Staff Spotlight: Fernanda Gusmao

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from a planned city called Goiania in the state of Goias, Brazil. Its urbanism was influenced by the City Garden movement and Art Deco. As a reference, the city is located in the middle of the country, 2 hours from the capital, Brasilia (planned by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer).

Q: Where did you go to school?
I studied Law in a Catholic University called Pontificia Univerdade Catolica de Goias.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My mother, Zuleika, is a brave matriarch that taught my sisters and I to be independent and to face challenges head on despite all the adversity in the world. I have 2 sisters, Kamilla and Lorena, who taught me every Bon Jovi song, as well as how to bring humor into every aspect of my life. To keep the girl power going, my 2 nieces are the newest additions to the family – they’ve certainly introduced a different way of seeing the world, as well as a little hope for the future.

My partner, my dog, and I enjoy exploring the city, binge watching TV series, and playing video games. We have our own lazy dynamic on the weekends.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I never realized how big of an impact architecture had on my life until recently. Visiting Brasilia as a kid, I always viewed architecture as an art. Now I’ve come to understand that it’s also a way of making people’s lives easier and better.

Q: What is your favorite part about coming into work?
I love interacting with my coworkers and creating a warm and welcoming space in our office.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Learn to skate, buy an electric guitar, and go to New Orleans.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
A home theater, a barbecue area, a pool, an arcade room, and a beer fridge.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?

Staff Spotlight: Nicholas Mobilia

Q: Where are you from?
I’m originally from a small town called North East; it’s in northwestern Pennsylvania. I usually just tell people I’m from Erie because it’s less confusing that way. Especially when I was living in Philadelphia – everyone assumed I was talking about the northeastern region of the city.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I went to school at Penn State. It’s a bit of a family tradition; my dad, my brothers, and a lot of my family went there. I chose it because I didn’t know what I wanted to study and it’s a large school that offers a lot of different programs.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I have two brothers – one older and one younger. My family and I are tight knit but right now they all live in the DC area. Prior to that we were all scattered but now I’m the outlier on the west coast. I also have a two-year-old niece which makes me feel old; it’s okay though because she’s the cutest child that ever lived.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I like buildings that are situated on interesting or complex sites. It’s a fun challenge to design something that responds to and complements its setting without being overpowering. Beyond the overall design process I enjoy detailing a building. It’s like putting together a puzzle – how do all of the complexities and intricacies come together so that the finished building looks like the original sketches and renderings.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I binged watch For All Mankind. It’s a sci-fi show that depicts an alternate history in which the Soviet Union succeeds in landing the first people on the moon rather than the US. As a result, the space race and cold war never end. It’s a really cool and nerdy premise which is right up my alley.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
Not too many – I got a bit more into board games and definitely watched more TV but other than that I think things stayed relatively the same.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
Unsure! I’ve spent a lot of time working on large multi-family projects so I’m excited to transition to smaller ones where we can create more intricate and beautiful detailing.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
Lots of windows! I love having natural light. I’d also want some sort of interesting or relaxing view, outdoor space or spaces, a nice kitchen (after so long living in small apartments I’m dying for a normal sized kitchen), and a fireplace for the coziness factor.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
Asia or South America. No specific destination in mind yet but those are two huge geographic areas I’ve never been to. I’ve traveled through the US a decent amount and I’ve made a few trips to Europe so I’m anxious to try something new.

CRAFT: Aaron Robinson

How did you first start honing your craft? What originally drew you to woodwork in general and cabinetry specifically?
I grew up in the antique business, my dad owned a furniture refinishing and restoration operation, and my uncle owned a 7,000 sq-ft antique collective here in Santa Cruz. We mainly dealt in early American furniture like Shaker, Empire, and Art Nouveau in Oak, Mahogany, and Walnut. Even my grandparents were in the business, restoring, dressing, and dealing in antique porcelain dolls and some ephemera. Growing up between both shops, furniture was a big part of my life. There was always something to fix, sand, stain, or spray, a new vignette to set up in the store, or another antique show to travel to with a truck full of furniture and collectables to sell. My biggest influence was everyone around me making things, fixing things, taking things apart and making different objects. They were all artists of some sort – painters, sculptors, mechanics, pattern makers, and a lot of wood workers – I always had someone around that could show me how to make or fix anything. I quickly developed confidence – even if I didn’t know how, I could figure it out.

