Monday, April 27, 2015

Into the Light: The Style and Vision of Top International Eyewear Designer Blake Kuwahara

In Focus:  This week it’s my great pleasure to introduce you to the blazingly talented international eyewear designer, Blake Kuwahara. 

Blake recently launched his own company, Blake Kuwahara, offering his super-exclusive and limited-edition eyewear designs. His Spring/Summer 2015 collection is now available at just 100 locations around the world (see his contacts at end of story). These are custom designs for prescription lenses, tinted lenses, men and women. Superchic.

Today, you’ll meet Blake, who is based in Los Angeles, and learn about his eyewear, his ideas, his design inspiration, and his plans.

I’m also taking you on an exclusive visit to his very private Sausalito house, to see his collections, his wabi-sabi style, and the chic interiors.

Founder and creative director of Focus Group West, Blake Kuwahara, recently presented his sophomore collection of eyewear at Paris and Milan tradeshows, to great acclaim.

I love Blake’s highly original and elegant designs, crafted in top-quality metals and color-drenched resins and superb materials. Blake, one of the most admired eyewear designers in the world, now takes a conceptual approach. His designs for men and women are classic and at the same time refreshingly modern. In his newest designs he works around the idea of a “frame within a frame.” 

Blake, who is inspired by the precision and daring and complex structure of architecture, aims to create texture, dimension and tension through the integration of two different silhouettes. His stylistic themes include eyewear designs named in homage to architects he admires, like Zaha Hadid, Louis Le Vau (who worked with Louis XIV), and obscure 18th-century English architects, almost-forgotten American 20th-century architects along with Le Corbusier, Tadao Ando and Frank Lloyd Wright. He’s named some designs, ‘Thornton’, ‘Pearce’, and ‘Isidore’.

Come with me and take a close look.

And stick around, please. I’ve got an interview with Blake—and then we pay a visit to his charming and inspiring Sausalito residence, and learn what makes him tick. And click.

Blake Kuwahara has been designing eyewear for over 20 years—but now his name is on the company, and it's a pivotal time for him. Come and take a close look.

It will all come into sharp focus. 

All About Blake Kuwahara and His Eyewear

Blake Kuwahara, a doctor of optometry, has always had a following of designers, architects, musicians, fashion talents and celebs who appreciate the couture nature of his eyewear designs and the customization of colors and styles.

I first met Blake some years ago when he gained international acclaim as the creator and designer of the exclusive KATA Eyewear brand. I still wear sunglasses from that collection. Chic.

The finesse and elegance and originality of Blake’s designs make them very striking. His new designs are even more evolved, more dramatic, more challenging technically. Now his groundbreaking use of innovative engineering and production techniques and his highly curated style are changing the way eyewear design is approached today.

To briefly namedrop for a moment, Blake’s designs are worn by Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock Kevin Bacon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Halle Berry, Robert Downey, Jr., Will Smith, Jeremy Piven, Samuel L. Jackson, Casey Affleck, Slash, and Minnie Driver among many others in the entertainment and design and fashion arenas.

Blake was recently named by Brilliant Magazine as one of the “100 Most Important People in the Eyewear Industry”.

You’ve probably worn his ultra-exclusive designs without knowing he designed them. He has collaborated extensively on eyewear collections for John Varvatos, Carolina Herrera, Isaac Mizrahi, Behnaz Sarafpour, Hanae Mori and Coach.

Blake Kuwahara is also a longstanding member of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

Inside the Brain of Blake Kuwahara

Blake said:
“Like many people I know straddle both the artistic and business worlds. I struggled to find suitable eyewear- hence the prototype I designed for myself more than twenty years ago. And recently I felt the inspiration and proverbial push for launching my signature brand- a collection of frames. They are a mash-up of my colliding aesthetics with special attention paid to sculpting and tactility. They are artful but wearable. I use laborious production techniques and a lot of handwork, and an inner silhouette is encased in an unexpectedly fresh outer shape. This seamless fusion of two frames and the juxtaposition of contrasting form and color create a design tension that is thoroughly modern yet comfortably familiar. And, it is a paradox. Like me.”

