Monday, February 25, 2013

A Spirited New Voice in Design: Catherine Kwong's Dash and Daring

In her newly renovated townhouse, San Francisco interior designer Catherine Kwong delineates an intricate understanding of elegant tailoring and modern romance. 

For designer Catherine Kwong, last year was a game-changer.

In January she launched her own design firm, Catherine Kwong Design, after apprenticing with New York designer Bill Sofield and San Francisco designer Paul Vincent Wiseman. 

In April, Kwong’s dazzlingly stylish ‘Fashion Blogger Studio’ was the talked-about room of the prestigious 2012 San Francisco Decorator Showcase. With its smart juxtaposition of classic charcoal-walled dressing room/atelier and a contemporary jolt of tech, the suave decor was a quick hit on-line. New clients quickly commissioned Kwong to design their homes.

In the summer, Kwong married her longtime fiancé, Brian Kwong, a noted emergency-room physician, and they headed off to Iceland and then Paris to museum hop, check out the art scene, and visit top design sites. Swooping through the Marais and the Left Bank, Catherine gleaned inspiration from fabric showrooms, antique galleries, and the new style boutiques.

In the meantime, she completed the six-month renovation and decoration of the couple’s new San Francisco townhouse. The light-filled 1,300 square-foot loft-like residence overlooks a private park and is within salt-air scent of the Bay. 

In the living room, the dramatic cold-rolled steel log-holder, handcrafted in San Francisco by Ferrous Studios, makes a bold modernist contrast to the custom-designed hand-carved limestone fireplace and a romantic antique silver-leave over-mantel mirror. 

“This year has been a swift design learning curve, definitely,” said Kwong. “I’ve applied everything I learned working in top design firms and on my travels to these rooms. And I’ve worked closely with top craftsmen to add bespoke pieces.”

Kwong’s plan was to emphasize and reflect the light streaming into their rooms. The central axis includes a sunny double-height living room with 18-foot ceilings. Proportions of the rooms were harmonious as well as practical and she did not change them.

“I used all new finishes and fixtures, designed new lighting and window treatments, but the basic flow of the space remains the same,” said Kwong.

Because the space is rather small, she wanted it to feel open and airy, but still intimate. She warmed it up by layering in different textures, like the weathered wood of vintage French wine racks, and the peeling silver leaf of an oversized mirror. 

For the central double-height living room, Kwong selected Christian Liaigre striped navy and silver silk for curtains to add a luxurious background for a barn-wood coffee table, and a funky pair of custom S.H. Frank leather sling chairs for Paulistano. The English-style roll-arm sofa from Restoration Hardware is upholstered with Belgian linen and dressed up with velvet throw pillows. 

Vintage brass chairs upholstered with brown suede, from Coup d’Etat, surround the Blu Dot dining table, customized with ‘gold-dipped’ legs by Evans & Brown. Vintage French wooden wine racks for the back wall were a flea-market find. The vintage rug was from Tony Kitz, San Francisco. 

“Each room is appointed with little personal treasures, so the mood is peaceful, and each corner has its own personality,” said the designer. “It’s our home, not a showroom, and I want people to feel comfortable here.”

Kwong redesigned the kitchen with new shelving, and put in new millwork and countertops. She replaced the existing white carpet with ebonized oak floors, and installed recessed lighting, along with new chandeliers and sconces. 

Walls were painted a crisp “China White’ by Benjamin Moore.

“I tested at least twenty different shades of white and checked them at different times of the day and night,” reported Kwong. ‘China White is softened with a touch of grey, so it’s the perfect background.”

Kwong installed a custom-crafted honed limestone fireplace with handcarved baroque curves, the perfect romantic counterpoint to the room’s modern architecture.

Adjacent is an oversized, floor-to-ceiling rolled steel log holder custom-crafted piece by Ferrous Studios.

“Kyle Reicher, the owner of the company, who made it, is a genius,” said Kwong. ‘He had the piece made for me in two days. Because of the material and scale, it took eight strong men to lift it and set it into place. If we ever move, I think we’ll have to leave it in the house.” 

In the bedroom, windows are curtained with a graceful Holly Hunt cotton fabric. The gilded neoclassical stool from Coup d’Etat is upholstered with a shocking pink Schumacher cotton. “I bought the vintage astronomy maps several years ago. I love the way they sit above our heads as we sleep every night,” said Kwong. 

The bathroom/powder room is compact so Kwong lavished it with silver-patterned wallpaper by Osborne & Little, grey honed limestone tile floors by Ann Sacks, and a glamorous polished Carrara marble countertops. 
To add a personal flourish to the BluDot oak-topped dining table, Kwong had the Greek-key steel legs gold-leafed.

“I loved the simplicity of the original table, but it was too ‘off-the-rack’ for me,” said Kwong.

Now with the gold-dipped look, by Evans & Brown, the table looks ethereal and rather mysterious. The gold finish elevates the whole apartment. In candlelight, the metal shimmers. In contrast, the coffee table was crafted from rough-hewn old New England barnwood.

“This is a great starter home for us,” observed Kwong. “It’s the perfect city retreat. It reminds me of traditional Chinese wisdom my mother quoted to me when I was young: ‘It’s good luck to be one room short of what you need’. Brian and I certainly feel that it’s a lucky house. We love it.”

Catherine Kwong's stylish ‘Fashion Blogger Studio’ at the 2012 San Francisco Decorator Showcase

Catherine Kwong Design

295 Kansas Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

tel: 415-735-5190

Bess Friday Photography


  1. Love what she has done!+ Grand photos.

  2. Dear Diane,
    love this article.
    This interior has a lovely touch of Art Deco, in a new fresh way!
    The dining table with the gold-dipped legs is stunning

    All my best,