In the next installment of our CRAFT series, which highlights the varied work of the artists, makers, curators, and craftspeople that inspire and elevate our work, we spoke with Chris French, founder of Chris French Metal. Formally established in 2001 CFM has grown into a talented and highly skilled team of artists, designers, and fabricators, a meticulous studio providing high quality details and services to many of our best projects.
How did you first start honing your craft? Tell me about your background in fine arts.
Art was an accident; our whole business was somewhat of an accident. I grew up building; starting with LEGOs, which evolved into skateboard ramps, then speaker boxes for my low rider, and later furniture for my bedroom. I was simply doing what I knew how to do and what I was good at. I was not a good student, school was very hard for me, but in drafting class and wood shop I was the quintessential ‘A’ student. I wasn’t raised in an academic environment and had no basis to articulate what specifically interested me – this meant my discovery of “craft” happened later in life.
It wasn’t until I met an incredible group of friends at Arizona State University that I knew I could do something with the “craft” I had been inadvertently developing throughout my life. I graduated from ASU with a BFA in Sculpture and immediately moved to San Francisco in March of 1997. I was doing the typical artist thing back then – get a gallery in as many states as you could, create a new body of work every two years, and ship it around for exhibition. I had success with this model, but struggled with the artist’s statements and academically articulating the conceptual aspects of my work. I felt like I was right back in school.
Simultaneously, I was making functional objects for people and those functional objects became handrails, guardrails, and eventually a spiral staircase. This pragmatic approach to metal fabrication scratched a similar itch as my fine art practice but did not have all the conceptual and academic demands around its meaning. I followed this path and here we are 22 years later.
What originally drew you to metalwork? What sets metal apart from other materials you’ve worked with?
I think the immediacy of shape and the ability to change it just as quickly is what originally drew me in.
How does your early career and previous experience in the industry influence your work today?
I don’t see what we do at Chris French Metal as art. I guess I would say that studying art gave me a language to talk about what I see. I’ve always been a looker, someone who notices the nuances in the ordinary, but it wasn’t until studying art at ASU that I had access to the words to describe this skill set.
Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with clients? Describe your relationship with the architect and contractor.
We like to get involved early and ask a lot of questions. Most of the work we do is heavily integrated into the architecture and requires that we are involved with the entire process. I prefer some direction.
Who is on your team? Is collaboration important to your process?
Eleven of the best people you could ask for – my wife and I run the company.
We have three Project Manager / Designers who take our proposals and design documents and dig in. They work hand in hand with Contractors, Structural Engineers, Waterproofing Engineers, Lighting Consultants, Architects, Interior Designers, Site Superintendents, Outside Vendors, Shop and Field Staff as well as with me personally. They run all the project specific purchasing and coordination.
We have a Facilities Coordinator who handles all our shipping and receiving, co-manages all purchase orders in our database, and helps get work through the shop and into the field.
We also have six shop staff who do all the fabrication and installation.
Tell me what it’s like to run a small business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
For me, it’s an emotional roller coaster. There are such intense highs and lows, and they can all happen within hours of each other. I wear a lot of hats and they’re constantly swapped out throughout any given day. That said, it’s also very rewarding. I am supported by incredibly talented people who all love their work and show up every day to do their best, so I couldn’t ask for much more.
There have been too many challenges to list, but over the last 22 years the two biggest were the 2008 crash and COVID. We managed to make it through both of those, maintaining all of our staff, so we’re doing pretty good if you ask me!
Which new technologies have influenced your work as of late? How do you think they will change the industry going forward?
For us, it’s CNC machinery. We purchased our first CNC mill at the end of 2019, and it’s incredible what we’ve done with it and how much there still is to learn. Not everyone in the shop is well versed yet, but we’ll get there!
Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about high-quality, custom goods?
Those with the means and patience can get just about anything they want. We are fortunate to work with creative people who really know what they want, and we get to figure out how to provide it. The process is stimulating and keeps everyone engaged along the way, and can sometimes be frustrating and exhausting, but never boring and never easy!
To kick off our Craft Series, which will highlight the varied work of the artists, makers, curators, and craftspeople that inspire and elevate our work, we spoke with Brit Kleinman, founder and creator of AVO, an art practice crafting everyday moments of awe. Brit describes her beginnings, processes, collaborations, and philosophies surrounding creating unique, handmaid rugs and textiles and reminds us why we all cherish the handmade: “Perfect isn’t that great”
How do you first start honing your craft? What originally drew you to weaving and upholstery?
All my work at AVO starts where all of my favorite things start – with play. I like creating tactile work that sparks intrigue within a space and engages you through the senses. The techniques I’ve developed at AVO were largely self-taught and have grown and been mastered through experimentation.