Blake designs for men and women: Yes, it’s a versatile collection.

MATERIALS: Each is individually crafted out of richly colored Italian and Japanese acetates, with some incorporating titanium. Note the beveled edges, the sculpted shapes, the encased metals, and the dramatically different styles of his work.

COLORS INCLUDE: Black Horn, Syrah, Marble, Noir, Slate, Oak, Black, Clear

PRICE RANGE: $599 - $650 retail


Home, Sweet Home

Welcome, and please join me for a guided visit to Blake Kuwahara’s Sausalito Residence

Blake Kuwahara’s eyewear company headquarters is in Los Angeles, and he has an apartment in West Hollywood. He designs and manufactures in Japan, so he spends much of his life on planes.

On weekends and holidays, Blake escapes to a charming hillside cottage in Sausalito overlooking San Francisco Bay. The house is surrounded by California native oaks, ivy-clad walls, and bougainvillea and roses that seem to bloom all year.

Private, tranquil and meditative—Blake’s house is his perfect retreat. There in monochromatic peace, he displays his well-traveled collections and follows his own style path.

Blake and I recently sat down for a quiet chat. 

DDS: Blake, it is great to talk about your new eyewear and your travels—and let's talk about your house in Sausalito. You travel a lot. And you secretly have a charming and totally private retreat in Sausalito. It's the perfect escape route...a place to do nothing but gaze out the window, or to create new designs in a flurry of creativity.

I'm on the road almost 75% of my time so it really is a blessing to have this place to come home to. I'm perched on a hill overlooking Richardson Bay with views as far as Sonoma and Mt. Tamalpais on one side, to Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge on the other. I'm visually isolated from my neighbors, and the only real noise I hear are from the family of deer that live in my backyard.

DDS: I love your aesthetic. You've modified the house over the years, but always the same pared-down style, the collections, the monochromatic approach.

I've always fancied myself as a minimalist, but I also love to troll flea markets wherever I am, so slowly what started out as a blank canvas became layered with things that I've collected over the years. My grandparents also lived all over the world—Bangkok, Saigon, Laos, Bolivia, and Yemen to name a few places, and I have several of the pieces they've brought home. I tend to gravitate towards things that are simple but have a soulful look and patina. I love that interplay between simple shapes but complex and nuanced color.

I prefer to live with a very neutral color palate. It's so much more soothing and in keeping with the natural landscape outside. Plus, colors would compete with the water and the trees outside.

DDS: When did you first acquire the house and what appealed to you about it?

It was about 20 years ago. I had just flown in from Sydney and saw an open house sign on our way home from the airport. At the time, my partner and I were renting another house in Sausalito and were looking to buy. I wanted to stop to see the house—he thought I was nuts since I had just been on a 14 hour flight—but we made the detour, and was immediately smitten. The house was a complete wreck, but that was part of the charm. It hadn't been touched since it was built in the 30's, had horrendous wallpaper in the kitchen, and cheap bookshelves along side the fireplace. But the view sealed the deal!

My original plan was to do a gut renovation, but I decided to keep the spirit of the original house instead. The kitchen was remodeled, but I used old limestone pavers to keep the old-world feel, the craftsman style fireplace mantel was replaced with an 18th century one from France I found at Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley, and old reclaimed French clay tiles were used in the mud room.

A friend from France, Patrick Bornemann, painted the exterior using lime mixed with pigment to give the house a true Mediterranean feeling I planted a couple of olive trees in the front and soon I could start imagining myself somewhere in Provence.

I did take design liberties with the basement floor. It was just raw space when I bought it, but turned that into a more modern, minimalist space with painted concrete floors and lots of white.

Sausalito is tranquil to begin with, but finding a house that was hidden from the street and sheltered from the wind, makes my home even more of a special retreat. The front of my house is completely secluded and the back faces the Bay, so I don't have any window coverings in the entire house except the bathrooms. I wake up with the sun when I'm at home. 

