By Serena Brown
A few months back I was given the opportunity to tag along on a site meeting to Los Altos Hills. My purpose was to interview David Toews, BayWest Builder’s superintendent on site at the Round House. I’ve been interested in this project since I started at Feldman Architecture due to its unique circular shape, and the innovative ways the various teams have tackled the challenges that come with a perfectly round form; notably David’s creation ‘The Tool’.
For the first hour or so I had free reign to explore the home, snapping photos and admiring the views. Once the meetings had finished and the walk-through was complete, David was happy to sit down with me and discuss his background in construction, as well as his excitement for this particular project. Despite his current construction expertise, David grew up in a musical family. His father was a brilliant composer who started the Cabrillo College Music Festival, though for reasons unknown encouraged David away from the musical path. David joked that he “wasn’t sure if it was due to the difficulty of the business or [his] lack of musical talent!”
At age six he was given his first tool set, which he promptly got taken away by his mother after sawing through a support beam on his front porch. During his early teen years he attended an alternative high school / college and turned his attentions toward the medical industry. He decided at 17 that medicine wasn’t for him after dropping out of college to pursue other interests. At 19 he entered his first carpentry job, but wasn’t yet thinking of it as a trade. Shortly after, he was taken under the wing of Ed Powell as a carpenters apprentice and his career in construction really began. From Ed he learned not only the hands-on skills associated with construction, but also the values behind his way of business. As a child he had spent time with his uncle learning how to build architectural models, paint with watercolors, and generally learning how to problem solve. The time with his uncle had a huge influence on his later life, and his time with Ed reminded him of those experiences.
Following his tenure with Ed Powell, David went on to work at Pressman Construction where he learned about business management but felt the company didn’t extol the same values he’d admired in Ed. In 1986 he started his own company, built on core tenants he believed in, and ran it for 30 years. He proudly kept his clients happy but admits that despite being a good builder, he wasn’t a very good businessman. Thus, his company closed in 2016. For the past three years he’s worked under the leadership of Derek Gray, which he happily says allows him to focus on what he loves most—building.
The Round House is situated up in Los Altos Hills with views of the Bay from the kitchen and living room. The clients fell in love with this quirky circular home and later made the decision to remodel. Since the house is a perfect circle, David stressed that geometry and strict calculations were important from the get-go. He felt from the beginning that the house needed a compass to guide its construction. He told me that when he’s planning out a job, he views the building in layers, starting from the foundation all the way through framing and steel work. Getting each layer done right is what causes a project to succeed. After seeing the plans for the Round House, long before starting the project, he had a dream about the Sundial Bridge in Redding and in the morning the idea for the perfect tool dawned on him. Derek approved of his plan and after telling the owners, architects, and subs, told him he’d better build it!
‘The Tool’, a cross between a trammel arm and compass, is 16ft tall with a 45ft long boom. Its function was to properly measure the circumference of the house during the construction of its foundation and walls. It helped the team keep track of the vectors in plan and make sure each wall lined up with its counterpart. The name for ‘The Tool’ was inspired by a Russian carpenter who worked for David many years ago. He put together a complex piece of furniture without any fasteners; the through dovetail mortise and tenon connections were locked in place using a small block of wood that tapped the parts into position. He said if you were to take it apart, save the ‘TOOL’, which he had written on the piece of wood. David laughed when he said the name stuck with him and thought he’d pay homage to the work ethic of the man who thought of it. And of course, he still has the ¼ x ¼ x 4” ‘TOOL.’ David said that while he was building it his “heart said it’ll work but [his] mind was still questioning it.” Finally though, “it just took flight.”
Now that the project is past framing, the team no longer has use for ‘The Tool’. David likened it to a “dragon friend in Game of Thrones” and was sad to take it down. He hopes that he won’t have to dismantle it, and is looking at donating it to somewhere like a children’s museum. If anyone knows a good place to display it, please let us know!
When asked about the challenges he faced in this project, David had only positives to share. He mentioned how exciting it is to work on this type of job, and how he’s constantly excited to jump out of bed in the morning and come to work. You can tell that David is truly following his passion, and that problem solving is in his nature. He believes in constantly learning, adapting, and holds the view that ‘information doesn’t just fall from the sky, [he] was very fortunate to have mentors to pass on knowledge that had in turn been passed on to them.”
