Grace in Motion: Catherine Kwong
“Grace has been defined as the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.”
- William Hazlitt
When speaking with anyone about interior designer Catherine Kwong, the first words that unfailingly arise are kindness, loveliness, and grace. These qualities imbue all Catherine does, from her elevated, refined interiors to her ceaseless support of fellow creatives and the community. Yet Catherine also always keeps things grounded—with wit and wry observation—understanding well that one of the true expressions of grace is authenticity.
A San Francisco native, she moved to the east coast to attend Brown University and did her graduate work at Parsons School of Design. Catherine began her career in New York in the studio of esteemed designer William Sofield (whose clientele includes Tom Ford, Brice Marden, and Ralph Lauren), who says of her, "Catherine's talents and strengths place her amidst the upper echelons of an emerging generation of young designers." After returning to the Bay Area, she worked with the iconic Wiseman Group.
In 2011, Catherine founded her own eponymous firm, and only four years later was named a "Designer to Watch" by Architectural Digest. Over the course of her career, she has worked on interior design projects all over the world; her current projects include residences and hospitality spaces in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Napa, Hawaii, Tahoe, and beyond. She and her work have also been featured in AD, Elle Décor, Town & Country, and many other publications.
Catherine and Lan have known each other for over a decade, and share a passion for seeking new forms of artistry, exacting craftsmanship, and a love of beautiful materials. Alisa Carroll spoke with Catherine about her work, inspirations, travels, and finding the equipoise that enables grace.
Kwong chose to shine a light on masterful makers in her Penthouse Living Room for the Decorator Showcase. At center is a custom sofa handcrafted by Sebastian Parker. The celadon linen back pillows originated in a sketch by CKD, and feature exquisite tone-on-tone embroidery by Villa Sovoia. The designer at home in the Silk Reversible Pleated Long Wrap Skirt in Celadon/Blush and X Blouse in Mist. Interior photos by Shade Degges.
You began your career working at the firms of esteemed designers Bill Sofield in New York and Paul Wiseman in San Francisco. What core aesthetic or practice values did you learn during your tenures?
I always say that everything I know about style, I learned from Bill. And everything I know about details, I learned from Paul. I have been so fortunate in my career to have worked for two designers who believe so deeply in education. They steep themselves in art and design history, and exemplify a love of learning. They also taught me to seek out artists and craftspeople, who bring so much experience to the table. The builders and the makers, they are the ones who have the depth of knowledge to push your designs to be that much richer and more nuanced.
What are your studio’s core values, your mission statement?
We want to design the most beautiful spaces, provide that service in a very high-level way, and have a really great time doing it. Simple, right? It took me a little while to articulate those goals. They seem simple, but we, as a team, have to be incredibly fastidious in making sure that we are staying true to all three parts of the equation. A lot of it is finding the right partners; working with people that share your values and aesthetic vision—that is something that makes everything go smoother, let me tell you.
“We want to design the most beautiful spaces, provide that service in a very high-level way, and have a really great time doing it.”
How do you balance the business and creative sides of your work?
I actually find the running of a business to be very fun and creative venture. It’s liberating, to kind of carve out the type of entity that you want to exist in the world. But if you are asking me more about weighing design vs. operations in my business, I would say that I try to create an environment in my office that protects the design process first. We are an office of designers trying to create beautiful projects, and we make money to keep designing, as opposed to the other way around. That probably makes me sound irresponsible but, honestly, I have found that if you are putting high quality work out there, that is actually the most sound business practice. It’s something that has been proven to me time and time again. I try to focus on making our work and our level of service the very best it can be, and let that be the foundation for everything else.
“I try to focus on making our work and our level of service the very best it can be, and let that be the foundation for everything else.”
Where have you recently traveled that inspired you?
I’ve been traveling a lot lately. It feels good to be out in the world again. I’ve been lucky enough to take some trips to Portugal, Mexico, Italy… but you know what? I just got back from two weeks in New York, and that was just as energizing as the international trips. I saw lots of old friends, and went to shows; I met new furniture makers and saw great art; I showed my kids the Natural History Museum.. it was bliss. It’s been years since I’ve lived in New York, and funny how some parts of living in the city were both as magical, and also just as familiar, as they’ve always been. I came back home feeling reconnected and recharged.
We also just got back from a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. I love traveling to Japan, and always come home full of fresh ideas and design inspiration. There is so much visual beauty there, both natural and manmade. I admire the Japanese culture – there is a sense of devotion to craft, no matter what your craft might be. You’ll stumble upon the most random little store or workshop or café, and find such thoughtful, original beauty in the spaces. This was our first time traveling with both kids. It was a wonderful trip, and we found those cities to be very family-friendly.
A refined space in a San Francisco residence by Catherine Kwong. The Angeles Coat in Navy.
You’ve known Lan for fifteen years, what aesthetic do you share? And do you have a go-to piece?
Lan is one of the most elegant people I know. Not just in her design work, which is, of course, gorgeous. But she just has a calmness about her that is true beauty. I’ve been wearing the Stamford coat ever since she first came out with it, and believe me when I say it has been a workhorse of a staple in my wardrobe. I got my first one, in charcoal, over 10 years ago, and it still looks brand new. Since then, I’ve gotten one in light blue, as well. And I wear the Sloane blazer in navy to... well, to pretty much everything: travel, client meetings, kids’ soccer games… it’s the best.
Fluid Lines: The designer at home in the Poppy Dress in Sapphire, currently available Made to Order or in Navy Typewriter Cotton.