DDS: The house used to be more cottage-y and now it feels more loft/Japanese. What's your way of evolving a style?

I'm more of a small-house kind of guy. But, that does not mean that the house has to feel small. The sixteen-feet ceiling in the living room with the exposed rafters contributes to that loft feeling. And, as much as I like flea market finds, I didn't want my place to look shabby-chic. Being Japanese-American, I am drawn the simplicity of Japanese design and the wabi-sabi philosophy. I've tried to bring that spirit into this house. I like to group objects in vignettes based on color, texture or form. They don't necessarily have to be the same type of object or from the same region of the world, but they do need to relate visually to each other. 

DDS: What are your criteria for the pieces you add? You are often traveling so there is always a temptation to collect?

Shopping is one of my hobbies no matter where I am. In particular antique stores and flea markets. I don't really have any one particular thing that I look for, which is one of the reasons I have so much stuff! Generally, things that have a simple form, but have a timeworn sensibility and soulfulness catch my eye.

On the other hand, I collect midcentury modern pottery when I'm in Denmark. They have these remarkable charity shops all over the place where you can find vases and table wear from the 60's and 70's for just a few dollars. I keep those in my house in West Hollywood.

DDS: what are your most treasured pieces?

My most treasured pieces are the ones that either my grandmother gave to me or remind me of a special place or time.

And one of my most surprising and lucky finds was here in Sausalito. I happened to see an antique Goyard steamer trunk on the sidewalk in front of a junk shop that was closed. I couldn't imagine that they would just leave it there unattended. I came back in an hour and asked how much it was. He quoted a low price so I immediately bought it and took off. I don't think he knew what it was. It has all of the interior compartments and drawers.

DDS: Do you design there?

I try to use my place in Sausalito as a retreat from work, but I do design there. The dining room doubles as my office. I have a large French farm table that is perfect for laying out my drawings and material swatches, and the view is a nice distraction.

DDS: Diana Vreeland said, 'Style is consistency'. Your house has looked great for twenty years and the style has evolved slowly and with great precision. Consistent and cohesive. That's style. Thank you so much, Blake. I love it.

Blake In Sharp Focus

Blake has a Doctorate of Optometry from the University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Psychobiology with Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude distinctions from UCLA, Kuwahara went on to first work as an optometrist in a private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Drawn to the more creative side of the optical profession, Kuwahara left the clinical arena for design—creating eyewear for designers Isaac Mizrahi and Hanae Mori as well as for iconic brands such as Converse, Liz Claiborne, and Jones New York and many others. He launched his eponymous collection expressing his own distinctive aesthetic sensibilities in Fall 2014.


Blake Kuwahara eyewear images courtesy Blake Kuwahara. All designs copyright. Images used with express permission.

House images here are by San Francisco photographer Philip Harvey, courtesy of Blake Kuwahara, and used with express permission.

Portraits: Mark Squires

More information:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Special Preview: The 38th San Francisco Decorator Showcase

The prestigious San Francisco Decorator Showcase opens officially on Saturday April 25, at 3630 Jackson Street, Presidio Heights, San Francisco, after several evenings of opening celebrations.

The fantastically successful annual showcase, a benefit for University High School, has raised countless millions for this top school—and it is a tribute to San Francisco’s brilliant and generous design community that the event continues to be a highlight of the city’s design year.

Bravo to all the inspired interior designers and architects who are participating this year—and special applause for San Francisco’s talented decorative artists, craftspeople, painters, and many specialist professionals who donate their work so generously.

This week I’m highlighting the dining room, ‘Street Soirée’ designed by San Francisco designer, Cecilie Starin. I was particularly impressed with the design boards she presented—and she captured my attention when she noted that her original inspiration was a dining room by Orlando Diaz Azcuy. In particular, I’m excited to see commissioned wall painting by street artist Ian Ross, an important talent who has also created mural art for Google and Facebook and other leading tech companies. Come with me today to learn about the street art movement, and see newest art concepts.

