vigorously–when the client had the temerity to inquire as to whether she might be able to introduce a couple of sofas.)

But aesthetics were the least of the issue, according to Alain de Botton in the Architecture of Happiness. While La Villa might have looked like the perfect machine, it wasn’t. The beautifully flat roof sprung a leak that could not be fixed. It dumped so much rain in the son’s bedroom that he contracted a chest infection, which then became pneumonia. LeCorbusier promised that all would be fixed, but also took the opportunity to remind the owners that the house (and in particular, the roof) had been lauded by architecture critics the world over. “Only the outbreak of the Second World War,” writes deBotton, “saved LeCorbusier from having to answer in a courtroom for the design of his largely uninhabitable, extraordinarily beautiful machine for living.”

OK, so even today’s “starchitects” can’t pull that kind of thing any more (and clients are a wee bit more clued in), but there are still plenty of skirmishes (battles, wars?) when perfect “design” meets the imperfect “real” world. And, like as not, those skirmishes come in the translation from perfect plan to construction–not to mention real life.

Into that breach have stepped a small coterie of designcraft architecture firms who embrace the designing and the making. Some firms, like Zack | DeVito, have embraced both the design and the construction, offering design-build services. (Zack | DeVito has their own construction team, in-house estimating and project management. We love the fact that in addition to architects, their website lists construction team members. Nice, that.) Either way, the approach is what keeps things real–the insight into what will work…both in terms of construction, but also in terms of feeling: the ability to nourish the soul and fire the imagination. And that’s what it’s about, isn’t it?

Chattanooga St (SF) Duplex. Photography credit: Massamiliano Bolzonella

Another thing that keeps it real: husband and wife team Jim Zack and Lise DeVito is that they’ve lived in five of their own creations. They know what happens when design meets life. But we’re guessing that there weren’t any roof leaks.

Forget design. Let’s start the question everyone wants to start with. What’s it like to be married and collaborate as design and business partners? (Jim) Really, on a day to day basis we do not design “collaboratively”. We tend to have our own projects, we may critique each others work, but we do our own thing. (Ah, a little risk mitigation. Excellent. And smart.)  (Lise) We also have a difference in approaches. Jim hates drawing: he comes at things from a 3D vantage point. I love drawing. That’s why this whole computer age has stunted my process. For me, the art of sketching…the hand moving to the brain is essential. (Strikes us as an optimal balance.)

We’re assuming your aesthetics are pretty similar. (Jim) Generally we are pretty aesthetically compatible. We like more or less the same thing, we are both modern and minimal.  That said, Lise tends to more minimal, I have a slightly more expressive sensibility, a bit more material expression, a curve or angle, a splash of color. ( Lise) I am more of the minimalist for sure! I like less than more materials, less than more obvious detailing. I prefer a strong “graphic” quality to the work.

Not to sound like a marriage counselor, but how do you resolve conflicts? (Jim) Ignore them until they explode, then dive in and deal with it.  I do not recommend this approach!

Talk about design-build. How did that evolve as a focus for your firm? (Jim) I started as a builder, helping my dad in construction. I loved getting my hands dirty.  I was always the shop guy in school and loved making models.  In architecture school at Berkeley, I got a chance to make things in addition to designing, and that appealed. Really, I opened an office so I could have a shop and just play. I got my first client, and I just moved on from there.   (We’re sitting at a gorgeous table he designed and made, one of his first projects.)

Somehow, Lise, we don’t think you come from a construction background. No! I come from a pretty arty background. Both parents were designers and artists: my father was an industrial and packaging designer, while my mother started out in apparel design but became a fine artist. I knew I’d do something visual. There’s this driving force to create things, I can’t turn it off, even if I tried. Why’d you go into architecture? (Lise did a BFA at RISD.) It just seemed to be the culminating practice of all the things, fine art, graphics, color, materials, craft, even the construction of it…..layering of the building, the process of conception, drawing, building. It felt like it made sense.