When I was a teenager, clients started asking my dad to build one-off pieces of furniture, or even a whole kitchen, and custom cabinetry started organically out of that. Back then, all the work was furniture quality cabinets – hand cut dovetails, hand shaped raised panels, carving, turning – all by hand or with basic tooling. It wasn’t until I worked for wood shops later in my 20’s that I worked with a CNC machine or any large-scale industrial machine. CAD drawing wasn’t on anyone’s radar back then.

I started my own small shop when I was 25 years old, focusing mostly on built-in cabinetry: media centers, bookcases, mantles, etc. A few years later, I was offered a job building for a high-end cabinet shop nearby. It was great money and better hours, which worked well with a new daughter at home. For a while, I bounced around until I landed at a prominent Bay Area shop that gave me the opportunity to learn to draw with the computer program I still use now, some 15 years later. That was the breakthrough for me. I was able to develop a new skill and really create my own career in cabinet design and engineering.

How does your early career and previous experience in the industry influence your work today?
Growing up around furniture, particularly Mission and Arts & Crafts furniture, had a big influence on my style and taste – the clean lines and subtle angles were always very attractive to me. Being in my dad’s orbit and learning about specific designers like Gustav Stickley and Charles Mcintosh was also influential. Working in the shop with him and emulating their designs helped me get a feel for not only style, but also proportion and function.

Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with clients?
Describe your relationship with the architect and contractor.
I really love collaborative projects. The jobs where everyone – the builder, architect, designers, and especially the homeowner – are all working together to create the best version of something. I like to get involved in a new project as early as possible, before framing, which allows us to take our time refining the design through the redline and iterative process.

I’ve always tried very hard to act as a partner in the process, which contractors appreciate. They know they can rely on me to help guide a homeowner through the cabinet process, freeing them up to focus on the long list of other pressing tasks that need their attention. I also think the quality of my drawings are especially helpful to this process – I’m able to supply very accurate scaled drawings of all the cabinetry, including floor plan views, cross sections, and elevations with detailed notes and photo references of the convenience hardware and pre-installation items. Most helpful to a homeowner is getting to see near photo quality renderings of the final cabinetry designs.

Who is on your team? Is collaboration important to your process?
I currently work with two custom cabinet shops – first with BFD Cabinets (I’ll let that sink in) – Brown Felicetta Design is the best shop I’ve ever worked with. Dave Brown runs the shop day to day, and Vince Felicetta runs the business, operates the CNC, and does his own sales. They’ve invested heavily in the best machinery and an even better staff. Victor, the shop foreman leads the fight, and Bob, Juan Pablo (JP), Sergio, Marc and Rich can build anything I can come up with. Emeterio gives everything that finishing touch. Lastly, we have an awesome group of site carpenters – Shawn, Bryan, Jesus, Zabdi, and Roman – that can handle anything we throw at them. We have an amazing team where everyone seems to have the same idea about what we do. Doing good work begets good results, client satisfaction, appreciation, self-satisfaction, and of course a good living. Without their collaboration, none of what I do would be possible.

When BFD is too busy, Coastal Woodworks, out of Salinas, is a small shop run by James Copsey and Larry Williams. They’re two Salinas Firefighters that love woodworking so much they that opened their own shop. They’ve invested in some of the best tooling and machinery – and excel at crafting first class work.

Tell me what it’s like to run a small business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
Claiming that running a small business is hard is cliche, but it’s fully accurate! Most days, I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick than “run a business.” Draw, meet with clients, build furniture, that I LOVE! But running the day-to-day stuff – filing paperwork, bidding jobs, scheduling work, and collecting money!? Ugh, Kill me now! Even with all that, being self-employed is the best, if you can do it. Being completely self-reliant on generating an income isn’t for everyone – there can be long periods between checks as projects develop or finish up. Managing client, family, and especially my own expectations is key. I don’t always get it right, but through good management, I’m able to make my own schedule and find ways to balance my work, life, family, and solo pursuits.

