Interior design is so much more than getting each of the elements right,” says designer Catherine Kwong, whose eponymous San Francisco firm, though only four years old, has already garnered an array of high-end Bay Area residential and hospitality projects. “It’s important to me to create beautiful interiors that have a real point of view,” says Kwong. A combination of Kwong’s professional training, her appreciation for the fundamentals of good design and understanding of modernism have allowed her to do just that, creating spaces that have the likes of Town & Country, Architectural Digest and House Beautiful already taking notice.
Though she wasn’t always set on becoming an interior designer, Kwong unwittingly positioned herself well for success in the field. While attending Brown University as a political science major, she took architecture and design courses nearby at the Rhode Island School of Design and enrolled in a summer program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. After college, she spent a few years in advertising in New York City but left to study interior design at Parsons. “I was exposed to a lot of the art and design world while living in New York, and that convinced me to pursue a career in design,” she explains.
Upon graduating from Parsons, she landed a job with New York’s Studio Sofield, where she worked on residential projects from New York to Colorado. “That was an amazing first job,” Kwong says. “I learned so much about vintage furniture and custom finishes.” She then worked for Ralph Lauren, where she helped design the retailer’s iconic stores. In 2008, Kwong returned to her native San Francisco, where she lucked into a job with the city’s beloved Wiseman Group. “Bill Sofield taught me all about style, and Paul Wiseman taught me all about the details,” Kwong says. After that, she worked at Nicole Hollis Interior Design for a year.
While taking a break to plan her wedding, design freelance projects and decorate her own loft apartment in San Francisco’s Jackson Square, Kwong applied on a whim to participate in the 2012 San Francisco Decorator Showcase — and got accepted. In a matter of months, she developed the room concept, printed business cards, launched a website, and, just like that, Catherine Kwong Design was born. As for her showhouse room, she conjured an office for a fashion blogger. Its clean and uncluttered design allowed such artful details as a vintage Mark Shaw photograph, taken backstage at a 1954 Balmain fashion show, to stand out. Following the showcase, clients started calling.
Kwong’s first big project was the redecoration of a townhouse in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood for a client that appreciates fashion as much as the designer herself. There, Kwong achieved a casual elegance with a hint of punchy glamour. She mixed modern and vintage pieces — placing a vintage Sciolari chandelier above a custom curved sofa and vintage Swedish chairs, for example — and added colorful details, such as custom Rubelli drapes in the dining room, whose overall look was inspired by that year’s fall collection from the fashion label Erdem. In the living room, meanwhile, she covered the floor with a striking bespoke rug: “It was based on a vintage Jack Lenor Larsen fabric,” Kwong says. “We abstracted the design and added elements inspired by the drawings of Francesco Clemente.”
In 2013, Kwong returned to the San Francisco Decorator Showcase with a living room inspired by rock ’n’ roll royalty: Mick and Bianca Jagger. Here, she gilded the ceiling moldings and hand-painted the floor midnight blue, adding Cy Twombly-esqe white brush strokes. Oversized sliding doors painted black and covered with bronze studs resembling those on Valentino’s Rockstud shoes framed the entrance. “I love creating spaces that are luxe and elegant, but with a bit of an edge,” Kwong says.
I danced my entire childhood, and I’ve always been inspired by ballet. It’s a truly beautiful language that is passed down between generations, and I love the tension between discipline and wildness.
“Fake Empire” by The National, “Girls Chase Boys” by Ingrid Michaelson, “When the Night Comes” by Dan Auerbach, “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea
Modigliani, Picasso, Francesco Clemente, Vermeer
Designers You Most Admire
Drink of Choice
Trick Dog, San Francisco
Go-To Place For Dinner
Cotogna, San Francisco
On the Nightstand
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Favorite Summer Getaway Spot
New York. Everyone complains about the heat, but I love how it brings everyone out at night.