So how does being a design-build firm change the way you design? (Jim) The direct experience of building informs design, always, from the first to last day of the project.  The design-build approach allows us to fine tune the design each day. And we’re very detail oriented and specify a great deal more than other architects. We have an appreciation of detail, the little thing–like bolts. In other projects, the contractor just fills in the blank and buys off the shelf bolts. We specify because we know how they work and how they’ll be used. (Check out the Zack | DeVito site for great images of the build process.)

(Lise) It’s the balance and the synchronicity. Because we’re involved in the construction, we have a close connection to the materials. And the materials are so important to the ultimate feel of the building and space….there’s a temperature, a weight. You may not recognize it, but you feel it. And it’s a big part of my design process….I have to surround myself with actual materials to really understand. I need to feel them, have them speak to me. Materials can move you, that’s why they’re so important. If you step away from that…you’re disconnected from the experience. I think plans often remove you from the reality of something.

It’s about a more holistic approach. (Lise) Exactly. Putting things together, seeing how they sing…that’s really key to what and how we design. Going to a site and feeling the views, the light….standing on a raw site and seeing how it changes during construction…that’s key. Giving yourself the ability to alter the design based on new information–that’s how it works on the design-build side. I find it so hard to separate the doing and the designing.

And what’s in it for the client? Obviously, there are some potential efficiencies, and some flexibility which allows you to make some changes during the actual construction phase, but what else? (Lise) There are so many ways….but our emphasis on materials is a big one…our designs look expensive, but it is more that we know the tricks of where to spend the money mixing with less expensive products or finishes and doing some cool detailing of some other component. Also I think that in our process, our clients are surprised by how early we bring in materials. Early on, we spend a lot of time describing why we’re recommending a certain material, and how they’ll feel if that material is used. It gives the client a heightened understanding of the final product.

Tres Agaves Restaurant, SF. Photography credit: Caesar Rubio, Tim Maloney

Orson, SF. Photography credit: Bruce Damonte

You design both restaurants (Orson, Globe, Starbelly, Tres Agaves, Bacar) and homes. What’s the difference? What’s your preference? (Jim) Restaurants are really interesting, a real opportunity to do something different. But there are lots of similarities between restaurants and homes because with both, you have to start with function. It’s not just about how something looks. (Lise) Residential has a certain soul to it that other work does not. I think you can be moved by lots of different types of spaces but there’s something so personal in residential work. It’s a story or a tale of lives, hobbies, interests, taste, background: it’s incredibly telling.

Obviously, being your own clients informs your work. (Lise) I think it really helps that we’ve been our own clients. We know how houses work. We know how families work. (Jim and Lise have two young kids). We know how life works. We know, for example, how to make modernism work with having kids in the house. We once published some work of one of our houses and there was a big thread in our comments. They couldn’t figure out how to make it work, but we have because we’ve lived it.

Laidley Street Residence, SF. Photography credit: Bruce Damonte, Paul Dryer

Harper Street Residence, SF.

Natoma Street Residence, SF.

OK. What are you reading? (Lise) I read a lot of poetry. Reading Billy Collins now. (Jim) Ted Kennedy’s bio “True Compass”; “Home Game” a humorous book on being a dad by Michael Lewis,  and a book called “The Craftsmen”, a bit of an existential discourse on craft and making.

Who plays you in the movies of your lives? (Lise) We always heard that Jim reminded people of Harrison Ford. And you? Hmmm. Someone sentimental, introverted in a certain way….and spiritual. Perhaps some obscure French actress. (Lise was born in Montreal, and is an unrepentant francophile–and it shows in her fabulous style.) Maybe Claire Danes? (Perfect!)

And what objects define you? (Lise) I’d say my art and my little collections. I collect Bride and Groom dolls….Different designs over the eras….whimsical but very serious too. And I collect figurines of the presidents of the US.  In terms of artwork and sculpture….I have a fascination with packing materials…I’ve objectified these very mundane things…I often treat them with wax. For example, I ordered a pizza stone, and when it came, I noticed the box came with these projections and cut outs. I’ve waxed it as a straight piece. You’d never know it was a container for a pizza stone! I also like tribal pieces….