I want to extend a huge thank you to David for taking the time to speak with me and share his story regarding this fascinating project, and his storied career path and passions. Make sure to check back On the Boards for updates as construction on the Round House should be finishing up later this year!
By Liza Karimova
When we first walked into TWO, our eyes were drawn to it: a soft paisley seat, four prancing legs, and a whirl of curves on its back. A short, tiny metal chair; a challenge, we recognized. A challenge that we ended up taking on.
Late last June, a few members from Feldman Architecture decided to participate in the annual “Chairity” event, spearheaded by TWO Furnish. Every year, “Chairity” invites designers from all disciplines to deconstruct, re-upholster and reinvent a used or forgotten chair, which is then auctioned off to raise money for charity. This year, the money was raised for Project Color corps, an organization that creates change by painting inner city neighborhoods, and Raphael House, which helps low-income families find stable housing and financial independence. Feldman Architecture were excited to participate in a design project that benefitted local organizations, and brought together a multitude of local designers.
Hence, a team of five – Johnny, Mike, Nick, Chris Kay and I (Liza) – showed up at the TWO showroom one evening to pick out their chair. Being the last to pick in the white-elephant style draw, the team ended up with the short, tiny metal chair; a challenge. Encouraged by the originality of the pick, and the fact that it was the only metal chair in the show, they decided to procrastinate for another many months, before finally attempting the transformation.
When the time came, the team started out by holding a few informal design charrettes. The common desire was to treat this project like an experiment, where there would be not successes and failures, just variations on a hypothesis.
Because of the nature of the raw material, which was not easy to work with given the lack of tools, the team agreed to focus on the seat of the chair after it was given a new powder coat. They took the paisley fabric, and decided that they would try to replicate this piece with different materials. Johnny etched the pattern on a wooden top, while the others cast concrete into fabric. The result was named “Sculptchair”.
The team used a combination of nylon and spandex, which was stretched between wood sheets to create the formwork. Fishing line and wire was tied underneath to create a mesh that would to push and pull on the fabric. Quick Crete was then poured into the resulting concave and convex form, and was left for a few days to set. The process was repeated with different fabrics and meshes.
At the chair auction, the description stated:
“Sculptchair” is an experimental exploration of the cushioned seat, which features interchangeable chair tops as a playful ode to our interaction with the sitting surface. While molding concrete into fabric, and engraving the original upholstery pattern into the seat, we have literally and figuratively pushed and pulled at the limits of comfort, treating the seat as an object in itself.
Although the chair did not win any prizes, the team had a lot of fun experimenting with wood and fabric-formed concrete. We tried to stay true to the materials and aesthetic that we use in our designs – humble and lasting.
Who knows, maybe we will participate again next year! We want to thank the rest of the members at Feldman Architecture for their encouragement, witty critiques, and their support!
By Chris Kay
As architects and designers, part of our job is helping our clients pick quality materials for their homes. When it comes to furniture, it pays to put our hands on the products so we can feel the quality of the materials firsthand. When we suggest a chair for a home, the hope is that that chair will not only blend seamlessly into our design but will also stand up to the tests of time – or the tests of your labradoodle thinking they deserve a place at the table.
A few months back before I made my way to Feldman, I came across one of these chairs. Just a stone’s throw away in the heart of the mission is a company that exuberates these qualities. I found Fyrn while searching through job listings. In researching the company, I was immediately drawn to their website and its immaculate portrayal of the line of furniture they are producing. There “Stemn” line is a modern rendition of the classic American Hitchcock chair, retaining the simplicity of the original chair but completely rethought to meet the demands of today’s production needs. Though totally unqualified for their “CNC Programmer/Machinist” listing, I reached out to Fyrn in hope of learning more. To my surprise, the two head honchos responded in kind and we set up a time to meet. I met Ros and Dave at Sightglass, which seemed to be a precautionary vetting location to make sure I wasn’t a patent spy with ill intentions. Whatever I said instilled enough trust in them to walk me over to the workshop – or toy store, depending who you ask. All I can say is that my tour of the space forever changed the way I think about furniture production and how I can strive for the same values that Fyrn instills in their furniture in my own work.