San Francisco interior designer Cecilie Starin is a veteran (this is her fifth room) of the annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase, a benefit for University High School. The event is now well into its fourth decade and is considered one of the most prestigious in the US. 

Cecilie’s dining room combines black and white graffiti-inspired street art walls, chic Louis XVI chairs, a dramatic chandelier, and a striped ceiling, illuminated by Julie Morgan’s beautiful natural light.

She dubbed her dining room ‘Street Soirée’ as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the spray-painted walls and the inspiration of Orlando Diaz-Azcuy's chic style.

See my conversation with Cecilie Starin below to learn about her ideas, her concept, her wit, and her inspiration. Dramatic ‘process' shots are at the end of the informative text.

In Conversation with Cecilie Starin

I recently sat down for a conversation with Cecilie Starin to discuss her inspiration, her ideas, her process and concepts. Come with me and listen in.

DDS: Cecilie, this is your fifth Showcase room. Congratulations. You said one of your inspirations was a glamorous showcase dining room designed by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy about twenty years ago.

Thank you. I am honored to be invited to participate in Showcase and excited to be working in a Julia Morgan designed house. I am a huge fan of Orlando’s work. His ability to pull away the non-essential and leave only the elements that convey his pure message is impressive.

The restrained color palette of black white plus grass green and gold drew me to Orlando’s dining room initially. I like to create juxtapositions and tension in my own work. 

DDS: Your initial presentation and final room reflect the chartreuse colors Orlando loves.

I wanted to keep the color palette very concise for the room. It is black white and acid green with a touch of gold. I saw the black and white street art mural as the update to the classic, shades of grey, grisaille mural in Orlando’s space.

Initial Design Presentation Board

Initial Design Presentation Board

Initial Design Presentation Board

DDS: The room has pretty light and excellent proportions.

The large south- facing French door with sidelights and ten-foot ceilings make the room feel light and airy. The room measures twenty-two feet x seventeen feet.

DDS: Street art. Graffiti. What was your concept? How did you find Ian Ross, the mural artist?

I would like to make the distinction between Street Art and Graffiti as defined by Ian Ross and others. Ian believes that Street Art is about beautification. Most of the Street Art in San Francisco is sanctioned and approved and often paid for by the building owners. It is regulated and protected by art commissions in the city. Ian is a Street Artist. He does not consider himself a graffiti artist. There is some crossover between the two areas however. There are many websites with information about street art. There is, which pictures street art and makes it searchable by location and artist. is a site and gallery. It sells spray paint to aspiring street muralists and give street art tours.

I have been intrigued by street art for many years. Jean-Michele Basquiat is one of my favorite painters. I had just seen the Keith Haring show at the De Young. What I see in the streets is so exciting to me because it is the return of illustration which died with the take-over of photography in the mid-70’s/early 80’s which is just about the time the Street Art movement began. This is all part of the Maker Movement.

As I was preparing my presentation boards, I was drawn to Ian Ross’s work because it was graphic, non-representational and organic in nature and I especially liked his black and white work.

For my Showcase dining room, I was taken by the idea of juxtaposing the contemporary Street Art with classical architecture. It is the idea of honoring the present and the past simultaneously.

DDS: I admire your selections of crafted pieces, local talent, artists and artisans.

I love the idea of combining the classical architecture and accessories like the Louis XV style mirrors and the Louis XVI style chairs with contemporary art (Ian’s Street Art Mural and Spray Can Sculptures) with natural and hand crafted pieces.

San Francisco has a long tradition of street murals and the city is decidedly supportive of the Street Art scene. Ian Ross is a noted Bay Area/international street muralist and is known for his murals at numerous tech companies including Facebook and Google and others. The mural in my room is typical of his organic swirling forms inspired by nature.

DDS: Today's best rooms mix vintage and new, and are enlivened by the juxtaposition of raw and refined, and crafted and artful.

That is exactly what I have tried to achieve in this space and in all my work.