(Jim) I guess the question makes me realize I am not too object oriented, but:

  • My iphone
  • I realize it’s not an object, but I have really, really enjoyed living in houses that I or we have designed and built.  I have been fortunate to have done this four or five times now, and at the moment we are not living in one of “our houses”, and I really, really miss it.
  • My messy desk

What’s the best thing a client’s ever said to you? (Jim) Not sure it was the nicest thing but maybe the most memorable was a client who told us that “we sucked the least” of everyone who worked on the project. (Love that!) (Lise) Seriously, though, clients have said lots of things that we thought were both great and interesting. Like how much they learn about themselves in the process. And how many details there are to sweat. And how blown away they are when they see the final thing–the unexpected touches, the little surprises (good ones) are what people always rave about.

Ah those little moments of magic. Thanks, Jim and Lise for making reality beautiful, and making beauty real.



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Filed under Design, Heroes and Heroines, SF Bay Area

Candlestick Park Monthly Antiques Faire

This past Sunday saw an adventure to the first-ever Candlestick Park Antiques & Collectibles Faire, a new event that will take place every third Sunday of the month. The idea for the faire hails from the notorious Alameda Point Antiques & Collectibles Faire (which of course is worth a visit sometime!). The neat thing about the Candlestick Park location is that for all of us SF residents, there’s no longer a bridge to cross to get to the finds of a lifetime. It takes place right next to the famous 49ers Candlestick Park Stadium, and overlooks the Bay.

There are nearly 500 booths selling antiques and collectibles, and all of the merchandise is 20 years or older (no reproductions allowed). Cool! That means tons of authentic, old (sometimes ancient) furniture, household wares, art, clothing and trinkets. This time around, we found anything you could imagine – and more…Victorian stained glass, ancient African artifacts, mid-century porcelain plates, buttons galore, out-of-circulation coins, old monocles, snazzy jewelry, vintage street signs, garden statues, and lots and lots of clothing. Would suit any taste.

You can’t go wrong with this event. With so much turnover, you’ll be surprised and delighted every time you visit.


2010 Show DatesAug 15, 2010
Sep 26, 2010
Oct 24, 2010
Nov 28, 2010
Dec 19, 2010

$15.00 – 6:00AM to 8:00AM
$5.00 – 8:00AM to 3:00PM

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Filed under Inspiration, Places we love, SF Bay Area, Stores we Love

The Perish Trust

“The Perish Trust. One of SF’s coolest, edgiest vintage/antiques stores. Great vibe. On Divisadero. You should go.” Our confidential informant then gave us a knowing nod. But as we’d driven down Divisadero, eyeing the newly trendy bits, trying to catch a glimpse of something that might be Perish Trust, nothing looked terribly promising. So we finally got clueful and looked up the address. 728 Divisadero. Except when we got to that block, things looked even more unpromising. This is probably the least gentrified bit of Divis, a bleak expanse of….not much.

But we persevered. And in a doorway with a bright red lamp, we glimpsed the name of the store. And found vintage heaven. Our informant was so, so right. Edgy (dark dark space, which we love), filled with substantial, interesting vintage and vintage-feeling furniture, lighting, ephemera, jewelry….much of it influenced by the world of work and industry. The merchandising (think witty vignettes and intriguing labeling) is extraordinary, smart, and sophisticated while managing to maintain an offhand, casual feel.

It’s no surprise that it was founded and run by two people with amazing visual and curatorial sense: photographer Kelly Ishikawa and stylist Rod Hipskind. These two were also joined by the pack rat (collector) sensibility that’s so necessary to do these things right. You also get that they’re joined by a real love for the items in the store, and a real respect for them. They’re not just flogging interesting vintage tat picked up along the way.

They also feature work by local artisans and crafters including Patricia Horn, Andre Nigoghossian, Mariele Williams, Jessica Niello, Nell VanVorst, and Kevin Randolph.

Also, you can also see and try on the vintage-inspired line of glasses (specs) by Warby Parker (which only sells online.) First off, the frames are cool. Next, the glasses (lenses included) sell for $95 (NOT $300+). And here’s the best part: for every pair you buy, WP donate a pair.