Fast forward a few months and I find my way to Feldman. When I heard about our Third Thursday program I jumped at the opportunity to share what I had been shown in the Fyrn laboratory.
For our most recent Third Thursday, the Feldman team headed over to the mission with cheese and beer in hand to meet the makers at Fyrn. Upon arrival we were greeted by their team in a newly remodeled space lined with examples of each and every piece of their furniture line. Our designers quickly took to testing as we gathered around, sitting on each version of the Stemn line. As everyone got settled, partners Ros and Dave began to tell us about the line and how it came to be. At the heart of their work is a desire to bring people together through a system that changes the relationship between people and the objects they choose for their homes. The thing about Fyrn’s furniture is not that it is flat packable, but that the entire system is modulus and uses minimal connections across the line. This makes the it easy to put together but also easy to replace an individual part if something were to ever break – which is unlikely due to the shear quality in the materials they use. The Stemn line was designed with this intention and hopes of, “moving people away from a disposable culture by creating a sense of connection between people, place and materials”. This is a mentality that most architects can agree with.
We continued our tour through to the workshop where the real operations take place. As we walked around the space, Ros and Dave walked us through the everyday processes of creating their product. Their organization quickly became apparent as they explained their operations from one step to the next. In San Francisco, space is sparce. To deal with this, Fyrn’s shop is in a constant state of flux as heavy machinery, equipment, and material move through the space to accommodate each process of the production. The lack of space partly influences the design of the products themselves. Flat packable furniture comes with the perks of being flat storable as well. So each small piece of the Stemn system has its place in a custom storage solution further displaying the ingenuity of the designers at Fyrn.
What sets Fyrn apart in my eyes is their attention and patience in designing a piece of furniture that meets today’s needs for fast paced production while maintaining the quality of a handmade chair built to last through generations. These heirlooms allow people to connect with one another through the familiarity of an uncommon object – not dissimilar to the intentions of an architect and their building.
Thank you Fyrn for allowing us to see your process. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
If you would like to learn more about Fyrn, you can go to their website or follow them on Instagram @fyrn_sf
By Nick Polansky
This year I was invited to speak at the 2018 Furniture Society Conference, a 4-day event including presentations from furniture makers and artists from across the nation. This year’s theme was Nexus, which looks at the intersection of technology and art as it relates to the evolving field of furniture making. It took place at Dogpatch Studios on June 13-16. There talks ranged from Women in Technology, to a girl’s project-based learning school, Project H Design in Oakland where underserved communities are given access to technology and the built environment. Other talks honored the great Wendelle Castle and the keynote Speaker Allan Wexler gave a talk presenting his new book “Absurd thinking between Art and Design.” I felt right at home.
My own talk was about my work that began during my Artist Residency at Autodesk in 2015. It was a simple talk about cutting wood. I was nervous, knowing I was not a trained furniture maker but my experience with digital tooling and material exploration allowed me to tell a compelling story. At first I shared basic milling patterns from rift sawn, plain sawn, and quarter sawn and described the properties of each resulting grain type. I then shared my work cutting planks of wood with a table saw and band saw, two analogue tools found in most wood working shops. The wood was cut with thin kerfs allowing it to flex and expand, changing the properties of hard wood to a “soft wood”. I wanted to transfer this operation to a tool with capabilities that these conventional tools did not have and one foreign to wood working.
While at Autodesk I had access a 55,000 psi waterjet cutter. The interesting advantage to this tool besides being able to cut through 5” of stainless steel or stone, was that it could pierce in the center of the material with no lead in or lead out. I used the tool to cut a series of kerf patterns into varies sizes and types of wood. I then steamed the wood and jacked the forms open with wedges and threaded rods. The result were large accordions that could take a 2×8 and expand into a 2×16 with beautiful bent patterns. I created a screen, a column, and a bench. They bridge the threshold of function and art.
