Home on the Ranch

The magic hour starts just after 5PM, as the sun begins to slide over the shoulder of the eucalyptus grove at the mouth of the property to cast a faint golden glow upon the south side of the Long Branch Saloon & Farms.

This is when the miniature Western town on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay appears to come alive. Situated on a 46-acre lot not far from where the Lobitos Creek feeds into the Pacific, Long Branch could be mistaken for the backdrop of a Western TV show—if it weren’t for the palm trees and mechanical bull ride.

The main thoroughfare is lined by a dozen rustic structures including a two-story saloon, jail cell, hotel, dressmaker’s shop and barbershop. Their façades suggest they were plucked out of the past because for most of them, they were; the ice cream parlor features a rusty and weathered sign for the bygone Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel that was donated by the original owner.

When the phone line isn’t ringing with folks looking to set up private events or wedding receptions, the Palmer family, who established and operate Long Branch, has become the recipient of Peninsula historical treasures. Their ranch is a living museum where rusted signs and 19th-century bar mirrors—even a single-story church—find a home for endless appreciation.

“People want their stuff to live in infamy,” Kevin Palmer, the family’s patriarch says. “So that’s why it comes down here.”

Wedding season for the Palmers auspiciously began on Leap Year Day, and February 29 marked just the first of many receptions they’ll host in 2020. Kevin and his eldest daughter, Cassidy, manage Long Branch’s operation while Jill, the family’s matriarch, offers horse boarding on the premises. Kimmy, the middle child and owner of Granola’s Coffee House in Half Moon Bay, takes care of cuisine including full Texas barbeque offerings. In their “spare” time, Cassidy and Kimmy are world-class competitors in equestrian vaulting. Also a world-class equestrian vaulter, Colton, the youngest, is finishing up his engineering degree at Arizona State University. The family is so tightly knit that they haven’t had the need to set up a text message group chat.

With two weeks to go before the arrival of the bride and groom, the family was applying the final touches to their latest project: a complete remodel and upgrade to the barn. It can now host a reception for hundreds under the enchanting glow of numerous vintage chandeliers, which Kevin has acquired and stored under the house for years.

“We’re thinking ten years from now,” he says, of Long Branch Ranch’s management plan. The chandeliers are just some of the antiquated gems Kevin has picked up over the years through his other businesses.

Kevin is also the head of Premier Construction, a construction firm in Half Moon Bay, and years ago, he expanded his enterprise by acquiring a termite removal operation. That led to owning a flooring company. With his hand in several stages of home repair and remodel, Kevin found himself on the receiving end of a windfall of resources.

“We hated throwing away the stuff we were tearing apart and taking it to the dump,” he says, adding that much of the ranch has roots in homes from Hillsborough and San Mateo. “It was ridiculous, so I started storing it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I started a town.”

When Kevin purchased the Long Branch property in 1998, it was a raggedy ranch that had been on the market for some time. Jill remembers boarding horses there with her family after they moved to Half Moon Bay when she was in grade school. She met Kevin at Half Moon Bay High School as he was passing out candy to everyone in their class. The high school sweethearts bonded over their passion for never-ending projects, so they started a family and bought a ranch.

It was during a family vacation in the Bahamas, after Kevin spent a considerable amount of money on marked-up Coca Colas at the beach, that the idea of commerce struck him like a scorching-hot branding iron. He realized that people want fun, novel experiences and if you can provide it, they’re willing to pay for it. The idea coincided with goals Kevin had as he began envisioning how to always take care of his family.

“I got cancer and was super sick. I needed to create a revenue stream that wasn’t termite- and construction-related,” he says. “I was really looking for a revenue stream just for these folks—”

“These ‘folks’—you mean us, Dad?” Cassidy teases her father.

Cassidy was 10 years old when the ranch began to take form and remembers how her dad would gather his friends around in the morning for construction projects with country music playing and doughnuts at the ready. “He just started building and never said, ‘This is what I’m doing,’” she says.

Kevin is fast on the draw to defend his methods. “I think I was afraid and I wasn’t going to tell Jill what I was doing until I started rolling,” he reasons.

Jill brushes off any presumed apprehension. “Do I ever poo-poo anything?” she smiles. “I never do.”

Long Branch has grown into a backdrop for weddings, the spot for half a dozen fundraisers throughout the year and an outlet for companies looking for distinctive team-building exercises. Kevin and Cassidy work with each client individually to map out the perfect afternoon. 

“We start by having a big chili cook-off. Or a guacamole cook-off, if vegetarians are coming,” he says. “How do you pull together all that food and have fun for four hours? You have an ingredients scavenger hunt and then they have to help make their food.”

Following the feast is an array of side-activities and contests including a slingshot range, dodgeball court, casino roulette and a high striker. Guests can roam the premises to admire the countless trinkets and historical novelties—such as a display depicting actual hair strands attributed to President Abraham Lincoln.

The robust wooden bar inside the saloon is from the 1995 Western film The Quick and the Dead starring Sharon Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio and inside the dance hall is a 19th-century German-made bar that had previously been at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel and reportedly arrived in San Francisco bearing the largest mirror this side of the Mississippi.

Out near the mini-golf course is a completely restored church originally situated on 42nd Avenue in San Francisco and erected in 1913. It was demolished in 2009 but Kevin was there to repossess and has opened up the church for one-of-a-kind Easter Sunday services.

Asked what he would do if devastation ever struck and burned down the ranch, Kevin dismisses everything except his family as replaceable. “Everything else is materialistic crap,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. Everything you can buy again and then start the treasure hunt all over again.”

Long Branch is the Palmer family’s private home and they are keen on maintaining their personal privacy; however, that doesn’t mean they don’t welcome friends over once a week for a poker night or are gleeful after hosting an event with a few hundred new friends. The ranch is a shrine and a celebration of the past presented by a family that encourages their guests to explore, play—and please, do touch the displays.

“What gets me is that people will go antique shopping just to stick it in the garage until they die—and then it goes back into the antique shop,” Kevin says. “Here, people experience it. It brings back good memories and people will often say, ‘My grandmother had one of these.’ That’s what we’re hoping for, to have them think about the past.”

Landmark: Burlingame Cupola

Incongruously perched on a pedestal behind Burlingame’s Apple Store and next to Pet Food Express is a small, white, dome-shaped cupola. What is this ornamental structure and why does it reside in the middle of a parking lot? In 1914, prominent architect Charles Peter Weeks (San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins hotel, Redwood City’s Fox Theatre) designed a city hall building worthy of the community’s pride and ambitions. The two-story red brick structure was located on Park Road, crowned with the white cupola. Today, only the cupola stands in its original location—due to the activism of local residents to save it. By the late 1960s, Burlingame had plans to build the new, modern structure that serves as city hall today. A 1970 community effort to try to preserve the old city hall, or at least repurpose it, was strongly supported by famed Burlingame architect and city planning commissioner Col. E. L. Norberg (Burlingame Public Library, San Mateo High School). Although unsuccessful in saving the building, the community salvaged the cupola (restored by the Burlingame Historical Society in 2012), as well as a large painting, Living in Burlingame is a Special Privilege, that now resides in the Burlingame main library’s reference room. Concern for loss of Burlingame’s and Hillsborough’s tangible history led to the formation of the Burlingame Historical Society in 1975. The non-profit, all-volunteer organization has an archive of over 200,000 items, as well as a museum inside the historic Burlingame Avenue Railroad Station. Some of the Society’s first donations were items saved from City Hall—its key, light fixtures, doors and plaster reliefs help to connect Burlingame’s present with its past. For more information, visit burlingamehistory.org

Photography Courtesy of the Burlingame Historical Society

A Constructive Eye

If retirement allows you to become who you were always meant to be, then Barry Fleisher was bound for photography—specifically, he was destined for construction sites where institutions are built from the dirt up and fleeting moments of brilliant minutiae find the circle of his lens.

His subjects appear the same as they would if observed in broad daylight, from the sidewalk, viewed between the checkered breaks in a chain-link fence. However, through Barry’s retina, these workers are celebrated. Their laborious efforts are championed in the black and white. In lieu of color, Barry’s photography is flush with light, shadow and composition.

At a construction site at the new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford a few years ago, a hard-hatted duo peer over blueprints inside the bowels of a dark basement using just a sliver of silvery light showering from above, elevated in the dust to create an angelic spotlight. Another monochrome from Barry shows a welder forming a constellation of sparks that tumble out of frame into a seemingly infinite freefall.

These are the subtle details only a father approaching 80 could observe. How each moment can be momentous. It’s an appreciation borne through time that recognizes the cursory conditions of life sneaking past us. For some, the cranes that hover over the Peninsula are emblems of change, but for Barry, they become new angles to fit within his compositions. Since development on the Peninsula will outlast us all, Barry’s photography offers a refreshing perspective on an overlooked aspect of our daily lives.

Why does it appeal to me so much?” Barry rhetorically asks himself about his series on construction workers. He pauses between sips of tea inside his pristine apartment that was recently developed along the southern rim of San Mateo’s Central Park.

On a summer-like February afternoon, Barry’s home is sunny and inviting, with a spacious floor plan, walls adorned in his captivating photography and a fourth floor balcony overlooking (and overhearing) the joyous Central Park playground below.

