The Cognoscente: Behind the Style of Interior Designer Catherine Kwong

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In our inaugural installment of "The Cognoscente," we interview experts in their field—who also happen to be the city's chicest tastemakers—about how their work influences their style, and living their best life in San Francisco. 


Catherine Kwong started her career in New York, designing luxury interiors for Studio Sofield and flagship stores for Ralph Lauren. After years of learning and creating in the city that never sleeps, she moved home to her beloved San Francisco, and Catherine Kwong Design was open for business in 2011. 

On my bedside table you will always find earrings that I wore last night, a framed wedding photo, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, my iPad, and a baby monitor.

My vanity always has perfume. Right now, I’m into Le Labo’s Rose 31 and Tom Ford’s Santal Blush.

My signature style piece is vintage jewelry and watches. I like to layer on pieces and change things up, but the one thing I wear every day is a gold bracelet with my son’s initials and birth date engraved on the inside. 

The last meal that truly impressed me was at Lazy Bear. We got tickets to the pop-up dinner right before the restaurant opened. It was one of those meals that was so inventive that nothing on the menu even made sense (Quince leather? Yuzu buttermilk? Mushrooms with Douglas Fir?), but the food was insanely good.

Cracklins, barley, chanterelles, dried cabbage, and buckwheat flowers garnish a medallion of Liberty duck at Lazy Duck. Photo by Eric Wolfinger 

A recent "find" in San Francisco is Wrecking Ball Coffee in Cow Hollow. Great cappuccinos and the cutest wallpaper (pineapples!) designed by Rifle Paper Company, a favorite of mine.

photo via Wrecking Ball Coffee

I always find the best gifts on Good Eggs; everyone loves food! You can send flowers, chocolates, even a spaghetti and meatball dinner!

When I am looking for furniture and/or antiques, I head to the Mission. Aside from the Design Center and the antique stores in Jackson Square, I like to shop in this neighborhood. I love perusing Tradesmen and DeAngelis for amazing mid-century pieces.  

The last destination that has truly inspired my work this year is Paris. We usually stay in the Marais, but this time, upon a recommendation from a client, we stayed at a house on the Ile St. Louis. Even though it’s in the middle of the city, it’s such a quiet little enclave. I loved having that as our home base; I feel like it changed my perspective a bit. I found myself wandering around and taking things in slowly, not rushing around so much like a tourist.

For pure aesthetic, there is nothing like The Hotel Okura in Tokyo. Its gorgeous interiors, preserved from the original 1962 design, are an impeccable example of Japan’s elevated mid-century modernist style. Stepping inside the hotel is like going back in time to a quieter era: you feel embraced by the serene elegance and nuanced gestures of the Japanese aesthetic. Sadly, the hotel will soon go the way of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel, and is scheduled for a complete demolition and renovation later this year.

For a relaxing weekend getaway, I drive up to Sonoma. I love spending the afternoon wine tasting at Scribe and then lunch out in the back patio of The Fremont Diner. 

photo via Scribe Winery

An indulgence I would never give up is sleep. And coffee. Is that contradictory?

READ MORE: Want more Catherine Kwong? Check out her high-glamour Design Center office, here

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