The images and diagrams were presented in simple and clear drawings and black and white photographs. The vocabulary was kept simple and straight forward and resulted in a lively discussion following the talk. The majority of the room was interested in the process and potentials. For instance, could an entire log be cut on a waterjet? What types of joints could you make? Could you do this without a waterjet? The keynote speaker for the conference, Allan Wexler, was in the audience and he was impressed by the work and encouraged me to continue exploring. He thought the process and presentation was both technologically precise and brutally analogue, the balance I continue to achieve in my work. He said they represented a limit beyond which they would no longer exist, as if frozen moments of destruction.
The conference gave me great confidence to continue sharing and creating more work. On October 11 I will be showing alongside Cathy Liu at Matarozzi & Pelisnger Builders. I look forward to sharing the unique work with artists and architects, builders, and clients as I continue my art practice of finding balance.
By Lindsey Theobald
ICFF is known for being a High End Furniture Fair that showcases the latest and greatest furniture, finishes, and lighting from all over the world. This last May was my first trip to the fair and now I wonder why I haven’t gone every year. Practically every manufacturer, designer, and product I admire showcased there and it was such a treat to see it all in person. As a specifier of furnishings and lighting, I believe that products are understood so much better when seen in person. Scale, quality, craft, and detail can be realized only when seen in person. And that’s exactly what I was able to do at ICFF.
The show itself was at Javits Convention Center, NYC’s HUGE convention space on the Hudson. However, some of the best showcases were dotted throughout the city as part of New York’s Design Week. One of these treasures was the design gallery NEXT LEVEL. A handful of NYC contemporary designers (Asher Israelow, Eskayel, Hart Textiles, Here Projects, Patrick Weder, and others) curated a large gallery space in NoHo that blurred the line between furniture exhibition and art gallery.
The furniture was crafted to a high level of artistic expression and it was a treat to discuss inception and procedure with the artists themselves. I had picked NEXT LEVEL as a must see because of wood worker Asher Israelow and leather artist Brit Kleinman (of AVO). Asher takes brass inlays to a new level, creating brass constellations in wood table tops and brass rivers in dressers. He collaborated with AVO, an artist of printed leather rugs and tiles that I’ve used in past projects, on a low slung walnut chair with painted leather upholstery. Patrick Weder was a new find for me. His wood and concrete credenzas were insane! Hand carded concrete molded perfectly into beautifully crafted wood credenzas and turned simple furniture into art pieces. It’s wonderful to find new artists and designers and Patrick Weder is one I hope to use in future projects. Another fun find at NEXT LEVEL was Kin & Company, a collaboration between two cousins (get it? Kin?). I had the pleasure of talking with co-founder Kira de Paola about her whimsical side tables and mirrors that are the exact products that can add so much life to an otherwise neutral and “safe” design. I’ve been liking the half circle shape and I saw it reflected frequently in Kin & Co’s work – a beautiful balance between architectural and decorative.
Since it was Spring in NYC, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked from NEXT LEVEL in NoHo to my next destination – SoHo. Not only were there multiple New York Design Week pop-ups throughout SoHo, it was a thrill to see other stores and spaces that just had great design. One of these spaces is the Rachel Comey flagship store designed by Elizabeth Roberts and Charles de Lisle. My idea of heaven is where architecture and fashion come together! Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of terrazzo and the store used a concrete version on the floors. The store is located in a former mechanic’s garage, so a bit of the industrial flavor remains in the steel store front and some heavy timber. Those items, plus the terrazzo and the addition of board form concrete walls highlighted by soft natural light from skylights above, create an idyllic serene setting that highlight the clothing on display.
The first night consisted of party hoping in SoHo, starting with the Boffi/DePadova showroom, organized by our friends at DZine here in SF. Boffi is located right in the middle of the design district of SoHo, so I was able to stop in at many more design store happy hours from there, including Artemide, Ingo Maurer, Lee Broom, USM, Foscarini, Tom Dixon, RBW, and Kartell.