Sometimes when Barry looks down following a laugh, his celebrity lookalike is Robert Redford (an observation that makes Barry blush). Dressed in his usual garb of a safari shirt with plenty of pockets tucked into a pair of jeans, Barry has an affable demeanor that recalls a winsome family pediatrician—a practical comparison considering that Barry worked in a children’s hospital for most of his career.

But before his career in medicine, Barry began on the ground floor of a family enterprise, one that has continued to fascinate him well past his retirement.

“My family was in construction and my summer jobs were sweeping up after people on the job site. That had been in the background for my whole life,” he says. “I started college as an engineering student—I was going to build things. I have an appreciation for the work. It’s in my blood.”

Barry comes from a deep construction lineage. His father, brother and uncle were in the business. Louis Gordon Meltzer, his mother’s brother, established LG Meltzer in Washington, D.C., during the post-war boom where every two-car garage first needed to be built. Barry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1940 and his father eventually relocated the family to the nation’s capital to join the family business. This was in the mid-1950s as tract houses permeated past the Beltway to give the new middle class a place to call home. Barry’s family was one of them.

Although an invitation was ultimately extended to join the family business, the scholarly and curious Barry chose to build his life elsewhere. He enrolled at Cornell University, first in pursuit of automotive engineering (he appreciates the tactile and technical), but would graduate with a degree in philosophy in 1962, around the same time he purchased his first Nikkormat camera, which he used to focus on landscape photography.

Furthering his education, Barry recalibrated for medicine, a field that fused two of his passions. “It seemed like a good combination of the technical part of things and the humanitarian part of things,” he says. “At least that’s how I constructed it in my mind.” He came out West in 1964 and received his medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine in 1971.

However, it would still be another decade before Barry discovered his medical calling. “It took a long time to settle into what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up,’” he says, accompanied by a heartfelt pair of air quotes. “I didn’t start my newborn intensive care fellowship until I was 40.”

One of his detours was spent as a commissioned officer with the Indian Health Service, a branch of the U.S. Public Health Service. Civic service is important to Barry, who spent his years at Cornell untangling ethics. “I think everybody should put in a year or two early on in their lives to help people in this country who would not otherwise get help,” he says. “It’s got to do with ethics and being a citizen. The problems we have, we can work on.”

He would go on to join the faculty at Stanford in 1988 where he became the medical director of the Intermediate Intensive Care Nursery. Barry finished his 15-year career as a neonatologist specializing in newborn intensive care at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. He established or expanded several programs including a community outreach program, the High-Risk Infant Follow-Up Program and the Intermediate Intensive Care Nursery, which he grew from seven beds into 21 beds after his first year through strategic economics.

“My career is building things,” he says with a smile.

He fathered two children, Lisa and Ben, who were raised on the Peninsula and both followed their parents into medicine; Lisa works with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C., where her area of expertise is international health policy and Ben is an EMT, paramedic and RN in Denver. He too has a penchant for photography.

Not long after his retirement in 2003, Barry began taking digital photography courses primarily at College of San Mateo, where he started exploring his interests in street and building photography.

However, six years ago, Barry stumbled onto the unique field that ultimately seized his focus. Parking his car near the SF MOMA one morning before a spell of street photography, he paused to admire the expansion project underway at the museum. He watched as gigantic “building-eating machines” tore into the walls but struggled to find a good vantage point to capture the carnage.

Returning to his then-home in Menlo Park, he found himself retracing his old commute back to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which itself was undergoing a massive expansion project.

He started small, photographing the perimeters, but his desire to document the entire development process forced his hand to email the contractor and hospital to request permission to properly shoot the scenes. An agreement was hatched: He must always wear safety equipment and have a constant spotter from DPR Construction, the Redwood City-based construction management firm behind the project.

Barry shot the insides and outs of the hospital’s expansion for years until the ribbon-cutting ceremony in November 2017.

“I realized that how I wanted to think about photographs was in the progress of the structure. Here’s what it looked like as a piece of dirt and here it is now. It’s a documentary,” he says. “The second thing that caught my eye was the detail of construction. And the third big piece is the workers. Watching them and realizing, even with machines and robots, how much physical, hard labor goes into this.”

Barry’s photos were turned into a photo essay book that was created in part with his frequent DPR spotter-turned-friend Albert Lee. The two still get together for dinner long after the hospital’s opening and their friendship reflects the respect Barry has for the construction workers and DPR; he continues to work with them, currently documenting a job site at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus.

“I see construction workers as salt-of-the-earth people. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever heard stern words exchanged. What I see are guys (and I say ‘guys’ because it’s mostly guys) having a good time. They’re laughing with each other. They’re working their asses off and it’s difficult and dangerous work. They like that somebody is interested. They appreciate it,” Barry says.

He pauses again, sips from his tea while scanning his memory of the hard hats who’ve become his models and friends.

“One guy named Isiah served as my spotter one morning and he told me how he started out as a cement worker, which is back-breaking work, and worked his way up to safety officer,” Barry says. “I took a photograph of Isiah, who is one of the most dignified persons I’ve ever seen. And that’s not uncommon. There’s a dignity around these guys and the way they work together.”

Haute Hardware

Every year, when cooler winter days brighten into the warm, sunnier days of spring, homeowners crack open their windows and doors and begin looking for fresh inspiration. From tending to bulbs to changing up front door paint, design lovers welcome the opportunity to make things feel crisp and new.    

It’s no surprise that cities across the country plan their annual home showcases for spring. Showcase homes are meticulously redesigned, room by room, by the area’s most talented, innovative designers who compete for the opportunity to design a space in the home, transforming previously bare rooms into stunning works of art.

One local designer pushing the boundaries of design is Krista Hoffman of Menlo Park-based Hoffman Hardware. For a third year, Krista’s luxe, handcrafted hardware will be featured from April 25-May 25 in the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, one of the most prestigious showcase homes in the country.

Photography Courtesy of Nicole Scarborough

“In January, I walked through this year’s venue, a beautiful Mediterranean-style home located in the West Clay Park neighborhood near Seacliff and the Presidio. It has it all—great bones, great views, great layout—a beautiful canvas for Bay Area’s designers to work their magic,” says Krista.

While the rigorous timeline leaves little time for reflection, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase will always hold special significance for Krista because it serendipitously launched her design career in a new direction.

Back in 2017, despite it being her first time applying to the Showcase, Krista was selected to design a small space that she transformed into one of the home’s biggest hits. “I imagined this space where a homeowner would display all of the unique, one-of-a-kind objects they’ve curated while traveling,” Krista recounts. “The room itself would be a conversation piece where friends could enjoy a nightcap while sharing stories. I called it the Curio Closet.”

The process required Krista to capture the room’s essence and specific details. “Part of the creative process is displaying all of the elements of your design. I was getting to the end of the whole project and pulling all of the materials together,” she says, “but the hardware was just a big missing link. I couldn’t find anything substantial or chic enough for the cabinet pulls—and the cabinets were the most prominent element of my design. Without the right hardware, they were just flat cabinets.”

Photography Courtesy of Aubrie Pick

Inspiration struck when Krista placed handcrafted, perforated metal light fixtures by Robert Long Lighting in the space. “It occurred to me that the perforated brass could be made into pulls by rolling the metal into a cuff shape,” she says. “I started working with a metal artisan to create shapes that we could touch and feel, to see how they worked as cabinetry hardware. I had to be sure that in addition to being beautiful, they were useful, practical, and ‘felt right.’ The prototypes were made on a whim—we focused on creativity and tested the limits of the metal, but those first pieces turned out to be among the best we created.”

Krista installed four of her custom creations on the cabinets in the Decorator Showcase. “I stood back and thought, ‘That looks really cool. I’m really happy with that!’ And then I didn’t really think much more about it. I was more excited about the whole room and how it came together. I felt like the hardware was the jewelry of the cabinetry.”

Then came Opening Night.

“The first night is a big gala, with everyone celebrating their hard work and getting their first looks at the final spaces,” Krista recalls. “Within 24 hours, dozens of designers were asking, ‘Where did you find those pulls?’ Who makes those? Where can I get them?’ After a while, I began thinking, ‘This is something special.’ I started answering, ‘You can buy them from me.’”

Photography Courtesy of Brad Knipstein

For Krista, it was a timely idea that made sense: “There is so much new and exciting with lighting right now. Artists are creating new shapes, pushing boundaries of what can be done and using LEDs, but there was really nothing new coming out in hardware.”

In response to the many inquiries, Krista quickly launched her first product in September 2017. In a fortuitous twist of fate, she already had a metals expert in the family. Krista’s father-in-law owned a manufacturing company in Michigan that produced brass parts for home, garden and construction. “I’ve always been fascinated by his business and was already familiar with the machinery, materials and tools he used,” she says.

The first thing Krista did to expand the collection was recreate the cuff shape in different sizes and finishes: blackened brass, nickel, satin nickel, copper and hand-rubbed bronze. She then began experimenting with new shapes and materials, eventually offering squares and rectangular pieces in perforated and hammered metals.

“I’ve been lucky to know the metal artisans well enough to spend time learning exactly how the hardware is made,” she says. “I’m always thinking about the engineering behind the designs—how is this going to be made and what pieces are we going to need?”

Krista’s career in interior design isn’t her first. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a math education degree, she was a computer programmer with Accenture for five years and a project manager for a smaller consulting firm for a few more after that. Then she fully switched gears—and decided to attend design school. “I never went back into math or tech,” she says, “but it is the foundation of my business.”