DDS: What was the final effect you wanted? Mood?

This is a very formal house and I wanted to shake it up a bit. I wanted the mood to be exciting and new, maybe a bit uncomfortable, moody, yet glamorous. I wanted the viewer to experience the edge and grit of the Street Art Mural and Spray Can Sculpture against the alluring dark high-gloss charcoal walls, but to experience this in a space with elegant architecture, furniture and accessories.

DDS: Cecilie, Orlando's design was a fantastic inspiration. It was one of the most polished showcase rooms—and for reference, it is in my book on the designer, 'Orlando Diaz-Azcuy' published five years ago (Rizzoli).

Thanks to Ian Ross and thank you for a provocative room. I love it. Thank you.

Key Credits for Cecilie Starin’s Dining Room:

Mural and Spray Can Sculptures: Ian Ross and Rocha Gallery, SF, Contact: Daniel Rocha

Europa Sconces: By Sylvan from Coup d'Etat, SF, contact: Darin Geise

Root table: Groundwork Group, Pennsylvania

Trim painting: MB Jessie, Contact: Mat Jessie

Lucite benches: Jonathan Adler, San Francisco

Chandelier: NIDO Living, SF, contact, Daniel Killar

Mirrors: Aedicule, SF, contact, Peter Werkhoven

Ceiling: Elan Evans, Elan Evans Decorative Finishes, Sonoma

Centerpiece, fireplace plants: Living Green, SF

Plates, bowls: Lorna Newlin, Sausalito Pottery, Sausalito

Stemware, Flatware, Tabletop: Hudson Grace, San Francisco, contact: Monelle Totah

Sisal: Stark Carpet, San Francisco, contact, Annmarie Cusma, Scott Mills

Curtains: Fabrication: Susan Chastain Fine Sewing, SF

Curtain Fabric: Sloan Miyasato (Scalamandre and Andrew Martin), Contact: Avner Lapovsky, SF

Reeded shades: Conrad Shades, SF, Contact: Buck Irwin

Stone planters on Console Tables: Restoration Hardware

The 38th San Francisco Decorator Showcase: Designers and Talent—Everything You Need to Know

3630 Jackson was designed by famed architect Julia Morgan for Abraham Rosenberg and his wife Alice. Its original interior style mostly intact features a spacious reception hall with a dramatic grand balustrade staircase, gumwood paneling and beams, along with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms, a large, remodeled kitchen; and a wine room in the lower level. Beatiful California daylight glimmers throughout the house, reflecting Morgan’s art and craft of creating cohesive and well-lit interiors.

The following designers/design firms are transforming the 2015 Showcase:

Street Level

Facet: Katharine Webster, Inc.

Grand Entry & Staircase: Candace Barnes

Powder Room: Julie Rootes Interiors

Living Room: Phillip Silver Design

Kitchen, Family Room & Butler’s Pantry: Navarra Design

Salon de Thé: JUTE, Ali Davin

Street Soirée: Cecilie Starin Interior Design

An Ode to Innocence: Five Senses Art Consultancy and Neo-American Gardens

Second Level

The Genius of Julia Exposed: Butler Armsden

His Office Study: Authenticity B Designs

Master Bedroom & Entry: Wick Design, Will Wick

En Vogue Salon: Artistic Designs for Living

Her Dressing Room: Heather Hilliard Design

A Gentleman’s Private Lounge: ECHE

A Gentleman’s Bathroom: Evars + Anderson Interior Design

Second Floor Landing / Gallery: Catherine Clark Gallery

Third Level

Jeune et Sophistiqué: Weaver Design Group

Karter’s Krash Pad: Willem Racke Studio and Susan Chastain

Karter’s Bathroom: De Meza Architecture, Inc.

Twin’s Music & Play Room: Allison Caccoma, Inc.

Pent Room: Green Couch

Laundry Room: Evars + Anderson Interior Design

Lip Service: Nest Design Co.