My mom is a textile artist, and as a kid I loved weaving, baskets, and crafts. Also I have always been a painter and studied industrial design in college. I’ve worked as a designer for a variety of products and brands – I’ve worked in luggage design at Samsonite, I was the head bag designer at Jack Spade, I’ve consulted for brands like Shinola and Casper, and most recently helped design the future trash can for NYC.I enjoy the process of learning and coming up with techniques that don’t exist yet.
AVO started with a passion for play and a lot of trial and error. For my patterned leathers, I spent a long time experimenting with dye, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and conducted a lot of research into the history of the material. My passion for weaving started by working with textiles mills through other brands. Then I bought myself a basic loom and started messing around. I’m thankful to have a great team now that continues to build out these processes on a larger scale. And a network of production partners all over the US. I couldn’t have predicted what AVO would become when I started 8 years ago!
Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with your clients to iterate your designs? Where does the initial inspiration come from?
I love designing pieces that are tailored to a specific space or experience. I always start by asking my clients to send me a mood board, and describing the big picture – how is this piece going to be used? Who are you and what interests you? How can our visions align and what excites the both of us? I often think in terms of sensorial experiences and creating a focal point in a space- something that people want to walk up to, inspect, touch, and experience.
How do you source the materials you work with? Do you source with sustainability and locality in mind?
I think about this a lot because materiality is very important to me. It’s often overlooked that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry – and we make a conscious choice to only choose to work with leather that is a byproduct. The majority of our leather comes from US steers, and we use tanners in Brazil, Italy, and Spain, who embrace the leather’s natural characteristics that most people like to edit out. That’s what gives each piece it’s individuality and beauty.
The health of my employees and clients is also top of mind, we are careful to dye all our work in house with water-based dyes – it’s important for me that my team is not working with anything toxic.
My approach to sustainability is making work that not only lasts, but gets better with age, and working with materials that are sustainable within their own cycle. Leather is biodegradable, and goes back into the earth unlike most vegan leather, or other synthetic alternatives. It’s funny, because leather is considered a luxury good, but in reality, is a super economic, durable material that we have been using for centuries. Leather self-heals, and the more you use it, the better it looks.
How does materiality, in an aesthetic sense, influence your practice?
Materiality is where I start most of my designs – not sketching on a piece of paper, but instead picking up a swatch and experimenting with dyes. I try to have a dialogue with each material I work with.
Working with leather reminds me of pottery or woodworking – each material has an ‘opinion’ of their own and pushes back. Some days it’s hot and the clay is cranky, leather is the same way – each one is unique, and that dialogue is what makes it exciting. There is beauty to be had in that repetition, I’m always learning from the materials I work with.
Tell me what it’s like to run a small, women-owned business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
As a business owner, I must think very carefully about what kind of life I want to foster for myself and my team, and what kind of objects I am crafting. I think about my business as the product itself.
I firmly believe in balance, I love living life to the fullest, and I love the work that I do. At AVO, we all work a 4-day week, which has always been a goal of mine and such a joy to realize I had the power to put into action! As a business owner you are in charge of making change for yourself and for your employees.
Having my own business can be so stressful but also so rewarding. Sometimes it’s great to work for someone else and not worry about anything other than just being creative. But for me, I enjoy the full range of challenges it takes to conceptualize and bring ideas into reality in a sustainable way. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s important to me to always strive towards creating a business I would want to work for, even if that means slower growth.
All businesses have the same problems, just at different scales. It’s been helpful to see other people in my position and realize it’s achievable – thankfully I have a network of other small business owners, and have built a great creative community around me.
Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about handmade, high-quality, custom goods?
Integrity is what comes to mind – handmade goods have this inherent sense of integrity. It reminds me of the phrase “Perfect isn’t that great.”
Not that we aren’t detail oriented, but one of the things that makes handmade goods so beautiful are their variations. At one point, we became so good at creating our designs that some people didn’t realize they were handmade and thought they were screen-printed – it was just too hard to tell. After that first collection, I started to come out with work that showed more of the hand, with color variation and washy parts. When things are too perfect, they lose a little bit of their soul.
Tell me about how you have collaborated with other brands – I love that you worked with Sabah!
Collaborations have been a great way for me to show off our materials in different forms and dip into other categories we don’t normally work in! I love what happens when two design firms come together, combining vastly different skill sets to create a new product. I enjoy working on all scales, making pieces that are personal objects, but also large installations that live in the public space.
Tell me about the rugs and tiling that currently live in our Twin Peaks project!
In that project, we worked on a colorful woven leather runner for the hall, and a large woven rug for the dining room dyed in sultry-silver earth tones that reflect the house’s surroundings. We also crafted leather tiles for the private elevator that resemble roman marble, but have the warmth of leather.
