Monday, May 20, 2013

Invention and Delight: Designer Catherine Kwong Picks Her San Francisco Style Favorites

The latest and greatest: From fine art to wood-fired pizza trucks to chic tintypes and art furniture. The best. 

Shooting star designer Catherine Kwong burst onto the San Francisco design scene last year with her sleek and witty design for a ‘fashion blogger’s office’ at the prestigious San Francisco Decorator Showcase. Then she was published in House Beautiful. Wonderful recognition.

In January, Catherine was selected as one of the top designers for the 2013 San Francisco Decorator Showcase, which is open through May 27. Her living room images have gone viral. 

Now Catherine’s career is in overdrive. Clients are calling. And she is the nicest, prettiest, and most talented and charming young talent.

I first met Catherine a decade ago when she was a designer with The Wiseman Group in San Francisco. I was looking for a ‘next generation designer’ for an interiors feature I was planning. The great Suzanna Allen was kind enough to introduce her to me and show her portfolio. 

At this year’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase, Catherine is again one of the most buzzed-about attractions. Everyone’s talking about her glamorous and understated design for the living room. 

Newell Turner, editor-in-chief of House Beautiful and of the Hearst Design Group, described Catherine’s room as ‘beautifully restrained’ and ‘superbly edited’. Doretta Sperduto, the magazine’s Interiors Editor, also loved it. I agree. 

At this year’s stunningly successful San Francisco Decorator Showcase Catherine wowed design lovers with her ‘ living room for Bianca and Mick’ that featured Dior-worthy silk curtains at the bay windows. Also creating a dream scheme were a voluptuous and perfectly shaped taupe silk tufted sofa and a petite antique mirror above the mantel.

Getting lots of attention and admiration, too, was the oh-so-glam midnight blue floor with swirls of Twombly-esque graffiti by James Stancil. 

Thus, careers are launched.

This week, we’re getting a close look at Catherine’s glam showcase room (you can also see it live at showcase through May 27—see information below).

And Catherine—between meeting new clients, supervising her office, taking good care of her husband, Brian (an emergency physician) — has created a list of her San Francisco style favorites for us. It’s witty and inspiring.

Come and discover. 

Catherine's Style List

"Design is about creating beautiful spaces, and at its best it involves self-expression, discovery, experimentation, and curiosity,” said Catherine Kwong, known for her artful melding of interior glamour, and for combining the newest high-tech and web concepts with classical décor and architecture.

For Kwong, design and style inspiration come from sources as varied as a chic new ‘secret’ bar, a 'rebel' patisserie, a classic San Francisco museum, a tintype photo studio, or a European-style vintage gallery.

“Northern California constantly generates vivid new ideas that jostle accepted wisdom,” said Kwong. “I’m open to new invention, and fresh ways of seeing decor, color, food, furniture and design. It makes me a better designer and one with something to say." 

Catherine Kwong began her interior design education in New York, with degrees from Brown University and Parsons School of Design. She later worked for designer Bill Sofield and with Ralph Lauren. In 2008 she moved back home to San Francisco where she now lives with her husband, Brian Kwong, an emergency physician.

“Innovation is a way of life here in San Francisco. Businesses are not content with the status quo. Invention is in the air,” Catherine noted.”Twitter’s new headquarters is around the corner, Pinterest is across the street, Zynga is near here, and so is Instagram, and within brief distances we have the offices of Google and Facebook and One Kings Lane. That kind of creative energy is infectious,” said Kwong. She launched Catherine Kwong Design, based in San Francisco, last year, and her firm is growing apace. 

Catherine Kwong’s Top Picks:
Catherine has roamed through neighborhoods of San Francisco and beyond for her favorite places, people, art, design, style and inspiration.

Here she shares her favorite sources—with a few surprises. (Trick Dog! Superhot now.)


THENWBLK  is a cutting-edge concept that brings together craft and interior design and architecture . Situated in a former industrial building, it's a retail store and gallery showing new handcrafted or one-of-a-kind furniture designs. It’s also a collaborative space for artists, designers and artisans to develop and build new pieces together, celebrating craft. 415-621-2344. 


I like to look to the old, the ancient, and objects of my heritage, like centuries-old collections at the ASIAN ART MUSEUM. 415-581-3500. and the new art such as the collections at ELI RIDGWAY, a favorite contemporary gallery downtown. 415-777-1366.


Vogt Submerged 

May 11 - June 22, 2013

Opening Reception Saturday, May 11, 4-7pm

Markham Johnson: 3 Attempts in Red, Green and Blue 
Gallery Hallway Project 


PHOTOBOOTH TINTYPE STUDIOS is a new business specializing in an old craft. They take portraits using an old-school tintype method. In this age of Instagram and Facebook, sitting still to stare into a camera for several minutes seems almost revolutionary. Each eerily captures a moment, a lifetime, and a mysterious mood. Just wonderful.1193 Valencia Street @ 23rd Street, San Francisco, 415-824-1248,, 


TRICK DOG  Tucked away behind a nondescript white door with a pineapple on it is one of the city's coolest bars. The wait (there’s always a line at the door, even at 8pm) is worth it. Bartenders (artists) make highly original libations and the bar bites are enticing. I admire the subtle wit: you can order from a Pantone-inspired cocktail menu. 415-471-2999. It used to be ‘not cool’ to publish the address. It’s no longer a secret, so here it is: 

3010 20th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 
(415) 471-2999 


CRAFTSMAN + WOLVES  A new loft-like patisserie in the heart of the Mission that’s inventive and a little subversive.. Consider the following: chocolate croissant stack; cocoa carrot muffin; caramel, lavender, soft chocolate éclairs, and the crunchy apple and Gruyere scones. The bakery's admired "Rebel Within" is a must-try: a savory Asiago and Parmesan cheese muffin with Boccalone breakfast sausage, chives, black pepper, and a soft-poached egg. Afternoon tea calls for delicacies like chunky apple/ Gruyere scones, buckwheat crumpets, plus a brioche sandwich of duck confit with red wine and onion marmalade served on a mid-century modern 'tower'. The ‘rebel’ concept is inspiring--and is a reminder to a designer of the delight in engaging in wit, humor, and rebellion. 415-913-7713.