The next day was another off-site design stop, this time at the Radnor curated apartment in The Bryant, David Chipperfield’s new residential tower. Upon arriving I was thrilled to see even more terrazzo! Tons of it! David Chipperfield used concrete terrazzo panels on the exterior and interior walls. The terrazzo was gorgeous, with large aggregates of marble and stone in them. Plus, Radnor’s curated rooms were the perfect complement to the stunning apartment. Radnor is a new company formed by the amazing Susan Clark who has a total knack for finding amazing artists and designers and taking them under her wing to curate a showroom of beautiful artists. Radnor currently represents about 11 designers, only a couple of which I knew (Pelle, Egg Collective, and Workstead I’ve used in past projects and am a huge fan of all three). Su is a kindred spirit in terms of the design world. I could easily sense her excitement about each of her designers and that excitement transferred as she spoke about each one and told me their story. I even got to meet one of her designers, a fabulous woodworker name Adam Rogers, whose work celebrates the construction of furniture in its design.
I could have wandered around the city visiting off-site exhibitions all week, but I needed to focus on the actual ICFF fair itself! I thought it may be dull compared to the amazing exhibitions I’d seen so far, but I was wrong. It was amazing to see so many of the brands and manufacturers in-person that I usually only view online. I got to say hello to the folks at Brendon Ravenhill, who supplied most of the decorative lighting for our new office, make new connections at Concrete Collaborative (from San Clemente, my old hood! And they have gorgeous concrete terrazzo!!), and learn about new-to-me designers and manufacturers (Larose Guyon, Hinterland, CVL Luminaires, Sollos, Empire rugs, District Eight, Ercol, I could go on and on!). I loved talking directly with the designers themselves and just seeing so many products in person was a huge treat.
Another wish list item for me was to visit Bec Brittain’s showroom and studio. Bec is a lighting designer, originally from Lindsey Adelman’s studio, and now very much successful in her own eponymous line. Each line of fixtures from Bec Brittain feels like individual art pieces, yet I’ve been able to use them in many projects without them looking out of place or too precious. Bec opened her studio for NYC X Design Week and showcased a collaboration between her and John Hogan, a glass artist. I was blown away by their new line, ‘Aries’, where Bec’s lights shown on John’s glass pieces in such a way that each piece threw off rainbows of color, looking different depending on your point of view. Again, her pieces are super fun without crossing the line into gaudy. Her showroom is also her working studio, so I was able to see prototypes, items used at special installations, custom pieces, and all the baubbles and shiny pieces that get crafted into one of Bec Brittain’s fixtures. I continue to be a super fan of hers!
Many of our SF reps were busy at ICFF too. I got to meet up with Anne Luna from CRI San Francisco to swap stories about what we’ve seen and liked. I attended a cocktail party thrown by Jenne and Adam from Jak-w at the Bolon flagship, which was great, not only because Jenne and Adam are the best, but because I finally got to see the vinyl carpet they’ve been raving about. One night, I was invited to attend a dinner hosted by a favorite of mine, Muuto. The dinner was held in a large space on the 4th or 5th floor of a downtown building that was completely furnished in Muuto sofas, chairs, lights, rugs, etc. As a big fan of Muuto, I thought the place looked awesome. And in a classic NY moment, the dinner was being prepared by nineteen-year-old Flynn McGarry, the boy wonder chef who just opened his own restaurant on the Lower East Side. He has been written up in the Times on a couple occasions, and he’s a bit of a phenomenon, so that made the dinner even more special! Only in NY.
On my last day in New York, I got to meet up with our SF Herman Miller reps at their flagship store. Not only is the store home to the Herman Miller NY offices, it also is home to Maharam. We were treated to a champagne breakfast and then given a $100 golden ticket to spend on anything in the store on the street level. The store itself was super interesting. For each season, the curators make up a family and give them personalities, jobs, interests and use those stories to craft their displays. I forget their entire story, but it was a fun concept to think about while browsing the store. I picked out a Jaime Hayon vase that uses the Japanese flower arranging technique, Ikebana. It’s beautiful and I’m pleased to own an item from a designer I admire. After shopping, we toured the Herman Miller offices; got to try out their newly launched task chair, the Cosm; and then were led on a tour of Maharam to see how they operate, get a glimpse of their sample library, and get a sneak peek at some of their new collaborations.