At this point, almost 30 years in, I think I’ve made a pile of mistakes and created a lot of challenges for myself. I’ll continue to make more, unfortunately, but of all the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve not only been able to fix, but I’ve been able to learn how to do better. After the initial frustration, I take comfort in the fact I was able to identify my shortcoming and make an adjustment. Beyond that, there have been so many ups and downs. I’ve made it through recessions, housing bubble bursts, shop moves, and now COVID. These hurdles have taught me that everything will be okay, don’t panic. Do good work and take care of your people and they will take care of you.

Which new technologies have influenced your work as of late? How do you think they will change the industry going forward?
The new pre-finished veneers and various laminates are all pretty exciting. Many of the new wood textured laminates are so spot on that, without touching them, you wouldn’t know they aren’t wood. The solid color acrylic panels, my favorite being the ultra-matte products, are amazing – several are made with a “self-healing” coating. When scratched, most Magic Erasers work well – for more severe scratches heat makes blemishes disappear. Most of the solid colors are available with a “zero joint” edge banding that creates an essentially seamless panel. If you’re thinking of designing a kitchen with a flat flush solid color door, you’d be crazy not to use these products. A bonus is that many of these materials are laid up on a core made from recycled materials and newer high tech green resins – making them not only sustainable, but also extremely water resistant. I think real wood and exotic veneers will always be in style, but if you could use a sustainable product that’s equal if not better, why wouldn’t you?

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?
Everything we do is one of a kind. Even if we use the same materials and hardware, every project we do is different and unique. We’re able to create beautiful custom spaces that meet our client’s needs, and while many of these needs are similar, everyone has their own individual need according to how they’ll live in their space.

I love visiting a home I’ve worked on and seeing the family using the pieces we’ve created. That’s a special feeling. Somebody once said to me, “a new kitchen is a game changer,” – that captured it for me.
Pictured to the right: Aaron with our San Mateo clients in their recently finished kitchen. 

Design and Process: Stairs

A staircase often acts as the spine of a home, connecting public and private spaces delicately and effortlessly. Our team finds joy in detailing stairs, whether they are meant to be architectural focal points, or designed simply to perform their programmatic function. Often overlooked, we collected a few of our favorite stair moments to showcase how a well-designed staircase can transform a space, preserve a view, or blend seamlessly and subtly into the backdrop.

Atherton Renewal
A new, light-filled entry and expanded stair is the heart of the home and one of the primary sources of daylight in this Atherton renovation. The graceful curves of the staircase create a sensation of floating and eliminate the need for landings between levels. The three-story shape of the stair hall is mirrored by an elliptical skylight supporting a multi-tiered, custom chandelier and mimicking the cascading movement of the daylight above. Lighting elements at the base of each tread maintain the purity of the clean curved wood paneled wall, free of sconces or ornamentation.

Before the renovation, the original staircase at Atherton Renewal embodied a traditional grand entry with no access to natural daylight, and clunky corners that closed off the space from adjoining rooms. The renovation maintained the original skylight’s aperture and placement, while punching open the lower floor to access the basement, creating a dramatic three-story volume, and giving the newly updated lower-level access to natural light

The custom chandelier, designed in collaboration with the interior designer and the lighting fabricator, Allied Maker, securely floats rods between a foundational metal ring and the skylight’s opening. Numerous studies allowed for precision in the number, exact placement, and size of each pendant, and experience of the chandelier from multiple viewpoints.


Surf House
At Surf House, a floating stair gently minimizes the disruption of views, giving occupants and passersby alike a glimpse of Pacific blue from the home’s entry. The central stair is thoughtfully oriented so that its underside, which is less visually obtrusive, faces the entry and arrival sequence. Open risers and an offset stringer serve as strategic design details that help maximize transparency.

Monterey Cypress, a robust, resilient, regal wood, is accustomed to the site’s coastal California climate and when left unfinished, weathers to a sophisticated grey– the wood also therefore quickly becoming a focal point of the home’s design, both interior and exterior. Monterey Cypress treads, accented by steel, both melt the stair into its surroundings and add material interest.