Here’s the thing about places like Perish Trust. You walk in and you feel like you’re entering into a very cool private museum (but not one of those hoity toity stuffy ones). You walk out with something from there (which we certainly encourage), put it in your house…and you’ll be instantly transformed into a more interesting person. As if you needed any help…

Go check out Kelly and Rod’s vision. Support them. You won’t be disappointed.


728 Divisadero Street, San Francisco CA 94117


Filed under Furniture + Lighting, Places we love, SF Bay Area, Stores we Love

DesignCraft Hero: Josh Jakus

Some creative people just seem to have the knack, don’t they?

They look at some plain material, play around with it, squint at it, play a little more, and hey, presto!, a fabulous product is born. Not just another thing, but something truly ingenious, delightful, smile-inducing. Then comes the luck: store orders follow, along with editorial acclaim. They become design rock stars and get their own show on Bravo.

On good days, this is the stuff of fantasy (yeah, even the Bravo bit. So sad.) On bad ones, well, it’s just damned irritating.

But does it really ever happen like that? Oh you know it’s never quite that simple.

Meet Josh Jakus (pronounced Yakus). Architect turned designer of everything from lighting to iconic, revolutionary accessories (UM Bags…and yes, guys, purses can be revolutionary.)

He DOES have the knack. He’s had all that good editorial stuff (like this week’s shout out in Daily Candy…not to mention all the pieces in Dwell, Apartment Therapy, etc.) His work sells in stores around the world. (He also sells through his own online store, FUZ.) Still waiting for Bravo, but…you never know.

You do want to find him a little irritating. But you can’t.

Part of it’s his work: smart, joyful, surprising, useful, sustainable materials, and locally made (in the Bay Area). We love the fact that he’s able to look at simple, banal materials, and bring out its essence to take it to another level. The through line? For the most part: movement, transformation, twist. Complete and utter lack of fuss.

There’s Josh himself, a sports-loving guy with a combination of coolness, smarts, irony, warmth, humor, and a small curmudgeonly streak that’s incredibly refreshing.

And his smart business model: local small-batch manufacturing, smart outsourced distribution, efficient design that minimizes waste, lots of products that pack flat, and a commitment to responsible, excess, or recycled materials.

Then there’s his story….a blend of resourcefulness, hard work, grit, persistence, an ability to see what others can’t see, and of course, talent. And that’s what takes this out of the realm of fantasy, and into that of inspiration.

We hang out a little in his Berkeley workroom/office/storeroom/design studio–all cinderblock and tall racks (it’s a restored garage.) Down the hall are a quilt restorer, a couple of ceramicists, a graphics design firm. And a chiropractor.

His space is stark (with the exception of some wonky cool flowers behind the computer monitor). None of the inspiration and mood boards you see with some other designers. It’s a pragmatic, streamlined space, and not what you’d call romantic.

You immediately get the sense that design is about solving problems. And that running a design business is bloody hard work. (Oh that.)

Talk about your movement from architecture to product design. I actually didn’t make a decision. I would love to design buildings…but it’s really not a great way to make a living. And I just wanted to be creative…but in architecture it’s incredibly hard to stay creative: there are always people telling you what you can’t do, whether it’s the building department or clients, or whomever.

Anyway, I really got into all this by accident. I started out trying to design baskets for the home….then it turned into the purse…then a basket. I started doing the bags as a sideline, and they were successful.  The product design stuff just took it over.

Your work is so incredibly unusual. Do you think the architecture training helps? Hurts? Maybe because my education is in architecture and not product design it helps me think about things differently. People with an education in product design tend to focus on a conventional set of things. Being an architect, you look at the site and the materials and get inspiration in that. Now, I think most of my inspiration comes from the material….I just look at a material and wonder, “what I can make with this?”

Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be an architect, or in the design world? Kind of.  People always told me I could design. But before I went to architecture school, I was a database programmer.

A lot of your work incorporates felt. Why felt? I’d been doing furniture work, found it hard to break into…and since I wanted to do something for the home I decided to get into soft goods (because it’s easier to find people to produce it.) A friend had used felt, had some samples and I started playing around. It’s non-woven and doesn’t pucker, wrinkle, etc.  And I like the structural quality of it. And the depth of color can be amazing.