DEL POPOLO They take the food truck craze to the next level with their pizza truck, complete with wood-burning oven. Really. For our wedding, we had them cater our rehearsal dinner, and it was such a discovery for our guests. 415-967-1853.


MARCH is a compulsive pleasure for everything culinary-related. I like the gorgeous linens in rare and subtle colors, plus handmade ceramics, and the very architectural kitchen islands and worktables. The superbly styled shop is so well curated and styled; it feels like being in a gallery. 415-931-7433.

The above images were shot exclusively for THE STYLE SALONISTE by the great photographer Paulette Tavormina. 

MARCH is pleased to present Photographs, an exhibition of Paulette Tavormina's exquisite still lifes. The show continues through June 1.

Tavormina's dramatic images reflect the sumptuous detail of 17th century Old Master paintings. Using a contemporary medium and a modern approach, her vibrant photographs of food and flora are reminiscent of Dutch, Spanish, and Italian still-lifes of the Golden Age. Tavormina was the winner of the Grand Prix at the 2010 International Culinaire Photography Festival in Paris. She lives and works in New York City.


ALMOND HARTZOG  I like the exquisite quality of furniture here. This gallery is a reliable source for beautiful, mostly European vintage furnishings and artwork, with highly collectible pieces from designers such as Eileen Gray and Pierre Jeanneret. 415-355-1200.


HUDSON GRACE  Gary McNatton and Monelle Totah are the owners-generators-locomotives-spirit guides of this brilliant new ode to stylish tableware and décor. They opened it last year in time for Thanksgiving—and clients were double-parked up and down the block as they ran in for tureens, serving bowls, large-scale platters and aces of linens. 

It's the crisply edited one-stop shop for hostess gifts and entertaining. I dash in for exclusive Italian candles, large-scale serving pieces, and hand-selected style books you won’t find elsewhere. 415-440-7400.


CAVALLO POINT  In Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, this sprawling national park-turned-low-key resort feels like a hideaway from San Francisco's hustle and bustle. This location is especially important to me: it's where I got married. 415-339-4700.



PHOTOGRAPHY: All photography used with express permission. Decorator Showcase photography by David Duncan Livingston (  Photos from March by Paulette Tavormina.

S.F. Decorator Showcase
Known as Herbst Manor, 2800 Pacific Avenue is a beautiful Georgian mansion atop Pacific Heights at the corner of Divisadero and Pacific. Built in 1899 by Ernest Coxhead, this historically significant home features old-world craftsmanship and panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and the city. The residence features formal rooms, a dramatic stairway, and a beautiful penthouse suite.

2800 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

The showcase continues through May 27.

Proceeds benefit San Francisco University High School's financial aid program.


Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Your posts are always so informative and I know so much work has gone into them rather than a quick copy and past quip! I really enjoyed learning some new talents that I would have not learned about here in London. Thank you.

Windlost said...

So nice to meet this brave young thing and see her gorgeous rooms! Also loved the list of IT places and spaces. I'd love to visit Hudson Grace. We really must make a SF trip before long. xo's Terri

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Naomi-

Thanks for your lovely comment. I love your blogs and like your wit.
Come and visit us in California!
And be sure to stay in touch, DIANE

Dear Terri-

Catherine is terrific. I've been friends forever--and watched her working for the Wiseman group and for Nicole Hollis, and then she was ready to make the giant leap. She launched her company and got married all around the same time last year.
So glad you liked this post! You'd enjoy all of her favorites...not the usual things. March and Hudson Grace are three blocks from each you could see them both in the same afternoon. In all cases of these picks--the owners are great. Greater than great...really. Trick original.
I hope all is well and that spring has sprung in Canada! for you at DIANE

April said...

Once again a great post. My husband and I usually spend only a week around Thanksgiving visiting family in the San Fran area. Thanks to all this great info, looks like it will have to be more like three!!!

April, Just Verte Style

peggy braswell said...

What a grand post + introduction. When I come up to San Francisco it will be such a treat to go to all these picks.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear April--Dear Peggy-

Yes...these would be excellent guides for your visit to San Francisco.

I love the range and originality of this list...a hidden bar that makes artistic drinks, two great interiors shops, a pizza truck (stylish)...and a's all good.

I receive the following great message: Great Idea, Michael Yomtov!

such a rich post! all beautiful or delicious, or both.

i wish hudson/grace did a cream soup spoon with a bamboo handle. i had them years ago from hammacher-schlemmer with stainless round bowls; they went the way of all good things. but the bamboo handles for cold soups were quite smart.

hope you are getting ready for a good weekend, diane.



Karena said...

Dear Diane,
Catherine is indeed a gem! I love it when someone can not only think outside the box; also pull it off brilliantly!

Art by Karena