Krista credits that foundation for the unique perspective she brings to each project. “I approach design based on numbers, proportions and scale first, like a puzzle,” she explains. “I always look at things geometrically and spatially, and I think that’s one of my strengths: walking through a space and visualizing how things are going to work and feel. Once I get that spatial sense, I can apply the fine art skills to the fabrics and textures and finishes that make it timeless and beautiful.”

Photography Courtesy of Aubrie Pick

Hoffman Hardware will launch new designs this spring, including a tab pull shaped from a new decorative metal, leathered brass. “The brass takes on the texture of a beautiful pebbled leather, which we shaped into minimal tab pulls,” says Krista. In addition to the new designs, she is working on introducing leather to her hardware and creating custom pulls for high-end appliances. As with all of her designs, Krista finds inspiration in vintage jewelry and antique metal work.

“I like to study things that have stood the test of time, whether in a museum, a gallery or antique market, so I spend a lot of time in those places,” she notes. “I recently visited The Met and saw a set of 8th-century gold drinking bowls with really beautifully shaped handles that I can’t stop thinking about. There was also a pair of gold earrings with round studs that got me thinking about brass rivets.”

Other influences include mid-century female designers like Ray Eames, Charlotte Perriand and Greta Magnusson. “They were incredible pioneers in design,” Krista says. “A more contemporary favorite is Ruth Asawa, and her fluid organic metal sculptures. They are absolutely stunning.”

Hoffman Hardware can be ordered through hoffmanhardware.com. Pricing varies from $150 to $210 per piece. Her target customer? Someone who wants something they haven’t seen before.

“Everyone is always looking for something special and new,” Krista says. “Why not make it the hardware?”

Renew and Refresh

Like a country doctor of yesteryear, Lisa Sten makes house calls to better understand what’s causing the pain. “You need to find out how bad it is for them,” she says. To aid in the diagnosis, she asks a series of questions: How long has it been a problem? What have you done to fix it? How did that work for you? Are you committed to change?

In the same way a doctor evaluates a patient, Lisa examines Peninsula houses with an eye out for sturdy, quality parts. “It’s a lot of waste to tear a house down and throw it away,” she responds, when asked to address the “scrape vs remodel” dilemma. “For me, if the house has good bones, you’re actually being a green builder by saving what you’ve got.”

As CEO of Harrell Remodeling, a design+build firm based in Palo Alto, Lisa emphasizes that new construction isn’t the only option: “We hear it all the time, ‘Help! What do I do with my home that isn’t bad enough to tear down?’” That’s where the site evaluation and client interview come in—frequently resulting in a positive prognosis. “There’s good housing stock here,” Lisa notes. “The houses were built pretty substantially in the ’50s and ’60s with solid wood and the rooms tend to be bigger.” That bodes well if the plan is to “revive the patient.”

Photography: Annie Barnett

At the risk of exhausting the metaphor, “Space planning is the backbone of everything,” Lisa says. “Maybe you don’t need the big, formal dining room. Maybe you don’t need the four or five bedrooms. It’s really looking at a floor plan and determining how the client wants to live—and reworking the existing spaces. We bring a fresh perspective and knowledge of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.”

The namesake of Harrell Remodeling is Iris Harrell, a female trailblazer in the remodeling business. With a background in teaching, Iris found herself with time on her hands, while living with her future wife, Ann Benson, in Texas. “Ann said, ‘Here’s an electric screwdriver. Why don’t you try to hang some things up on the walls?’” is how Lisa recounts the firm’s origin story. “She was instantly hooked on creating things and working with tools.”

Iris found a mentor to teach her about carpentry and building and started doing small home improvement projects. After moving to the Bay Area in 1985, she launched Harrell Remodeling in Menlo Park—in a garage, of course. She later went back to school for her kitchen and bath specialty degree and the firm evolved into its design+build approach. “Her clients would ask, ‘Why can’t you just do it all for me?’ so she hired her first designer and estimator and found a way to do it all,” says Lisa.

Thirty-five years later, Harrell remains committed to the firm’s streamlined approach. “The benefit of design+build is that you have your design staff and your construction staff within the same company,” Lisa points out. “Buildability is considered from the get-go.”

Photography Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

ISSUE: I want my kids to love their space. How do I involve them in the design?
SOLUTION: Have your designer speak with your kids and interview them as they do the adults in the house. Do they have a favorite book or image in mind that brings them joy? Have them peruse the materials you are considering using (pare it down so as to not overwhelm them), and see what they’re drawn to.

Back in 2001, Iris and Ann started an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) for Harrell Remodeling, and over the years, the employee-owners purchased shares of the company. “Iris and Ann decided early on that they wanted to reward and acknowledge the people who helped them build their business,” Lisa says. By the time Iris retired fully in 2014, the company was deemed 100% employee-owned. “It definitely fosters team spirit and collaboration. We just dig in and help each other,” she adds.

Originally from Minneapolis, Lisa moved to the Peninsula in 2000 and joined Harrell that same year. Having previously co-owned an interior design firm with her mother, Lisa says construction and remodeling felt like a natural calling. “What I like the most is space planning and that’s what remodeling is all about: You’re figuring out the puzzle. You’re taking existing space—and whether you’re doing an addition or leaving this window or not moving the toilet, you have to figure out the best way to use that space. For me, remodeling is just the best puzzle.”

Photography Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

ISSUE: I love color—but where should I put it?
SOLUTION: If you’re color courageous, there are many areas where you can apply color! If you aren’t totally committed to color on something that “stays with the house,” like an appliance, artistic backsplash or cabinets, start slowly with wall paint colors, upholstery and accessories. Check your closet for the clothes you feel most comfortable in—those are “your” colors!

Having worked her way up from designer to CEO during her 20 years with the firm, Lisa is encouraged about current housing trends and Harrell’s prospects for the future. “Homeowners are staying in their homes longer,” she says, “so that’s great for remodelers. We do a lot of whole-house remodels but also a fair number of smaller projects—a bathroom or one side of the house or the kitchen-living-family room or a bedroom wing. We are developing our small projects division even more because we want to serve a wide variety of clientele.”    Harrell’s motto is, “We never forget it’s your home,” which Lisa says plays to two meanings. “A lot of times people stay in the home when we’re remodeling, so we want to make it a nice place for them to live during construction but we are also designing for them—it’s their home. If you look at our body of work, it doesn’t all look the same and that’s very intentional because we are designing for individuals.”

When it comes to nailing down priorities, Lisa cautions that resale shouldn’t be top of mind because you never know what the next owner is going to do. “If you’re planning on staying in the house for a while, you should design it for yourself. There’s ROI, return on your investment, and there’s ROE, return on your enjoyment. Make it nice for you,” she advises. “The classic is that people get ready to sell their house, and they say, ‘I never knew it could look this nice now that we did this and we did that.’ The thought that always pops into Lisa’s head? “Don’t you wish you had done that 10 years ago so you could have enjoyed it?”

Photography Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

BATHROOM: A lot of our clients travel a fair amount and they will send photos from their hotels: ‘I want a bathroom like this!’ They want it to be nice and they want it to be functional. Medicine cabinets are really great these days with illuminated mirrors and integrated lighting. Instead of a typical shower curtain on a rod, we’ll install a ceiling track that is embedded in the ceiling drywall, and the curtain hangs from the ceiling—a super clean look! We are seeing a lot of demand for performance showering; there are a lot of new shower systems with digital control boxes. Whether it’s for kids, visiting parents or aging-in-place, Universal Design ideas include wall-hung toilets, stylish grab bars and curbless or low-curb showers.

Donato Doubles Down

I’ve always been very hungry,” Chef Donato Scotti says, laughing. “And not because my mother didn’t feed me!”

The chef-owner of Donato Restaurant Group—which includes Redwood City’s Donato Enoteca and CRU Wine Bar, Berkeley’s Donato & Co. and San Francisco’s CENTO Osteria—has had a love affair with food for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in a small town outside Bergamo, Italy, Donato decided in middle school that he wanted a career in the hospitality industry.

He started modestly, taking a summer job with a bakery shortly before his 13th birthday, delivering bread by bicycle. “I wanted to work in a bakery because I loved bread,” he says. But he also loved the work, arriving at 4AM—two hours before his shift started. A perk of the job was the mid-morning snack that included a piece of chocolate and a half-dozen rosetta bread rolls.

At home, family meals weren’t fancy, he recalls, “But we always ate well. We would eat rabbit on Sundays; we raised them. We would butcher a pig once a year to have our own salami, and my grandpa used to have chickens.” Fresh produce came from the family’s orchard.

After completing culinary school and several years of hands-on education at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bergamo, Donato left Italy to work in New York City. He arrived in 1989 and embarked on building a dynamic career that included six years at the iconic Los Angeles restaurant Valentino, eventually becoming head chef, followed by earning his chops opening three restaurants in Fresno. He moved on to Il Fornaio in 2000 and landed at the Palo Alto location in 2002 as head chef. Donato and his wife settled in Mountain View to raise their family.

While working at Il Fornaio, Donato was offered the opportunity to open La Strada Ristorante Italiano on Palo Alto’s University Avenue. It was a pivotal career move. Working with the owners, he developed the concept and menu and ran the kitchen, emphasizing the Northern Italian food he had grown up with. “I put a lot of effort and time into La Strada. It was a learning experience, and it allowed me to become who I am now,” he says.

After four years with La Strada, he was ready to open his own restaurant. He had a very specific plan: “Serve the kind of food you would find in a restaurant in Italy, while keeping the place as Italian as possible—owned and run by an Italian chef. A place where you could go out with friends to have a quiet dinner without spending a lot of money.”

Through a business associate, he found the perfect space in Redwood City, just as the city was beginning a major revitalization. Donato purchased the space in early 2009 and got to work. Donato Enoteca opened that June.

Now a three-time Michelin Bib Gourmand winner, Donato Enoteca is family-friendly, comfortable and Italian to the core. The main dining room evokes a typical restaurant in the Tuscan countryside, with exposed-beam ceilings, white walls, concrete floors, open kitchen and simple wooden tables and chairs. A small private space opposite the restaurant’s entrance accommodates business meetings and dinners. The rear dining room, also available for private events, is plush with a carpeted floor, upholstered high-back chairs and floor-to-ceiling curtains. Connecting the two dining spaces is the well-lit bar area with access to the restaurant’s patio.

The food menu highlights a cross-section of Italian dishes using seasonal local ingredients, housemade items and specialty ingredients imported from Italy. The decision to use local organic produce was made early on; it was a must-do in Donato’s opinion.

Fresh pasta has also been an essential component of Donato Enoteca’s dishes. Agnolotti del Plin (sausage, veal and rabbit ravioli with a tomato sauce) and Bigoli e Coda (thick spaghetti with oxtail) are two mainstays of the menu.

Although many components are made in-house, the restaurant lacks the space to produce dried pasta and smoked and cured meats, something Donato hoped to change. Opening Donato & Co. in 2017 with friend and chef Gianluca Guglielmi solved the problem. The Berkeley restaurant’s large basement was turned into a commissary space for creating dried pasta and Italian charcuterie, such as bresaola, coppa, and pancetta, which are now distributed to Donato’s other properties.

In 2013, the developers of the Crossing 900 building in Redwood City came calling, offering Donato a ground-floor retail space. He decided on something different from previous ventures—a European-style wine bar with retail. While Donato Enoteca hosts monthly wine dinners, a wine bar would offer customers a more casual wine and food experience.

“I wanted to provide a very European experience but not break the bank,” he says.

CRU would be a modern enoteca: part wine bar, part tapas bar and part retail business. With Box, Inc. right next door, Donato anticipated drawing a younger clientele, along with his Donato Enoteca regulars. Customers could grab a beer after work, purchase a bottle of wine before jumping on the train to head home or enjoy a snack before taking in a movie at nearby Century 20.

Donato worked with Ken Hayes of Hayes Group Architects to create a plan for the space, taking inspiration from the Caltrain tracks that run next to the building. Donato also collaborated with artist and designer Anné Klint on interior details that incorporated train station and railroad track elements throughout, resulting in a warm, comfortable feel without adding kitsch. CRU opened in November 2016.

The interior’s centerpiece is a Klint-designed wood and metal sculpture that doubles as a lighting fixture above the bar. The bar, tables and chairs are made of reclaimed wood and iron, evoking railroad ties and tracks. Built-in shelves lining CRU’s walls were created with wood reclaimed from a barn in San Jose. Small tiles behind the bar are reminiscent of rail spikes. On the bar sits a vintage Berkel meat slicer and a rebuilt Faema E61 coffee machine. A big-screen television hangs on the wall behind the bar, perfect for viewing sporting events. A large front patio provides seating for al fresco sipping and snacking.

The wine list offers approximately 25 selections of mainly Californian, Italian and French wines, available by the glass and bottle. Beer drinkers can choose from an assorted dozen of craft beers, half on tap. And if you’re a coffee nerd, CRU has you covered with coffee drinks made with the exquisite Giamaica Caffè. Customers can also purchase bags of Giamaica Caffè beans directly from CRU.

Service is fast-casual, and the menu is an order form- style page that you fill out and hand off to your server. In addition to the housemade charcuterie options, shareable plates include Roman-style pizza and what Donato calls a “mini paella.”

The retail side of CRU offers a selection of more than 100 wines to suit almost any palate. The focus is on lesser-known wineries in California and around the world.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Donato wants to take CRU to a different level. “What we do is unique; we’re not your common wine bar,” he explains. “We’re better equipped to provide a different experience food-wise, and we do this well.”

All About EVOO

Olive oil should never be oily—if it is, that’s a sign it’s gone bad. Olive oil is really just olive juice. It shouldn’t coat your mouth,” Eddie Sohirad, owner of Del’Oliva, says, handing me a small plastic tasting cup of the Cuvee variety. I take a cautious sip of the oil, trying to notice its nuances on my palate. “Right about now, you’re going to get a spicy feeling in the back of your mouth, don’t panic,” he says.

Eddie was right. The smooth, crisp-tasting olive oil tickles the back of my throat on its way down. “I’m going to need some water,” I say, between coughs.

“We rate olive oil by how many times it makes us cough. We say that’s a one cougher, that’s a two cougher, that’s a three cougher,” Eddie says, only half-jokingly. My question then was, why use an olive oil that’s going to make you cough?

Eddie tells me about some of the beneficial naturally occurring chemicals found in extra virgin olive oil—EVOO, for short. Polyphenols, for example, are responsible for triggering a few coughs but are the source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties in olive oil. Each variety of EVOO contains different levels of polyphenols, and the tickling in the back of your throat is only passing, Eddie assures me.

Del’Oliva, a fine oil and vinegar shop in Burlingame, has a storybook red-brick storefront with a green shutter window and Spanish tile roof ornamentation. The spacious-feeling interior, set off by its high ceiling, two aisles full of specialty food items and handpicked wines, welcomes visitors with its Mediterranean vibe. The flow of the store funnels into a semi-private back room used for wine tastings and private parties. The centerpiece of the space is the wall of stainless steel tanks full of extra virgin olive oil, olive oil infusions and balsamic vinegars. This is Eddie’s unofficial classroom, where he walks customers through the process of discerning which variety of olive oil is right for them.

“Naturally, people have a lot of questions when it comes to what they should look for when choosing virgin olive oil, olive oil infusions and balsamic vinegars. This is Eddie’s unofficial classroom, where he walks customers through the process of discerning which variety of olive oil is right for them.

“Naturally, people have a lot of questions when it comes to what they should look for when choosing olive oil. What we try to do is bring it to a level that we can all understand—what’s a good olive oil and how we should use it,” says Eddie.

Eddie and his wife, Homa, opened Del’Oliva in 2011 with the mission to demystify shopping for olive oil by educating the consumer. “I really wanted to make sure people get their money’s worth and get a really good product that’s healthy for them,” says Eddie. Previously, Eddie had owned other stores selling products he wasn’t passionate about. When he connected with an olive oil distributor, they evolved the concept of bringing high-quality olive oil to the public while providing education about the benefits of fresh olive oil.

Eddie’s educational efforts have inspired a base of loyal returning customers, who talk about Del’Oliva and give hostess gifts from the shop to friends. This word of mouth brings in new customers who stop in to learn more. Fresh olive oil and on-the-spot taste testing are a winning combination.

“In my opinion, extra virgin olive oil is when the olive is in the perfect condition, ripe for the picking; you would pick it and you would run to the press. The sooner you press, the more attributes you will preserve. You don’t add anything, and you don’t take away anything. What comes out is olive juice, which we call olive oil,” says Eddie.

Terms you might hear in conjunction with extra virgin olive oil like “cold-pressed” or “first-pressed” are redundant because extra virgin olive oil is already those things. If you don’t see the words “extra virgin olive oil” on your bottle, that could mean the olives were picked before they were ripe or that the oil went through additional processing, thereby losing some of its healing properties.

The benefits of EVOO start to dissipate the moment the oil is pressed. Eddie advises his customers to use their oil up within nine months. Most grocery store-bought olive oil brands don’t give you the press date, but Del’Oliva does. “In this store, every six months we switch between the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere. My mission is to get the freshest olive oil I can get my hands on,” Eddie says. Right now, Del’Oliva is carrying olive oil from the Northern Hemisphere: California, Spain, Portugal and Greece, with some arriving soon from Italy and Tunisia.

Once you’ve tasted the difference between a mild and fruity Cuvee and an intense and grassy Hojiblanca at the other end of the extra virgin olive oil spectrum, you can start to figure out your preference. Eddie comes alive with excitement as he mixes sweet balsamic vinegar with savory infused olive oil like Gravenstein Apple white balsamic vinegar and olive oil infused with basil for tasting. He suggests drizzling the mixture over a salad. He also shares culinary possibilities like leaving a splash of Dark Espresso balsamic out on a plate for a few days to allow the vinegar to evaporate, leaving behind thick syrup that could become the perfect ice cream topping or pork chop glaze.

“Everyone should have a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a good traditional balsamic vinegar in their home,” Eddie advises. “This is what we all need; everything else is just for fun, for different occasions.” At any given time, Del’Oliva offers between five and eight extra virgin olive oils from all over the world and about 20 infused oil flavors. Customers can also find about 30 to 40 infused balsamic vinegars ranging from Sicilian Lemon to Tangerine Pomegranate.