This spring, despite facing challenges to our business, our projects, and our workflow- we have found joy in our collaboration with Gaile Guevara Studio on Pan‘Orama House – an airy California retreat that contrasts thoughtful industrial details with warm, expansive views. For the past few months, Gaile and her dedicated team have been sheltering in place in Pan‘Orama House, directing and coordinating shipments, unpacking and installing, organizing, and fully stocking the home with her impressive library of sustainable lifestyle products.
Gaile and her team bring deep knowledge in sourcing healthy, reusable, and compostable goods of all shapes, sizes, and uses for each of their clients – going above and beyond the typical interior design scope. Her library of products, brands, and suppliers is remarkable – and she shared some of her favorites with us.
“When we source a product, we want to be able to truly believe in not only the product we are providing our clients but also the company itself. We focus on three things- the impact on the earth, the quality of the product, and the quality of the people.”
The Stasher Bag by Kat Nouri perfectly exemplifies all of the above – a sustainable replacement for single-use plastic bags developed and designed in the Bay Area. And as an added bonus – a portion of every Stasher sold goes straight to high-impact nonprofits like Surfrider and 5Gyres – organizations dedicated to preserving and rehabilitating our oceans.
Lindsey Theobald, our Director of Interiors, and I were lucky enough to catch up with Gaile last week as she walked us through some of the processes and products she is incorporating into the installation process at Pan‘Orama House. With more time (and a delayed delivery schedule) Gaile has had the opportunity to give this project the finishing touches and extra love that it deserves – a treatment she is rarely able to provide with busy schedules and fast-paced deadlines.
“We’ve been pretty lucky to let our inner OCD love for food come out with testing all the products. With being limited to not having cleaners or movers, having the opportunity to audit and unpack the Client’s inventory while also organizing has allowed us to really dive into how we can help reduce over shopping and reducing food waste. Setting up a zero-waste program is our biggest challenge – figuring out how to help families’ transition to sustainable products.”
Gaile was able to give us an in-depth Zoom tour of the master bath, fit with sustainable products of all shapes and sizes; essential oils and plastic-less floss from Public Goods, compostable Band-Aids from Nutricare, as well as other favorites from companies like, well kept, by Humankind, Skagerak, and Texidors.
We are excited to continue working with Gaile on more projects, – including Floating Bar House in Los Altos Hills, which is currently under construction. “We love working with FA because we can be involved from the very beginning of the project- we can work as a unified team to deliver on the client’s vision.” Gaile and her team are already deeply involved in the spatial planning and interior architecture at Floating Bar House – we can’t wait to show you how it turns out!
As Shelter in Place Policies are lifted, Gaile Guevara Studio wants to help support all those who have been of service as front liners to ensure our communities are safe and healthy. Before everyone returns to their regular routines and consuming, they’d like to provide some simple solutions to help pave the way forward to more sustainable consumption. In efforts to show their appreciation for the suppliers who are leading the way with helping educate around sustainable alternatives, Gaile Guevara Studio is offering remote consultations – providing new clients access to their suppliers, resources & special discounting. Proceeds from the design consultations will be put towards custom care packages to front liners in The Nursing Ward at Manhattan Hospital and Westcoast Care in BC Canada. Get in touch for a consultation at email@example.com!
Kendall’s passion for interior design burgeoned during a trip abroad to Paris- where she became enamored with French architecture and antiques. Combined with her love for nature, specifically natural and organic patterns, Kendall found her niche in interior design after graduating from UC San Diego, she pursued a degree at San Francisco Academy of Art College, specializing in design.
Staying true to her roots, Kendall’s interests have remained in both French and classic design- but have undergone a degree of modernization for today’s clientele. She describes her personal style as romantic, however, “it’s gotten more tonal – leaning towards a neutral palette.” As she developed her practice, Kendall Wilkinson Design, Kendall aimed to create aesthetically pleasing homes, without being too precious or over the top.
Kendall described her ideal relationship with an architect as “synergetic, communicative, and respectful” and emphasized that the more cohesive a team, the better the working relationship, and the better the final product.
On our Woodpecker Ranch project, Kendall pointed to this synergy that made the collaboration successful and worthwhile. “FA did not only have a good lead architect they had a good all-around team.” This consistency found across team members made problem solving more efficient, the teams were able to consult each other before turning to the client, which saved everyone time and money- and resulted in one of her favorite projects.
Most recently, KWD released a new line of fabrics, partnering with Fabricut, – Kendall’s first collection of indoor-outdoor textiles and trims. “All of the inspiration came from my travels: images, moments, sights and even sounds that resonated with me,” Wilkinson says. “My trips to Paris and Mexico significantly inspired me. A lot of the geometrical patterns stem from Paris, particularly how the light reflects and refracts on the architecture. Mexico inspired bright colors and more botanical elements.” Read more in Luxe!