I needed to stay in NY a couple more days to absorb it all, but I had to get back. I feel now that ICFF is a must, at least every other year, though I’d love to go again right away in 2019. Not only was it an opportune way to see so many products in person, it was great to meet up with so many SF reps and designers 3,000 miles away!
When architect Steven Stept first saw the site of Los Altos Hills II with client Simon Yiu in September 2012, it was empty, gently sloping alongside a quiet cul-de-sac. Now, two stacking, intersecting bars perch on the hillside, opening onto an infinity pool nestled between the two elegant forms. Finished and photographed, polished and populated with furniture, Los Altos Hills II is the product of years of hard work and extensive collaboration but remains true to the original nature of the site; the home finds strength in simplicity and calm on the cutting edge.
“What I like most about the project,” says Feldman’s Humbeen Geo, who assisted with the project’s construction drawings, detailing, construction administration, and interiors, “Is that the main design concept translated into and through construction. Nothing was compromised.” As a custom-for-sale home, the home’s programming lacked the idiosyncrasies of a project designed as a client’s ‘forever home,’ but its design received the same level of focus and attention to detail. Conceived as bold composition of simple forms in the office of Axelrod + Stept Architects, prior to Stept joining the Feldman team where he fine-tuned the design and now serves as Managing Partner, it stayed that way, thanks both to the client’s trust in his architects’ vision and ability to execute and in Steven’s faith, in turn, in the team he assembled.
“Steven gave me the license to both learn and contribute in a meaningful way,” says Humbeen, for whom Los Altos Hills II will always stand out in his mind as his first residential project. Indeed, it is clear that the final home reflects the collective strength of all who worked on the project, from Huettl Landscape Architecture’s thoughtful design for the site, where the dark mulch relates to the dark wood of the house, to Tali Ariely’s lighting design, whose strong concept of a linear lighting system supplemented by down lights mimics the crisp lines of the house. So, too, the wide sliding glass panels that scale back to blur indoor and outdoor living spaces, turning the home’s main living areas into pavilions open to the breeze, represent Murray Windows and Doors’ integral contribution to the project. “Carol, your doors look great – I can’t see them!” Steven joked to the Murray representative after seeing the home completely open to the site and its pool at its center. He adds, “The indoor/outdoor living element is stronger in this house than in any other house I’ve designed.”
One of the collaborations that proved the most rewarding, Steven says, was with Hector Rivera, who crafted the home’s steel staircase. The staircase now casts a striking shadow on the white kitchen counter, and it has become one of the strongest elements of the home.
The project’s finishing touch was the furniture provided by Flexform San Francisco for an intimate open house gathering held at the home in mid-July. Flexform is a luxury furniture brand, handmade in Italy, for whom details are everything, and their furniture adds a softness to the sleek, modern design. “It makes it casual,” says Flexform’s Gregory Herman, “and therefore useable. It invites people to dive in, fire up a movie, enjoy the breeze, the view, the pool.” When, in a happy coincidence, it came to light that the large sofa Steven and Simon had selected for the living room was designed by the same Italian designer, Antonio Chitterio, who designed the Arclinea line featured in the home’s nearby kitchen, it felt as if the final piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. “Before, it was just a building,” says Gregory. “Now, it’s a home.” Feldman’s Aaron Lim, who also worked extensively on the project, added, “The building really came alive that evening; with all of the exterior doors open, especially the corner doors, guests were able to walk in and out the house easily. It felt very open, and well-proportion – not extravagant or ostentatious.” When guests walked through the large entry pivot door into the living room at the open house, immediately accessing views of patio, pool, and site beyond, Steven received his long sought-after response: a jaw drop.
I recently had the chance to walk the home’s dark wood floors, climb its steel staircases, and watch the sun pour into light wells, stairwells, and, well, everywhere from basement to crowning master suite. The sun beat down on the infinity pool, casting reflections of the ripples in the water onto the shaded underside stucco overhang two floors up, and it filtered through the slots in the steel stairs to become slits of light splayed across a concrete wall. All of the home’s doors were open, and all of its closets were empty, just waiting for coats to be hung.
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