“Sometimes the thing you are most timid to do – the biggest, boldest move – is what you end up liking the most,” says Ian Stallings, founder of San Francisco-based Ian Stallings Design. With over a decade of experience, Stallings’ full service interior design firm has completed projects globally in some of the finest homes in San Francisco, London, and New York, as well as a furniture gallery and showroom in China. No matter where his work takes him, an underlying ethos reigns supreme: his deep commitment to the client’s needs, desires, experiences, and aspirations.
An artist at heart, Stallings sees each client as a muse and their space as a canvas. Having studied film making, painting and design at the California College of the Arts, art history at the Chicago Art Institute, and painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, Stallings combines his profound knowledge in architecture, interior design, and contemporary art to every project. He doesn’t simply “decorate” a home, rather builds meaningful, profound and long lasting relationships with clients and the spaces they make home.
“Every home is designed for you, the client. People always ask me: ‘what is your aesthetic and style?’ Because I am focused on what is appropriate for the physical space and who the end-user is, my style is to focus on who the client truly is and not inflict my aesthetic on them,” says Stallings.
One of the joys of his work is the opportunity to work in diverse enclaves throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. “Our team gets to go to a lot of interesting places and do interesting things. The beauty of the Bay Area is its diversity – in geography, cultures, communities and styles. From San Francisco, to Marin, to Silicon Valley and all the reaches of it, we are continuously inspired and able to create bespoke spaces for diverse clients,” says Stallings.
Stallings notes that Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty and his design firm are very similar in a lot of respects. “We provide a service level for our clients that is exceptional. Our clients’ properties and homes demand an attention to detail, and the brokerage really understands those properties and how they relate to high design,” says Stallings. “Together, we artfully unite extraordinary homes with extraordinary people.”
“Our style is that we design with what’s given. We never want a home to compete with a location or the site. It should complement and be in communication with its surrounds,” says Howard Backen, founder and principle of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects (BGK), an award-winning architectural design firm formed in 1996. Its two offices, one located in Sausalito near the San Francisco Bay waterfront and one in St. Helena, produce iconic residences, wineries, restaurants and civic spaces throughout the Bay Area, Wine Country and beyond. We caught up with Backen, and principle architect Luca Pignata, to discuss their design ethos and their first residential project together, Diamond Mountain Residence.
Located on a verdant hilltop overlooking Saint Helena and Calistoga, the Diamond Mountain Residence is an iconic BGK home, built to celebrate and respect its ethereal location. Surrounded by acre upon acre of vines producing award-winning cabernet sauvignon under its winery Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard, the approximately 4,500-square foot home blurs the lines between winery and private retreat, and indoor and outdoor living. The residence, which was designed for the former owners, a radio tycoon and his wife, recently sold to an affluent buyer represented by Latife Hayson of Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty. The property was listed for $35 million.
Pignata recalls what it was like to visit the site for the first time, and to work on a project of such magnitude: “The size of the property and the scale of the project is much bigger than the architecture itself. It was a wonderful experience to dive into such a challenge.” The challenge was met in part by Pignata and Backen’s ability to work symbiotically with clients, a method that underlies all their work. “The clients that we’re dealing with are really smart. They get it, and you must listen. When you think about it, they’re extremely bright people and they’re there for a reason.” ‘Extremely bright’ clientele include the likes of Robert Redford, the Mondavi family, Ellen DeGeneres and Ashton Kutcher, to name a few.
When asked which residence he’s most proud of in his career – there are over 100 private residences in their ever-growing portfolio – Backen hopes it will be the next one. “I never really think we’re there, ever. Everything is so intertwined and there is so much you don’t know, but you try to learn and get better. With each one you move forward and go to the next level.”
What’s BGK’s design ethos? Backen cannot be put in a box: “We don’t have a style,” he says proudly. “One thing that expresses what we do the most is that we basically open up the house as far as you can go.”
For Pignata, the work is about creating an open dialog between the land, the home and the client. “It’s about honesty. It’s about communication with the surrounding environment. A home should shelter, of course, but it should speak and communicate what is important to people. Even remind them of what’s important. You realize very fast that you have a big responsibility at that moment, and you are trying to create something that is respectful and will live with, and be in communication with, that environment.”
“This home, like many of our projects, is on a breathtaking scale,” says Pignata. “A residence of this caliber and clientele deserves the best representation and we’re very excited that a company like Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty represents them.”