Kate Stickley fell into landscape architecture by chance, a suggestion from her college counselor, as a path that could combine her love of the outdoors, patterns, weather and art. Her career began in Florida, master planning international resorts and hotels, where she realized what was missing in her experience and process, “for me the connection with the end user is so important. This type of work didn’t allow me to connect with the individuals who were actually going to be interacting with the landscape.” After practicing around the world, she was ready to settle into her own practice, focusing on residential projects.
After moving to the Bay Area- Kate joined forces with close confidant and collaborator Vera Gates and together they birthed Arterra– a name encompassing the core of their work Art + Terra (Latin for Earth). Growing a practice while raising families solidified Arterra’s values as a residential firm- family centric, women run, and sustainably focused.
Gretchen Whittier described her growth into a landscape architect as a “regression.” As the daughter of a stone mason and a gardener on a 30 acre property in New Hampshire, concepts like soil management are in her blood. It wasn’t until getting behind a drafting table in a UC Berkeley extension class did she realize that landscape architecture fed all of her varying interests. Gretchen joined Arterra in 2005, and was promoted to partner in 2015.
Today, Arterra has found their niche as local leaders in site sensitive, sustainable, residential landscaping. The firm began designing small urban gardens, but has since grown to bigger and more environmentally complex projects. They find joy in connecting with their clients in envisioning their long term goals- and achieving them in the most sustainable way possible.
The Arterra team has always thought that working native and Mediterranean plants into their landscapes made the most sense aesthetically and environmentally – even before it was trendy. They aim for their designs to seamlessly connect architecture to the site, finding harmony between the two.
This organic indoor connection is perfectly framed in our Sonoma Wine Country project- designed as a dialogue between landscape, architecture, and site. Kate remembers being so in tune with the Feldman team that even a slight redesign in to the master bath lead to a re-envisioning of some of the outdoor elements, which in turn sparked a reference to the interior fireplace. “That’s what why we love working with FA, we value each other’s contribution in the design process, and our teams collaborate beautifully and effectively.”
“There is no signature Arterra garden. Our landscaping is all specifically tailored to the site and the architecture. We want our clients to say ‘I cannot even remember what it looked like before.’ It should look like it has always been there”- Kate Stickley
Adam Willis Photography
Jeff Jungsten started his career in construction right across the street from his current office – as a student at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California Jeff worked as an after school laborer at nearby construction sites. He remembers discovering innovative solutions to construction obstacles and finding joy in suggesting shortcuts to his bosses, “efficient solutions born out of teenage boy laziness” Jungsten recounted. Realizing his love for building, and what he would later recognized as an affinity for sustainable, efficient construction processes, he delved deeper into his expertise.
As a student at Chico State, Jungsten was connected to a job by his father (a professional in the Audio Visual industry) at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics opening and closing ceremonies- constructing a display that had to be easily, efficiently, and aesthetically constructed and destructed. “This was my first experience in a ‘no fail environment’, something that I have applied to all jobs since then.” From the Olympics, to renovating classic San Francisco Victorians- Jeff quickly became an expert in the California building scene, and joined up with Caletti Construction in 1994. In 2004 Jeff became a partner and Caletti Jungsten Construction was born, and later, in 2015 John Caletti retired and Jungsten Construction was on their way.
Sonoma Wine Country 1
Today, Jungsten Construction is Marin’s go-to when looking for best practice in sustainable construction. Jeff has cultivated a unique business model- building a collaborative, trusting, and honest environment from the very beginning of each project, bringing together teams based on sites and trusting relationships, as opposed to transactional, competitive jobs that plague the current industry. Jungsten sees himself as both an advocate for the client and architect, facilitating relationships and finding the best, most sustainable outcome for each project site, team, and budget. His philosophy is that the most efficient, and therefore, more sustainable way to approach a project is with the right team from the very beginning- which also provides the highest value of work and quality to clients.
A recent rendering from a Feldman Architecture/Jungsten Construction collaboration
FA first engaged with Jungsten Construction on what is now one of our favorite projects, Sonoma Wine Country 1, in which our teams pushed each other and the final design to the next level. This Fall, FA has two projects in the works with the Jungsten team– which Jeff pulled us into. “One of our clients called me and said they wanted a house that seamlessly fit into their breathtaking site, and I immediately thought of Butterfly House and some of the other work in the Santa Lucia Preserve, and FA was my first call and my only call. Their humility, their design, and their expertise truly made them my first choice, along with their seamless design connecting site and structure.”
Working with Jeff and the Jungsten Construction team is a pleasure because of the commitment to their collaborators and their clients. Jeff works twice as hard to make our job and the client’s lives easier- how can we say no to that?