Third Floor Landing: University High School Visual Arts Instructors

Lower Level

The “Stare Well” and Wine Cellar: Jane Richardson Mack

The Gallery: Lizette Marie Interior Design

Emergence, An Essence of Julia Morgan: Siol

The San Francisco Decorator Showcase will be open from Saturday, April 25 through Memorial Day, May 25. Open Tuesdays through Sundays and closed Mondays, except for Memorial Day. Hours are 10:00am – 3:00pm (last entry) on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Fridays, the home is open from 10:00am – 7:00pm (last entry); and on Sunday and Memorial Day from 11:00am – 4:00pm (last entry).

In addition, each Friday, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, Showcase will host “Friday Nights at Showcase,” a weekly happy hour event with wine and opportunities to meet designers and hear about the latest trends. Check for additional information on designers and special Friday Night events.

Tickets are $35 for general admission and $30 for seniors (age 60 and over); and are available at the door and online at Group can be arranged in advance (415) 447-5830.

About the San Francisco Decorator Showcase
For the past 37 years, the annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase has benefited the San Francisco University High School financial aid program, raising over $13 million and benefiting hundreds of students. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, the participation of hundreds of accomplished designers, the school's trustees, parents, faculty, alumni, students, friends, and the thousands of Showcase visitors each year, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase allows San Francisco University High School to offer financial aid to its students. 

The Great Julia Morgan

The showcase residence—which some interpret as Spanish Mission-inspired is a classic example of architect Julia Morgan’s residential work.

During her long career—Hearst Castle in California is a highlight—she leant an engineer’s skill with a creative stylistic and architectural eye. Her best buildings are always cohesive, elegant, informed and polished. Situated in Presidio Heights, the house is understated and quietly luxurious.

The Jackson Street residence was completed in 1917 for Abraham Rosenberg, the Dried Fruit King, and his wife Alice. The concrete structure is timbered with redwood and approached from a graceful side entrance. Originally two and half stories, now three, the 9,758 square foot residence sits on a 10,145 square foot lot, overlooking the forested and historic expanse of the Presidio and San Francisco Bay. The original construction cost of the house was $20,000.

A stepped brick path leads to an arched entrance with clustered stone pilasters that continue across the arch as ribbing. A second level L-shaped façade shelters the doorway, with an overhanging bay that wraps around the second story. The bay features latticed windows set behind paired Ionic pilasters and framed by arches that repeat the line of the doorway. The mullioned downstairs windows are framed in timber. A high-peaked, gabled roof faces the street, with a five-light, lead-latticed bay below it. A simple concrete arch over the driveway echoes the arch above the front entrance.

Process Shots Show the 'Before' of Cecilie's Dining Room

The process included painting all walls and ceiling, adding 'graffiti' and 'eliding' the cabinets:


Interior design:
Cecilie Starin

Cecilie Starin trained to be a fine art painter at the University of California at Davis under revered California artists Wayne Thiebaud, Bob Arneson, William Wiley, Roy De Forest and Manuel Neri. She received her BFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where she studied graphic design and illustration. She attended the University of California at Berkeley Interior Design Program and focused her study on architecture and antiques.For nearly twenty years, Cecilie was a clothing designer for Smith & Hawken, Levi Strauss & Co. and The Lee Company where she led design teams that conceived and developed apparel, textiles, custom colors and fabric finishes. Cecilie’s work as a fashion designer took her to New York, Paris, London, Florence, Rome, Milan and to the Far East where she identified and analyzed emerging trends in design, shape and color. Cecilie brings her extensive training in fine arts, decorative arts and fashion design to each of her interior design projects.

Painting on canvas and applied to walls. Mural and Spray Can Sculptures: Ian Ross and Rocha Gallery, SF, Contact: Daniel Rocha.

Cecilie Starin's dining room photographed and published exclusively on THE STYLE SALONISTE by David Duncan Livingston:

David Duncan Livingston
Exterior of the showcase house: Clay Seibert for the watercolor sketch and Alissa Kinney Moe for the photos.

For more information:
San Francisco Decorator Showcase: