Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Designers to Watch: Studio Collins Weir — Susan Collins Weir and Chris Weir Bring a Super-Modern, Super-Chic Design Approach to Their New Work

Admired for their modern, refined interiors with the enrichment of superbly curated art, Susan Collins Weir and Chris Weir enliven design with significant custom furniture. They are obsessed with craftsmanship, daring creativity, and timeless inspiration. Their ultra-modern and sophisticated design for a living room at the 2019 San Francisco Decorator Showcase recently brought them to prominence, and now they are working on projects around the country. Studio Collins Weir was founded in 2015.

At their calm and breezy Sausalito studio, Susan, and her husband and business partner, Chris are, creating a sensation among design fans, architects and clients in the know.

“We both have a very strong background in art, design, architecture and furniture design, and we love working directly with great clients to craft spaces for them,” said Susan. “Design concepts are inspired by the clients, their families, and their values. This approach has allowed Chris and me to work on design teams with some of the best architects in the world. When we collaborate with an architectural team we realize their vision down to the finest detail.”

Susan and Chris are both modernists…with a romantic streak.

Their architectural approach is modern and full of clarity and light and fresh air and refinement.

“We definitely consider ourselves modernists,” said Chris. “We believe in clear detailing and an honest expression of materials. We also believe in recognizing the context of a project. It is important to acknowledge the spaces and clients we are working with. We strive to understand each intimately and use this as the foundation of each project. The only way to do this is to listen. We listen to what the site has to tell and to what the client is asking throughout the project.”

Chris Weir and Susan Collins Weir

The interior design practice Susan and Chris have built arose from their mutual desire to create rigorously well-crafted interiors. While they do not practice architecture in the traditional sense, their design process is rooted in their past experience in the field. They craft spaces that are not driven by trend but rather gain their momentum from a deep understanding of context and client.

“Chris runs the interior architecture projects and leads the design of custom furnishings and our bespoke pieces,” noted Susan. “I run the interior design projects but we are always discussing the jobs, the design direction, and collaborating. All while directing our staff of seven amazingly talented women.”

Studio Collins Weir is currently working on an array of residences including a Victorian house in Mission Dolores for a bachelor who takes inspiration from minimalists Dan Flavin and Donald Judd.

Their diverse commissions include the interiors for an estate in Atherton, as well as interior architecture and planning for a home in Venice Beach. And also on the boards, a mountain retreat in Martis Camp, at Lake Tahoe, and a dramatic new residence with architect John Maniscalco on the top of Mount Tiburon with 360 deg views of the Bay.

“We pay attention to what the site informs us, and to subtle aspects of our client's dreams and practical requirements,” said Chris. “This is a big part of what makes our practice work smoothly, and makes our clients happy. “

“Our clients’ ideas and lifestyle inspire the direction,” she said. “We are designing to a set of values rather than a look or feel. This helps projects feel immediate while avoiding the trap of trendiness. We are interested in design ideas of the moment. They have their place but are usually not the backbone of a project.”

Chris Weir said that inspiration could be abstract or very specific.

“One of our first projects in Colorado, was a beautiful ranch outside of Aspen,” he said. “In our first meeting, I was shown a large-scale and very expressive painting by artist Mary Weatherford the homeowners had recently acquired. The color, scale and medium and modernity of the piece were a dramatic contrast to the natural landscape surrounding the home. That sense of juxtaposition became the starting point for our interiors.”

The Weirs often custom-design furniture.

“A beautifully executed piece of furniture is an expression of the skill of the maker and the care of the designer,” said Susan. “A craftsperson can’t make something exquisite without being a master of their tools and one can’t design a perfect thing without caring enough to complete an idea beyond a simple brief.”

Custom pieces usually grow out of an unmet need in the market or a unique space to fill, said Chris. The furniture becomes important to the overall design of the interiors and a great personal pleasure for the family.

In a project recently completed in Healdsburg, Studio Collins Weir used one massive slab of Claro Walnut to create a dining table for twelve and a large round coffee table.

“We chose the timber with our client on a trip to rare wood specialists Arborica, and met the legendary wood artisan Evan Shively, in Marshall, north of San Francisco,” said Susan. “The poetry was that the fallen tree from which the slab was cut, was once majestically in the center of the Vacaville. This is a memorable experience for our client. The tables were fabricated at a studio on the San Francisco waterfront and the location was on the commute home for our client. He was able to stop by during the fabrication and see the pieces built in real time. In the end, the tables are very beautiful and tactile, but especially they now represent an important moment and experience in the client’s life.” 

“We approach each project collaboratively, said Susan. “Sometimes there is a need for a spatial idea to drive things while others are driven more by materiality and palette. We’re lucky that neither of us has too much ego within the studio and we are both interested in creating the best work we can. The open environment of our studio helps as well. Projects can’t be developed in seclusion. They are out in the wild pretty quickly and everyone in the office can have a say.”

Getting the framework, the outline right, is a priority.

“I like to say, a paragraph becomes a poem when you can’t take away another word,” said Chris. “At the beginning of the design process there are usually many different ideas and possible directions. There’s no real formula for it, its just listening and being able to let design ideas go or save them for another time. “

Materials they love mirror the client’s subliminal ideas.

“We love natural materials—oak floors and millwork, stone, as well as painted or lacquered millwork and plaster walls which gives depth to the space,”said Susan. “Over the years, we have found that there are two types of clients. People who love natural materials and understand how the stone, the metal, the wood will patina over time, illustrating the materials inherent properties as well as the clients use of the object or surface over time. On the other hand, there are people who want to be able to hose down their house. They don’t want to worry about the ring left on the marble counter from the margaritas last night, that their children jumped on the couch with muddy boots or that their husband spilled his red wine for the third consecutive night. We have designed beautiful homes detailed in quartz stone, outdoor fabrics and rugs that can be bleached clean, all complemented with millwork in natural wood.

Susan and Chris have gathered an outstanding team of specialists.

“When we approach a design we try very hard to keep our process open to possibility. We rarely say, “that can’t be done,” said Chris. “That is the same thing we enjoy in our collaborations. All of the people we work with to execute our designs are curious to explore new ideas and ways of making. That’s not to say that some things should be done a certain way. We also rely on the expertise that comes with years of perfecting a craft.”

A handful of clients are collectors. Their collections provide great inspiration to the interiors.

“Many of our clients are new collectors who some come to us with a new home and absolutely no furniture or art. I love discovering their interests,” said Susan.. “Art is such an important part of our lives. The pieces need to have meaning to the client, to the home. As the studio has grown, we have started to recommend and work closely with art advisors to develop collections in meaningful ways. Their expertise is so valued and brings another layer.”

San Francisco Decorator Showcase

The Creation — Becoming Studio Collins Weir

SUSAN: Chris and I met at the CCA (California College of the Arts) in the architecture department. Prior to starting our firm, Chris and I worked for a number of firms in San Francisco.

Chris started at Jim Jennings Architecture, Envelope A+D and Aidlin Darling Design. In these practices he worked on highly detailed residential work that frequently branched out into furniture design. A fitting turn in his career happened when he was approached to work as the Creative Director and lead product designer for an audio start up.

Chris and I started SCW and the design wing of his audio company out of our garage. A bit of a cliché for the Bay Area but true. We shared an eight-foot desk and were each other’s best critics. During this time, Chris inevitably got pulled into my projects and began to help out on custom furniture pieces as well. He eventually made the move from part time help to business partner and we formally joined forces in 2015.

The practice breaks down along our interests. Chris runs the interior architecture projects and leads the design of the custom furnishings and our bespoke pieces. I run the interior design projects but we are always discussing the jobs, the design direction and collaborating. 


Nick Johnson Photography

Adam Rouse Photography

Matthew Millman


INSTAGRAM: @studiocollinsweir

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