Spring Ranch
At Spring Ranch, the rammed earth walls, visually, structurally, and thematically tie the building to the site and create a soft, patterned, organic color palette. The interior palette of wood, glass, steel, and stone compliment the rammed earth’s organic textures and colors. Natural light filters into living spaces through slated screens made of reclaimed wood, creating moments of visual interest while protecting the home from direct sun during hot summer months.

The main living areas feel open and airy with 22-foot-high ceilings, while still visually connected to private areas via a dramatic second floor catwalk. The steel and wood stair floats up towards the catwalk, preserving views of the textured rammed earth.


The Farm
At The Farm, Jonathan Feldman and his wife Lisa Lougee were determined to create a contemporary, sustainable, and functional home for their family, yet the modern aesthetic of Jonathan’s work as an architect at times came into direct confrontation with Lisa’s more transitional design sensibilities. Thus, they were faced with the challenge of fusing contemporary elements with the traditional character of a classic Edwardian home.

Before the ambitious remodel, the house was a closed-off box. The new design opened the floor plan, flooding the interiors with natural light through a new central stair topped with expansive skylights. The stair itself served as a nod to Jonathan’s modern design sensibilities, introducing stainless steel and glass to a wood interior, allowing light to filter through the skylight above.


Woodpecker Ranch

Woodpecker Ranch, a Woodside remodel, endured a complete transformation, with its most extreme conversions redefining the entry to the house as well as adding a level of uniformity to the exterior façade. One of the most challenging requests from the homeowners was to clarify the arrival sequence of the home, both from the exterior and interior, while looking for ways to improve the curb appeal. The architectural team prioritized simplifying the decorative stair in the entry and composing a uniform exterior color palette.

To visually unclutter at the entrance, the architects designed a transparent open riser stair with tapered treads and a wire mesh rail. The selected materials blend into the surrounding finishes of raw concrete, aluminum framed windows and rustic wood which allow for the stairs to subtly blend into the space. The stair appears both visually transparent and material neutral at first glance, allowing the eye to see past the adjacent courtyard, to the distant axial alignment of the pool and heritage oak beyond.


Lantern House
With the simple direction to create a suburban home that was edgy yet livable, the design complemented crisp, geometric forms with warm, inviting materials to create the glassy, open, and light Lantern House. The home centers around an open plan of public spaces on the main level, all connected by a cedar board ceiling that extends into an outdoor living space. A vertical stair tower fit with a floor to ceiling window links the orthogonal forms of the house’s façade and interior spaces, transitioning to private dwellings on the second floor.

Staff Spotlight: Parker Klebahn

Q: Where are you from?
Born and raised in San Francisco, west coast best coast!

Q: Where did you go to school?
I went to Lick-Wilmerding High School here in San Francisco and then I went to Syracuse University in upstate NY, where I studied Architecture and European History. After living on the East Coast for five years it was time to come back to San Francisco!

Q: Tell me about your family.
I have a younger sister who is currently in college in New York, and my parents are both in education here in the Bay Area. I also have two black labs, Atlas and Stella!

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I have always deeply appreciated the emotional connection that architecture creates between the designer and the client. I think that this is especially prevalent and important in the kind of work we do, single family residential. Working with clients to craft great spaces for their families is a beautiful and powerful thing to do every day, which I feel often gets lost at larger scales and especially in commercial architecture. Creating spaces to enrich and galvanize our clients’ lives is extremely rewarding!

Q: What makes our office unique?
There are many things that make FA unique – firstly, it’s an unbelievable group of people to work with every day, and everyone is super talented and driven. There is such a high level of commitment amongst the whole office to promote a healthy, positive, and fun studio culture. Having worked here as an intern for two summers it felt very much like I was coming home to FA as opposed to starting a new job!

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
My dad and I started smoking our own barbeque! We had a smoker in the backyard for a solid 8 or 9 years and never used it, so we started trying to smoke our own brisket. It was pretty bad the first go around, but we improved a lot in our next attempts – now I think that it’s better than anything you can get in the Bay Area!

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work? (in person or virtually)
Everyday at FA is fun, even when we have an intense deadline, it’s still always a blast! This is also helped by the espresso machine and the liberal amount of quality snacks in the kitchen. And of course, the team makes it worthwhile!

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
I would really like to visit Antarctica! I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to 6 out of the 7 continents and would love to cap it off.