You’re mostly a designer, not a maker per se. Is that something you defaulted to, or by design? Oh, by design. I’m very clear about that. I never wanted to produce anything myself….I was never a crafter. That’s just not me. But I was always about prototyping. I drew obsessively as a kid.

But honestly, I can’t concentrate on the details! I forget things…You know how they say, “measure twice, cut once”? Well, I’m one of those people that measures once and cuts three times. (So familiar!) So I knew I was never going to make things myself. From the very beginning, I was doing prototypes and having other people do things. But that doesn’t make it easy.

It’s a real skill to tell people what to do, isn’t it? Oh yeah. It’s tough particularly if you’re asking them to do something different–which is what I’m always doing.

So what makes it work? It’s all about finding the right people and building a relationship, and you have to be comfortable working with people who are totally different from you.

Your partnerships are important to what you do. Yeah. For example, my sewing contractor, Joanna, came here from China. She has 2 years in high school, comes from a completely different world…but we have some of the same values. I have a great deal of respect for what she and her team do. It’s been four years now, but there was trial and error before I met her, though. (You get the sense there are some great stories….)

But one of the things that many DesignCrafters have told us is that a lot of design happens during the making. How do you deal with that when you’re not heavily engaged in the making? Oh you absolutely have to be able to see what they can do and can’t do and have that inform your design. Otherwise you’re beating your head against the wall. At the same time, you have to push them out of their comfort zone. It’s that fine balance.

The sewing company I’ve been working with (Bailey Sewing Company in Oakland) had never seen anything like my designs (we can imagine) and we really needed to work together see what was possible. That’s why you have to have a relationship with the people making your product. They had to take a leap of faith, and I had to do the same.  Some places don’t want to do that: they just want to do what they’re used to doing. That’s fine…but it doesn’t work for me.

Are you a control freak? Architects tend to have that reputation. (He laughs.) I’m a perfectionist but not a control freak. Over 10 years I have learned the difference. As a perfectionist, it doesn’t have to be MY idea that makes something perfect. If others have a better idea, we’ll do it their way. Control freaks….they have to have everything their way.

Not that your work doesn’t warrant it, but you have had some lucky breaks. I had designed the bag in the fall of 2005. I had no sense of where it would sell. I knew someone who worked at the Gardener and Propeller, so I cold-called. They just got it and the bags did well. But I really had no idea what I was doing: the minute you get into a store you learn SO much. People kept saying net 30. I had no idea what that meant.

Then there was press. A friend forwarded my site to DesignSponge. It just took off in the blogosphere. I started getting calls…and from that point on till the big economic crash, I just followed the success of the bags.  I feel lucky. Really lucky.

Do you feel like you’ve made it? No! I’m not there yet. What’s hard about that is that the economy is changing so much. The whole wholesale market is getting so much tougher. We’re definitely looking at expanding our online presence with Fuz.

I guess this begs the issue of what making it means. Yeah. And that’s changed too. I don’t want to just be a name on a product. I love being in my studio working. I don’t want to fly around and do face time–that’s exhausting to me. Bottom line, though, I’d just like to be able to design whatever I want.  I would love my work to be known by huge numbers of people.

Would you like to do commissioned design? Absolutely and I do some already. I have a good collaboration going with Teroforma. (We love them.)

So what are you excited about now? Well, people like my chalkboards, and there are the lamps made out of recycled milk jugs (so cool!) And I’m working on making a luminary that can be used at wedding. (It’s a very cool piece, completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen at a wedding or on any dining room table, for that matter.) And there’s a computer bag. (It ain’t your traditional computer bag, not by a long shot.) And extensions on the purse.

What five things define you? I don’t know that people who know me associate me with stuff. But if you had to pick a few things…

My orange crocs (LOVE them. The only color of Crocs that should be worn.)

Volvo station wagon

My puffy jacket. I wear a down jacket because it’s always cold. It’s huge. Black.  For some reason, people find it shocking! I may switch to something sleeker by Patagonia.

Can’t think of anything else.

OK. So who would play you in the movie of your life? Oh God. I don’t know. (He considers.) Woody Allen. Um, really? I don’t look like him but I feel like him. Seriously? (No apparent nervous tics, no baleful stare…) Yeah, I do have the angst, and the discomfort. OK. I don’t always feel like that but there is something about his struggle. (Huh.)

(Hard to recover from the Woody Allen comment but….) What inspires? I’m a designer but I don’t have a lot of external inspirations. I have a process that leads to things. It’s kind of an architectural process.  If I have a material, that’s what inspires me. I always keep asking…”what else?” That’s tough because I can develop a bunch of prototypes but don’t really have the time to develop everything.

Other than designing (and sports,) what makes you happy? Small things…like packing boxes….comforting….tangible. Getting things done. That’s just satisfying.

What’s the best thing about what you do? Don’t get me wrong, what I do is really hard, and I’m still not sure what the future will bring. But I love doing what I do. And I’m free to fail but no one’s telling me I can’t do it before I even try.

Oh yeah. Woody Allen. Orange Crocs. Great design. And words to live by.



Product photography credits:  Josh Jakus.

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Filed under Accessories, Design, Heroes and Heroines, SF Bay Area, Textiles + Paper

DesignCraft Hero: Matt Bear

People are always asking us how we find the people we profile…Lots of different ways, from Plain Jane reading to talking to retailers to talking to people whose taste we trust. But one of the best ways has been talking to other DesignCrafters. When we interviewed the gifted Liz Dunning a few months back, she talked with such enthusiasm (even more than Liz usually does!) about Matt Bear of Union Studio in Berkeley. What a wonderful and generous mentor, she said. What a great eye, she said. And what a talent.

No surprise. Liz was right.

We took a look at some recent work this designer and master of wood and cabinetry had done on a residence….and promptly got that “oh yeh” buzz we get when we see design we really like.

The design for the residence was incredibly well thought out, smartly refined…but quite the other side of safe. Tons of room for personality, grit, vibrancy. We loved the clean, comfortable feel, the smartness and humor, that warmed-up industrial look we have a thing for, the care and quality of the craftsmanship (pristine). Matt’s the first to say that it was the collaboration with the client, but….let’s just state the blindingly obvious…most collaborations don’t turn out quite this well.

The first real view of his work–his studio converted from a garage–confirmed our suspicion that Matt was a class act. (And hearing that the studio was converted in just a few months by Matt and his wife…pretty awesome.)

Our second view of Matt’s work–the second floor loft in the low key Berkeley home he’s owned forever…well it sent us into another paroxysm of covetousness.  Streamlined, refined, but comfortable and warm, a blend of vintage/found pieces living comfortably with his own work…It’s spare but not sparse. Up close, you start to see how smart his designs are, whether it’s the curve of a handle or the bookend/file holder/plan holder system he created. And everything has a hand-crafted feel….not crafty, just crafted.

One of the most important parts of Matt’s work life is actually his family: wife Jennifer works in the same loft-space (lucky thing!) and the kids are downstairs. It’s all incredibly integrated, like his work.

Matt’s got an intense, but laid back, gentle energy. (He describes himself as a little bit of an introvert. Jennifer nods, a little smile on her face.) Smart. Perceptive and incisive. Cerebral. A listener. Someone who’s equal parts designer, maker, and entrepreneur. And really clear about who he is and what he’s all about, which is family, and doing amazing work.

Here’s the thing about Matt: there are people out there whom you believe will do things right. You trust them. Matt is one of those people.

Originally from Orange County (whoa, didn’t see that coming, such is the stereotype of the OC) he’s been in the area since he went to Cal, and studied in the Architecture program. Post-undergrad, there was a stint as a magazine editor (it shows, in his collateral) for a wood working magazine. There was a woodshop there, he and some friends started designing and making furniture…et voila (OK, not that easily) Union Studio was born.

A scant TWO years after he and his partner hung out a shingle, SF MOMA acquired two of their pieces for its permanent collection. What does that tell you?

Fast forward a bit.

Union Studios is now Matt and a team of collaborators like Liz who help him take on more complex projects. He works out of that gorgeous studio, or out of larger facilities like Alameda Point.

Getting your work featured in the MOMA collection–was that one of your proudest moments. Yeah. Well, other than my kids, I’m proudest of that. It led to lots of good things. But you know, that pat on the back stuff only keeps you going for a while. I think I’m also pretty proud of having a sustainable little business. (Not exactly simple these days.)

What kinds of projects do you like the most? (He does everything from design and craft of large-scale residential interiors to doing ultra-custom furniture for homes and offices.) Big, small it’s all good. But the big project I recently did–it was a two year project–was an amazing experience.

It was a residence in a historical building that had been gutted in the 60s and vandalized afterward. Various people had bought it along the way but it was an almost empty shell for us to put our stamp on it. That’s an amazing opportunity. (And he and the owners took full and fabulous advantage of that opportunity.)  We used early 20th century arts processes with steel work and iron, which was in keeping with the era of the building.

So it’s about alternating between big and small. I like the mix, and I want to be able to be balanced…with the kids, obviously, that’s a critical thing.

How do you find that balance between designing and crafting? I kind of do it in sequence. I’ll spend months up here without going into the shop and vice versa…..But I think the marriage between the two [design and maker] is what defines my work. The fact that I know how things are made helps me interface with designers better.  Plus a lot of design happens in the shop. (We know, we know!) The clients I’ve done the best work for are the ones who trust this….I am on the job site, see the space….work with clients where we’re willing to change even after some of the plan has been set.

How do you describe your design aesthetic? It’s hard to articulate…’s much easier to show images of my work. Everything sounds cliche! But…I’m into very solid materials. I really like designing around solid wood: there are a tons of constraints that inform design. Steel is big for me as well. Hot rolled steel. I think a lot about how the materials naturally want to be worked, and learning about proportion and small changes that make a huge difference.

You have such a great eye, such an amazing sensibility. Where’d the aesthetic come from? Thanks. Growing up, my mom was into houses…she had a great eye. My dad was the kind of guy who’d come home every day, take off his suit, go down to the garage and work on stuff. He believed he could do anything, fix anything. I definitely got this whole ethic that we can do things ourselves…and that nothing is too big to tackle.

Do you have design inspirations? The material, for sure. But in terms of designers….Pierre Charreau, Jean Prouve, early 20th century designers. But I also like vintage things. When I was in high school I’d collect junk to sell at the flea market. But the thing I’m most drawn to is general simplicity. The simplest pieces are the ones I come back to over and over again.

I think in many ways, I’m just inspired by the work. Clients know that I’ll work my butt off for them. It’s important to me that at the end of the project, both the clients and I are really happy with the project and the result.

Any magazines or blogs you follow? Blogs are really taking over the design world from magazines. So yeah, I follow blogs. Some of the ones I follow are:

Do you want to expand? I think about it. Looking at ideas…thinking about opening a store. Being able to make stuff and sell it. I’d also want to have work from other designers. But that’s just talking….in the short and medium terms, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing–just more and better!

So what was your happiest moment? When the museum bought our pieces….and then when I went to see them in the museum with my mother and grandmother. That was amazing. Also, landing the first big architecture project….And when that got published, I was pretty happy with that.

What’s your biggest fear? Flying. I’m really a reluctant flyer. Drugs? Tried ’em. They made me violently ill. (We like you, Matt, but remind us not to sit next to you on a plane!) Then there are all types of fears that having a kid brings.

OK. You know what’s coming. Five things that define you.

Since having kids I just care about stuff less. So…here goes.

I guess, the stuff I need and use every day–but I’m not particularly attached to the thing, more about the function. My computer would be on that list.

Things that people have made for me…..those are important.

The clock–my dad died a few years ago, he was a big clock collector and he would go around the house winding up his clock. That clock symbolizes all that. It’s not about the clock itself.

And this house. It’s my calm place. It’s like a boat. This house has a life of its own…

We’ll say. Thanks, Matt.


Matt Bear

(510) 652 0602

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Filed under Design, Furniture + Lighting, Heroes and Heroines, SF Bay Area, Wood