The endless flavor combinations and profiles available at Del’Oliva  make it difficult to choose which ones you’ll bring home. “When you have fresh olive oil, and you start using it, it will make such an amazing difference in your cooking and your health,” Eddie says. “But don’t buy it if you’re going to store it. Your olive oil is better today than tomorrow. You want to buy it as fresh as possible, use it and then buy it fresh again.”

The Beat On Your Eats

Ramen Nagi

Palo Alto

If you’re a ramen lover looking for a more intense noodle experience, meet your new favorite place. Ramen Nagi offers bold flavors and customizable combinations in a setting that’s far from subtle. From the spicy “Red King” with garlic, chili oil, cayenne pepper and miso minced pork to the “Green King” that has basil, olive oil and pork broth, Ramen Nagi’s dishes are inventive and burst with flavor. While Ramen Nagi is popular in Japan, Palo Alto is the site of the restaurant’s first U.S. location, which has Bay Area ramen fanatics cheering Ramen Nagi as some of the most authentic outside of The Land of the Rising Sun. 541 Bryant Street, open daily for lunch from 11AM to 3PM; for dinner from 5:30PM to 9:30PM.

Orenchi Ramen

Redwood City

Folks who know their Japanese food often say Orenchi is the place to go for a great bowl of classic ramen. But aside from their excellent tonkatsu (pork), soy sauce and salt-based noodle soups, Orenchi also has an extensive list of creative and delicious appetizers and small plates. Standouts include the spicy bamboo shoots, wasabi-marinated octopus, garlic butter scallops and tonkatsu sticks, which may appear like french fries but are actually breaded and fried pork chop strips served with a spicy sauce. This bustling, no-frills restaurant is one of three Orenchi locations in the Bay Area, allowing foodies to explore how the kitchens distinguish themselves. 2432 Broadway, open for lunch daily from 11:30AM to 1:30PM; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 6PM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 5:30PM; Sunday from 5PM to 8:30PM.

Taishoken

San Mateo

As of late, this is arguably the most popular noodle spot in the Bay Area. Taishoken serves a popular variation of a noodle dish invented 60 years ago in Japan called “tsukemen,” which involves dipping house-made and cold buckwheat noodles into a hot soup rich in umami flavors. It’s harder to find an authentic version of this style of noodles on the Peninsula, which explains the long lines that form daily outside the restaurant well before it even opens. Luckily for us, this highly-regarded Japanese import decided to open its first American outpost right here in San Mateo. Various ramen and soupless soba options further enrich the menu. 47 East Fourth Avenue, open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30AM to 2PM and Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 3PM; for dinner every day from 5PM to 9:30PM.

Getting a Foothold

It’s a Monday morning but the level of socializing and buoyant camaraderie suggests a Friday happy hour.

Inside the cavernous Planet Granite in Belmont, a building that had previously been home to a movie theater, folks from throughout the north and mid-Peninsula assemble to lift one another up. Climbers of all ages join this climbing gym franchise, which recently opened a facility in Santa Clara near its popular Sunnyvale location, because wall climbing has essentially become the new golf.

“I’ve used the same analogy before because my dad is a golfer,” says Max Stuart, assistant director of instruction for Planet Granite.

“I think U.S. culture has been waiting for something like this. Not to say that climbing is a new sport by any means, but it really has it all: It’s a sexy sport in the way that surfing is cool and to climbing’s advantage, the barrier of entry is low. It’s one of the most inclusive sports out there. In terms of competition, look at football and how you’re fighting against the other team while fans get aggressive and fanatic. Our sport puts that to the side. You’re cheering on your comrade.”

Strapped together in ropes and harnesses, climbers rely on each other to scale the manufactured rock walls encrusted with colorful handholds and footholds. Indoor climbing is split between wall climbs and bouldering, performed on smaller formations without the use of ropes or harnesses.

On a climbing wall, courses follow a monochromatic setting: one color per climb with a variance of difficulties distinguished by numbers scrawled on duct tape near the base of the wall (it uses the Yosemite Decimal Scale where a 5.0 is akin to walking on a sidewalk and it increases from there). Gyms use setters who build climbs by positioning the holds in patterns that emphasize specific movements and techniques. Every two months the holds are shifted at Planet Granite to allow members a chance to grow.

Wall climbs begin with a traditional call and response for safety confirmation: “On belay?” asks the climber, to which the belayer confirms: “Belay on—climb on!” From there, tradition breaks; it’s anyone’s climb because while the sport is rooted in custom, the action is entirely personalized.

“As a coach, I’m not going to say that this is the only way to climb a wall,” Max explains. “I’ll make recommendations for breathing or foot placement, but if you want to go right hand, left hand, right hand, then that’s your prerogative. You can do the climb in any sequence you like.”

It’s this customization aspect, immersed within a lively social atmosphere, that’s helped usher in a climbing boom—particularly in the Bay Area.

Touchstone Climbing is currently constructing a 60,000-square-foot climbing gym in West Oakland, set to become the largest climbing gym in the country. In 2017, Planet Granite merged with Earth Treks Climbing Centers to expand their presence in the key regions of Denver, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Portland and the Bay Area. In announcing the merger, the climbing gyms noted how there were about 20 commercial climbing gyms in the country when they launched in the early 1990s. Today, that number has soared to over 420.

Climbing becomes an official sport for the first time in the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, further validating the sport and expanding its appeal to a world audience. Back on the Peninsula, Max sees climbing as an endless resource for releasing stress and engaging with your limits.

“If you’re in Silicon Valley, we have a population that is overworked and at the end of the day they need to move. They’ve been sitting all day and climbing is that perfect medium. There is an intensity level for any body,” he observes.

“I always say, ‘Never stop moving.’ This sport is perfect for moving. And in the same way as golf, you’re competitive for yourself but ultimately the wall always wins. It’s pointless to get too serious about it. Everybody has their glass ceiling and you’re never going to beat climbing.”

Besides the lure of breaking a solid sweat, climbing gyms have become social hubs where people build a community. Mike Huhn of San Mateo was climbing outdoor walls well before the advent of climbing gyms and has been a member of Planet Granite Belmont for a decade. He even met his girlfriend at the gym.

“When I moved, all my friends were climbers,” Mike says, after a Monday morning spent mounting walls. “Now, it’s like everybody and their brother climbs. It seems to have gotten crowded but maybe I’m just being old and cranky.”

Courtesy of Max Stuart

Max’s path up the climbing wall began 11 years ago when a friend took him to a train bridge over water in Santa Barbara for a makeshift outdoor climb. He soon became an outdoor guide for UC Santa Barbara’s Adventure Programs where he led canyoneering expeditions in Montecito. Following graduation, he started working for Planet Granite in 2012, ascending through the ranks, first at the front desk, then coaching and now a role as an assistant director.

He loves mentoring, especially for the youth, and some of his early students are becoming instructors themselves. He’s carved out a community at the gym, exchanging head nods with fellow employees and members alike, and met his now-wife Debbie on a wall in Sunnyvale four years ago. They live in Sunnyvale but by the time this magazine reaches his mother’s doorstep in Washington State, Max and Debbie will be long gone. Perhaps suspended in rope alongside the jagged surface of a North American rock as he and his partner take a year off to travel by van to climb the walls of their dreams.

Traversing the country and Canada in a Ford Transit 250 they’ve nicknamed Loventure (a cross between love and adventure), Max and Debbie will first head to the Eastern Sierra to go bouldering near Yosemite before winding around Utah, Washington, British Columbia, Colorado and even Kentucky. “I’ve never climbed there so it’s on the list,” he gleams.

Courtesy of Max Stuart

They’re packing light, hauling the essentials for extended climbing: two large crash pads for bouldering, ropes, harnesses, chalk and climbing shoes. “It’s like pulling out your nine iron,” Max jokes. “If I’m climbing on granite, I’m going to have on my TC Pros because they’re really good for small footholds. But if I’m in the gym, I’ll need something soft and more conducive for climbing on plastic.”

In some ways, the journey echoes the zigzag nature of climbing, how one hand placement leads to the next and as long as you keep moving, your path will present itself.

“Somebody dropped off a stack of old climbing books a few years ago at the Sunnyvale Planet Granite and I found this biography on [climbing pioneer] Royal Robbins,” Max says. “He happened to sign the inside page and it said, ‘Follow your dreams and everything will fall into place around that centralized principle.’ I got goosebumps. What more could you ask for? I guess I’m on the right path.”

Unwinding Time

Running late. What do I need to bring? Workout clothes. Hiking shoes. It’ll cool down at night. Leggings. Throw in a fleece jacket. Pool. Spa. Steam room! Bring a swimsuit. Oh yeah, chargers. Grab the (unread) book on my nightstand. Get out the door. Go! Go! Go!

Breathless, my mind racing, I throw a duffel bag into the trunk and jump in the car. Pulling up Google Maps on my phone, I plug in Canyon Ranch Woodside. And blink at the drive time. Suddenly, I’m not so late. Less than 30 minutes door to door. The visual depiction of my route also prompts a double take—starting in the familiar grey grid of the Peninsula and evolving into vast, enticing shades of green.

As I cross over 280, the trees start to multiply with each curvy turn. Reaching Skyline Boulevard, I pass Alice’s Restaurant and glance at the map. I’m again astounded at the Peninsula’s proximity to our forested backyard. Just 1.5 miles later, I’m turning into the gated entrance: Canyon Ranch Woodside.

The Canyon Ranch brand is certainly a familiar one, evoking images of luxury spa vacations in Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts, along with day spa and even cruise ship offerings. After re-envisioning and remodeling what was formerly Skylonda Lodge and the Stillheart Institute, Canyon Ranch is venturing into new territory. With its November 2019 debut, Woodside marks Canyon Ranch’s first California property and foray into a more intimate and immersive retreat experience.

Walking down the entrance pathway, a series of carved words on consecutive rocks pose a question: HOW – FAR – DOWN – THE – RABBIT – HOLE – ARE  – YOU – WILLING – TO – GO?

I’m about to spend three days exploring the answer.

WELCOME TO THE WOODS

I take a seat in a cozy nook known as The Hideaway for a “Welcome Reception and Orientation.” I’m handed a mug of hot cider and my eyes wander to the dense canopy outside. Jeanine Conforti, director of sales and marketing, notices my shift in attention. “When you come to the forest, you’re cradled by the trees,” she observes. “It’s a time for being more introspective, to look inwardly to who you truly are.”

Woodside should not be thought of as a luxury resort, Jeanine emphasizes. It’s a wellness retreat, which she defines by five F’s. “The first F is forest,” she says. “You’re in the middle of 16 beautiful acres of redwood forest.” The second F is fitness, which Woodside presents in a holistic way. “What we do is something called functional fitness, so you’re able to utilize your body the way it naturally moves,” says Jeanine. Food comes next, a plant-forward menu sourced from within a 50-mile radius. As she explains,“We know all of the people who supply our food.” Friendship is the fourth F: “What we find is that people come here with similar intent, so you generally are meeting like-minded people.” And the fifth F is… fun. “Think of it like an adult summer camp,” counsels Jeanine. “Do whatever it is that you want to do. Go out and play in nature or sit in front of a fire pit with a blanket and read. We give you the tools to make a lot of choices, and you decide how to spend your day.”

PLAYING IN THE FOREST

Woodside’s daily schedule is packed with a rotating mix of some 20 activities, with personal downtime always an option. The body’s circadian rhythm is honored here. Senses come alive at first light, so even the 6:30AM Sun Salutation finds its share of downward-dog aspiring guests. I show up in the lobby for a 45-minute Pole Hike, offering a tour of the property’s trail networks, flora and fauna. I’m met by Tim Murray, Canyon Ranch Woodside’s senior outdoor sports guide. As Tim sizes up fit and makes pole adjustments, he notes the value of two extra points of stability and the 20% increase in cardiovascular (upper body) workout. “I like to go at a good clip,” I respond, when asked about pace.

As we navigate wooden steps, forest paths and creek-traversing bridges, I find myself looking down at my feet and missing the views around me. Accustomed to forging ahead, I become grateful for the way we pause and chat along the way. Tim talks about the mixed evergreen forest, comprised of redwood, Douglas fir and Pacific madrone. We pass an outdoor fitness course, prayer flags, meditation benches and a melodic waterfall. I learn about the health value of phytoncides, a chemical emitted by trees and plants—and why time in the forest helps boost the immune system, possibly lowering blood pressure and enhancing quality sleep. But, as Tim says, “To get the effects from nature, you have to be in its presence.”

With that inspiration, I choose my next activity: Forest Walking Meditation. With Gianna Vani, a mind body practitioner, guiding us, our small group slows the roll, way, way down—to the point where I’m not watching my feet because I’m so in tune with the ground. “Exhale and shift your weight, coming onto your back toes. Inhale. Lift the foot and then ground down, heel to toe,” instructs Gianna, as she demonstrates the technique. Trying not to feel straight out of Monty Python’s Bureau of Funny Walks, I deliberately and mindfully execute each and every step. Sensory supercharge. I hear a woodpecker in the distance, feel the sun beaming down on my head, pick up the scents of lavender, rosemary and honeysuckle in the light breeze and become enraptured by the mini-fern-like moss blanketing a tree.

Indeed, like a kid at summer camp, I peruse, choose and partake. What shall it be? Power Flow Yoga or Core + More? HIIT IT! or Fitness for Your Feet? Qi Gong in the Forest. Evening Breath and Meditation. Roll and Release. Panoramic trails abound all around, and every morning and afternoon bring offerings of more rigorous hikes. I join a small group exploring Whittemore Gulch Trail at Purisima Creek and wish I had more time to take in Russian Ridge, Tafoni Reserve Trail and Windy Hill.

Over a three-day stay, my usual cacophony of mind chatter begins to quiet. Insights arrive at unexpected moments. When I show up for a Labyrinth Walk, Jennifer Clarke, a mind body practitioner, reflects, “We all enter and leave life the same way. We all know the beginning and the end. But how do you walk the path? How do you handle the turns?” Taking slow steps through an elaborate stone design in the property’s fire lane becomes a meditative exercise in the most practical of spaces.

FUELING THE BODY AND SPIRIT

Three times a day, I gleefully head for The Hearth, Canyon Ranch Woodside’s inviting indoor and outdoor dining area. When Jeanine was reviewing the fourth F of Friendship, she specifically called out The Hearth. “You signal to people,” she told me. “If you’re sitting at a two-top or a four-top, you’d like to sit alone or have your own experience. If you sit at the communal seating, you’re open to talking and meeting other people.”

I’ve come alone, but there’s never a shortage of company. I meet a couple from Los Angeles, who share that they’re “happy to have found escape time without a long flight.” I swap travel tips with a financial attorney who has flown in from Chicago. Two sisters—one living in Monterey and another in Oklahoma—chose Woodside for a reunion. I recognize two women from my Hatha yoga class. They live on opposite coasts and are here to get mother-daughter time. I meet plenty of locals too—taking overdue breaks from high-pressure jobs in Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Francisco and San Jose.

One of the days I have lunch with Isabelle Jackson Nunes, executive chef at Canyon Ranch Woodside. Chef Isabelle grew up in San Jose and trained in Bay Area Michelin restaurants before moving into the corporate sector of food. Motivated by the mission of “sourcing food from people I believe in,” Isabelle joined the team at Skylonda Lodge and embraced the transition to Canyon Ranch. “We’re so busy,” Isabelle points out. “We eat and we don’t think, so we want the food experience here to be educational, memorable and nourishing.”

Chef Isabelle aspires to source all of her ingredients from within 50 miles—citing vendors like Fifth Crow Farm, Markegard Ranch and Blue House Farm. Every meal reveals new tastes and discoveries: Carrot Cake Pancakes with Currant Syrup. Markegard Beef Chorizo Flatbread. Jackfruit and Poblano Rajas. Braised Rancho Gordo Beans. Roast Freedom Ranger Chicken. The “plant-forward menu” means a higher ratio of greens to protein. “We encourage a vegetable-heavy diet, a Mediterranean approach to nutrition,” Chef Isabelle explains. “We don’t have to deprive ourselves of flavor. You can eat healthy and still indulge.”

THE HEAD HITS THE PILLOW

After dinner one night, I head up to The Loft for Drumming Circle, which lures me with the description, “No musical training necessary.” Graced by a vaulted beamed ceiling and glorious views, the expansive Loft serves as an all-purpose space with comfy curl-up couches, tables and chairs. Ben Dineen, another mind body practitioner, gives a short tutorial and then starts up a rhythm. Intimidated at first, I let my eyes close and find myself interjecting my own thumps and taps. Sensing no judgment, I begin to get more playful, until collectively, we start to slow the pace. And then… silence, as we seem to intuitively know when to stop. Heading back to my room, I realize the Drumming Circle effectively drummed out any last mind chatter inside my head.

Canyon Ranch is an intimate retreat. There are just 38 rooms here, divided between retreat rooms in the main lodge and glass-clad “treehouses” lofted into the redwood canopy. The spacious accommodations provide soothing, restful sanctuaries, albeit equipped with Wi-Fi, TVs, large soaking tubs and in-room iPads. Designed to bring the outdoors in, rooms are accented in earth tones, most with private balconies.

My Treehouse Deluxe King has floor-to-ceiling views. Looking out to secluded acres of forest, no privacy shades are needed—allowing the body to fully tune in to nature. Falling asleep almost instantly, I wake by habit the first night, but I feel a sense of peace, rather than the usual insomnia-inducing stress. I inhale and exhale contentedly and before drifting under again, I notice how the central stars in Orion’s Belt are framed perfectly by my room’s upper window panes.

ESSENTIALS, EXTRAS AND EXITING

Nightly room rates, which are scaled per person, include all meals, daily activities and full run of property amenities. Optional enhancements are always available—ranging from guided group mountain biking and winery tours to Equus Coaching sessions at nearby Ciara West Equestrian ranch. Specialty treatments—including restorative facials, custom massages and bodywork—are offered in the spa. Canyon Ranch Woodside also provides personalized training opportunities, along with private health coaching and consultations.

On my third day, the grey grid of the Peninsula beckons me back. I see Jeanine in the lobby as I’m preparing to depart, and she nods in satisfaction at my notably refreshed disposition. “I wish we could take before and after photos,” she tells me. “When guests arrive, we see what their lives are like in full gear; they haven’t completely detached yet. By that second or third day, we look at them again and there is just a transformation—they’re able to release so much and just experience deep relaxation.”

Starting up the car, my now half-read book tucked in my backpack, I reflect back on a yoga session in The Loft with Gianna. Before the final Namaste, as a gentle breeze bathes the room, Gianna reminds us to remember what we have cultivated inside of ourselves. “Revisit your inner smile and allow it to bring a sense of calmness, a sense of peace,” she tells us. Driving out of the gate and turning onto Skyline Boulevard, I consciously make an effort to crystalize that memory.

Inhale. Exhale.
canyonranch.com/woodside

Dancing Duo

What started as a professional collaboration led to romance and then marriage for Sarah-Jane Measor and Michael Lowe, whose leadership at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance and Menlowe Ballet brings classical, contemporary and cultural dance to Peninsula audiences.

Not surprising, it was dance that led to their first meeting at a fundraiser for Peninsula Ballet featuring a Nutcracker performance. “One of my students in the ballet was Clara, and her mother suggested that I ask Michael to guest teach,” Sarah-Jane recalls. “I did think he was very handsome—and very talented—and I was a little in awe of him. We got along professionally right from the start.”

At the time, Michael was with the Oakland Ballet while also teaching at a number of different schools. “She was so British—and so fun,” recollects Michael. “We would have in-depth discussions about classical music and art in general that continue to this day. Plus, we both had Royal Academy of Dance training.”

After a few years apart when Michael was performing abroad, love bloomed when he returned to the States in 2009. They married in 2011, the same year they co-founded Menlowe Ballet, along with Lisa Shively, who serves as the company’s executive director, and Ballet Master Julie Lowe.

One could say Michael tumbled his way into dance. Born in Oakland’s Chinatown and raised in Alameda, he was athletically inclined and involved in sports, and, as he says, “a decent tumbler.”

“My mom used to take my sister Florence to the San Francisco Ballet, and I tagged along,” he says. “After high school, I became serious about dance and was a scholarship student at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City.”

Michael was just 19 when he went on his first tour. “My parents were against it at first. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go to college,” he recalls. “But I ended up dancing around the world, seeing all the places I would have read about in books.”

Michael has both a classical and modern dance background. “In this country, a lot of dance is fused together,” he says. “Even when I’m watching Dancing with the Stars, the foundation is ballet.”

Michael danced professionally for three decades before retiring in 2000. Continuing to teach and expand his choreographic pursuits, he has journeyed to out-of-the-way places. His ballet Legend of the Seven Suns was the result of a trip to Mongolia. The ballet’s characters include gods, mortals and a menagerie of engaging animals.

“Mongolia has a rich heritage of tales related to humans and their relationship to the natural world,” he says. “Those stories gave me the fuel I needed to tell a great fable through dance.”

Michael’s contribution to Interlude, the Menlowe Ballet’s spring production taking place May 8-10 at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, is Upstream, which honors his Chinese-Korean roots. It’s set to a score by Wang Dong and Liu Xing and evokes a watercolor landscape brought to life.

If Michael brings an across-the-globe perspective to Menlowe Ballet, Sarah-Jane launches dancers to positions in dance companies across the country. And while Michael merged his athleticism with dance, Sarah-Jane overcame extreme shyness thanks to dance.

Growing up in England, her parents enrolled her in a ballet class in the hopes of bringing her out of her shell. “I was in heaven because you can’t talk in class or during a performance!” she recalls. “And I loved it so much, creating and acting out stories—without talking!  I just naturally went in that direction from a very young age. My parents supported me all the way.”

While in England, she was trained in the Royal Academy of Dance & Imperial Society Techniques and holds the Royal Academy of Dance Teaching Certificate with distinction. She danced professionally in Hong Kong before coming to the U.S. in 1990 and began teaching at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance in 1992. She became co-owner in 2005 and sole owner in 2015.

The Menlo Park Academy of Dance was founded in 1947 by RoseAnn Sayler, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 96. “RoseAnn was the first to bring the Royal Academy syllabus to the school,” Sarah-Jane says. “I’m carrying on that tradition.”

Sarah-Jane credits her English heritage for developing her love of history. “There’s history all around, and I loved going to historical places and finding out what happened there,” she says. “I was particularly drawn to strong women in history.”

That interest led her to choreograph her first ballet, Portraits, which debuted in 2016 and is one of the Interlude ballets this spring. It profiles seven courageous women who went—or were forced down—unexpected paths. They include English martyr Lady Jane Grey; English authors Emily, Anne and Charlotte Brontë; American swimmer Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel; and English suffragists Emily Wilding Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst.

“They all faced obstacles but prevailed,” she says. “In my ballet, they are shown individually, and, in the last piece, they interact as kindred spirits.”

In addition to Upstream and Portraits, the spring program includes two other ballets. Intervalo, a choreographic collaboration between Michael, Sarah-Jane and Julie Lowe, showcases Nicola Benedetti’s arrangement of tango composer Carlos Gardel’s Por Una Cabeza. Reginald Ray-Savage’s The Kiss features guest artists Alison Hurley and Evan Kharazzi, principal dancers with Savage Jazz Dance Company.

Together, Sarah-Jane and Michael thrive in their roles as teachers. “For me, fulfillment comes from the students, watching them go through the process of becoming dancers,” Michael says. “Plus, Sarah-Jane has sent off so many students—that’s as memorable as actually dancing.”

Those students now include multiple generations, as Sarah-Jane observes with a smile: “Parents whom I taught bring their children to classes; I can see the little child’s face in their adult face.”

Woodside Original

Jim Caldwell’s Fox Hollow Road property epitomizes seclusion. Towering, majestic redwood trees and the soothing, trickling sounds of Bear Gulch Creek provide him with total serenity. The cedar-shingled house and adjoining art studio and pool are nestled seamlessly into the natural geometry of the area. Since Jim has lived in Woodside more or less continuously for 70 years, his property is as much a reflection of the peaceful town as it is of himself.

“Very few architects get to live in a house that they designed,” he says, of the house he envisioned and built some 47 years ago. “That is very unusual.”

While Jim has enjoyed a career in residential architecture design, he admits that he always pictured himself becoming a full-time artist. Jim, now 77 years old, says he’s started to consider whether the project he is currently working on will be the last house he ever designs. He notes how most design projects these days end up being three- to four-year commitments.

“Do I still want to be designing houses when I’m 83?” Jim ponders. “If the phone rang tomorrow and someone offered me a big house commission, I’d be torn.”

Recently, Jim started devoting more of his time to his artistic inclinations. He diligently paints every morning and has already sold more paintings this year than he sold in 2019. He also expanded his lecture and teaching circuit to over 20 venues.

“I’m transitioning into being a full-time artist, which I fantasized about for 35 years,” he says.

Jim completed his first self-portrait when he was 13 years old and it was the first tangible step in his journey to becoming an artist. His attraction to painting only grew from there. He continued painting at the Cate School in Southern California and took a Stanford art class the summer following his graduation in 1959. That year, his mother helped him organize his first art show. Jim then went to Williams College and spent a year after graduation at École des Beaux Arts in Paris.

But in order to support himself, Jim says he felt he needed to pivot to architecture—a more structured but lucrative field. In a dramatic gesture, “I threw all my paints away,” he recalls. After leaving Paris, he enrolled in graduate architecture school at Yale and went on to work for several large firms in San Francisco before going solo. Over the course of his career, he has designed houses up and down the Peninsula.

“The number-one thing for me in the house is the site plan,” Jim says, when asked about how he prioritizes his design work. “How does it relate to the view, the sun, the road, parking. Number two is the floor plan; I find there are a lot of famous architects out there where the houses have a terrible floor plan—and the floor plan affects your life every day. Whether or not a house has stucco or shingles or vertical boards is secondary.”

Still, the artistic bug kept gnawing at him. Finally in 1981, Jim took a class from Richard Heidsiek at Cañada College. Jim said that was the spark that got him fired up to paint again. Layered on top of his architectural design practice, he has painted nearly every day since. “I feel so lucky, incredibly lucky, that I get to do the two things I love doing,” he reflects.

Jim had mostly painted still lifes up until that class at Cañada College; afterwards, he fully embraced the world of landscape painting. He describes his style as “realistic impressionism,” similar in a purely technical point of view to the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

“Sargent, he’s my hero,” Jim says. “Sargent had the ability to do incredible detail when he needed it and then be very loose.”

Jim points to Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw as an example. He notes how detailed the woman’s facial features are, yet how relaxed some secondary elements of the portrait are, like her dress and chair. That technique is apparent in Jim’s landscapes, as the intricacies of certain animals and structures are clear but other parts of the landscape like rolling hills or clouds are more abstract.

“When I get back from a trip and I haven’t been painting for two or three weeks, it’s still difficult for me to get back into it,” he says. “There is always an excuse for not doing it.”

Something Jim is always wary of while painting is not allowing himself to become bored with a piece—especially for larger paintings, so he measures out his creativity in chunks of time. “I can’t get bored if I’m only painting for an hour and a half,” he explains.

Jim’s paintings are now in over 450 collections, and his studio is filled with colorful landscapes from all over the world. A painting of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice hangs alongside a piece depicting the Sacramento River Delta. Ultimately, Jim says his appreciation for the natural world grew from his Woodside roots.

He fondly remembers when his family first moved to Woodside from Pennsylvania when he was in third grade. Woodside Elementary still used Quonset huts, and he took art lessons in a barn that used to be located behind the Pioneer Hotel. Jim’s father owned Caldwell’s General Store from 1950 to 1960. He sold the store to George Roberts, who changed the name to Roberts Market. “People are nostalgic for the old days, but in my opinion Woodside is better now than ever,” Jim says.

Jim is undoubtedly a fixture in Woodside. As he enters a new stage of his career as an artist and teacher, he hopes he can pass along some of his creative insights to the rest of the community.

“I was lucky I did have the talent,” he reflects. “And for the people who take my classes, my hope is that their artistic side will be awakened.”

Diary of a Dog: Florence

“Spot your head in the pirouette!” “More demi-plié!” “Higher grand jeté!” I can hear the instructions in my head even before Sarah-Jane calls them out. While I understand the language of “woof,” the world of dance speaks to my soul. I am Menlowe Ballet’s beloved company canine and the studio dog of Menlo Park Academy of Dance. I’m named after Florence Nightingale, from Menlowe Ballet’s The Lady with the Lamp, which premiered in the spring of 2018. However, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding my own debut. I was found in the streets, alas, with no tag or chip. I’m ever so grateful that I was brought to Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (arflife.org), where Sarah-Jane and Michael “discovered” me in September 2018. My exact age isn’t known, and the best guess is that I’m a Maltese, Coton de Tuléar and Terrier mix. Whatever the blend, my family and dance friends say I’m 12 pounds of sweet, loving, playful perfection. I sit on a special mat at the front of class (it even has my name on it!), but I also get to share the spotlight too. My resume includes more than a dozen Nutcracker performances, and I always get rave reviews from my fans. Wait, did you hear what Sarah-Jane just said? “Grand allegro!” The big jumps! That means class is almost over and dinner will come soon.

The Thrill is Back

I’m thinking about getting a fish tank. Nothing major, just five or ten gallons, enough for a few guppies, maybe a quiet blue gourami, perhaps some cardinal tetras. Oh, and of course, a small catfish and a loveable kuhli loach. And a couple of snails. Lots of live plants with a good substrate base and some interesting rocks. And now there is LED lighting. I’ve seen some YouTube videos where people have created really beautiful tanks, far more interesting than anything I’m used to seeing.

I’m also thinking about getting myself a Honda Monkey mini motorcycle. I want the yellow one. It looks like a lot of fun, though I worry that I will buy it, bring it home, and it will just sit in my garage, along with the convertible that I rarely drive. But I can almost smell the bike, its gasoline mixed with oil and the distinctive odor of new rubber tires.

I’ve read that this happens. You get some years on you, the kids grow up and create their own families, and suddenly you want to revert back to the stuff of your youth, the stuff that brings back sweet memories and reminds you of what it was like to have your whole life ahead of you.

As a child, after one of our after-school football games, my neighbor Dick Smith brought me into his home and showed me his three aquariums. I was immediately hooked by the activity of the fish and the noise and smells of his setup. Dick was breeding several of his fish and showed me a school of guppies that had just been born. He promised me some of them.

Within six months, my basement was a hotbed of aquarium action. I had seven tanks filled with everything from angry cichlids to angel fish to gouramis to guppies. Since it was a time when my parents were getting a divorce and my mom was leaving for another city, the workload of caring for all of those fish kept me preoccupied and distracted. I would go down to our basement, put on the latest Beatles album, and take care of my fish. My weekends were spent cleaning out aquariums, a task that took a lot of time and energy and left no time for wallowing.

Dick and I would go to fish stores to look for new fish and visit other collectors to trade, buy and sell fish. Though my variety was large, my favorites were always the guppies. My hobby had started with them, and I had strong memories of my first live birth of babies. Guppies have a sweetness to them: they don’t fight; they are colorful and happy; and they are easy to breed.

When my father started dating a woman who would become my stepmother, he knew he needed to curry favor with me. And so he did the unimaginable for an orthopedic surgeon who swore such a thing would never happen: He bought me a Honda 50 minibike, in yellow, that was all the rage among my friends. With a full tool kit and a bit of experimenting, I was able to take care of that bike and loved tinkering with it, cleaning it and making sure it was always in perfect shape.

There was an alley and open lot behind my home, and I cherished riding there in the rocks and weeds, shifting the gears and running over potholes and tree limbs, the slight taste of danger giving me an adrenaline rush. My friends and I would illegally ride all over town, on sidewalks, the alleys and the streets. The small motorcycles made us feel mature and powerful and gave us a taste of manhood.

And so now, it is no wonder that my mind drifts back to those heady times, fueled by endless YouTube videos of people creating incredible fish tanks and of men riding the new adult version of the Honda 50, called the Honda Monkey. At night, bored and wondering what is next, I think of having a sweet little fish tank with maybe just a few colorful guppies, and I dream of getting a yellow motorbike that smells of gasoline and rubber tires. I want to experience the thrill of baby guppies and to feel the wind in my face as I race around town. I want to feel the exhilaration of my youth, of time forever, of nothing but possibilities.

Bringing in the Catch

On a sunny Sunday morning at Pillar Point Harbor, light dances off the surface of the water, and a wide arc of clouds ripples to the hard line of the horizon. Sports fishermen drop their small crab pots over the rail, while the ocean slaps the sides of boats and sea lions bark from the shady underpinnings of Johnson’s Pier. Looking further out, you’ll see waves crashing into the sides of the riprap jetty that shelters this natural harbor from the relentless sea. At a passing glance, this harbor may look like any one of the many scenic marinas decorating the West Coast, but when you look beneath the surface of Pillar Point, you will discover a busy village of fishermen and women committed to catching premium seafood sustainably.

Pillar Point Harbor, situated at the northern edge of Half Moon Bay, is one of the coast’s most active commercial fisheries and, uniquely, allows customers to buy directly off the fishing boats. “We have 369 slips here, and about two-thirds are active commercial fishermen and the rest are recreational boaters,” says harbor master Chris Tibbe, who, along with his team, is responsible for everything from policing the docks to overseeing facilities. A reef system just past the breakwater and unpredictable seas are part of what makes this harbor more challenging than most. “The weather systems we have here can be very extreme,” the harbor master notes. “It’s not the easiest to maneuver in and out of, and it does tend to separate a new boater from the more experienced.” The professional fishermen and women of Pillar Point face the adversity of the tumultuous sea every day, taking pride in being a part of this vital working pier.

When you walk around the harbor you’ll see everything from large, well-maintained crafts to beat-up skiffs bearing the dings and scars of their long lives at sea. Chris enjoys the non-stop activity. “I got here this morning at five o’clock and there were already forklifts driving up and down with bait, and boats were coming and going,” he says. “Because we operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at this harbor, it’s just so cool to see that kind of activity at three, four o’clock in the morning. We get it done.”

As well as enjoying the stunning views and the whirl of activity, customers who frequent Pillar Point can feel confident that they’re doing their part to support sustainable fishing. This year, the fishermen are recovering from a late start to crab season due to whale entanglements. Although this affects these small business owners’ bottom lines, they accept that delays are necessary in order to maintain the health of the harbor. “Fishermen are the stewards of the sea,” explains Robbi Edwards, who provides port support, including running sales, for the Jessica Mae 1. “If they need to start late to avoid whale entanglements, they’re happy to do that.” Lance Govia, skipper on the Jessica Mae 1, started off as a boat builder in Seattle before taking to the seas himself. He nods in agreement, “If we don’t do it right, there won’t be any fish in the future. It’s our livelihood.”

For the fishermen of Pillar Point, doing their part to protect the ocean while providing their customers with excellent seafood aren’t mutually exclusive endeavors. Kerry Davis, captain of the Bare Bones, carefully moves a crab with a missing leg to another tank, and then he takes a seat on the sunny deck of his boat, waiting for his next customer. “I try not to overfish,” he says. “I like to sell out the day they’re caught. I like to be able to tell customers, ‘I just caught them this morning.’”

Fishing, even for the seasoned pros you meet at Pillar Point, is demanding physical labor and, sometimes, downright dangerous. Erica Clarkson was a crew member on the Ocean Gale at the beginning of crab season when the boat suffered a mechanical failure and caught on fire. “It was never a panic situation,” she recounts. “Terrifying, yes, but because of quick thinking we were able to keep it moving. This is the situation, here is how you respond.” Erica snaps her fingers to indicate making one quick, lifesaving decision after another. “We got one flare off. One call out. And that was it.” The Ocean Gale caught fire close to the harbor, and nearby fishermen responded immediately. “Everybody came running in our direction,” Erica says. Ultimately, the Smith Brothers No. 2 was able to rescue the entire crew. “They got between us and the burning boat, and pulled us on board, so we never got in the water. We were extremely lucky in that.”

You may think a boat burning to the water line would be enough to deter you from making a living fishing, but the ocean has an addictive power. Erica, who first started fishing with her family when she was a girl, never considered abandoning the sea in spite of the dangers and difficulties. “It’s organized chaos, but we live in paradise. I don’t want to live anywhere else,” she says emphatically, looking out over the edge of the pier to the boats moored below. “I don’t want to do anything else.”

This sentiment is echoed by many of the fishermen and women of the harbor. Pat Coyle, who owns and captains the Janet E, admits that his work dominates his life in the best possible way. He used to have a corporate job working for Oracle, but he appreciates the freedom that comes from being his own boss, even if the demands are extreme. “There are times I’m out here until three, four in the morning. Then you’re back to fishing at six,” he says. In spite of the back-breaking labor of hauling up 100-pound crab pots, and, occasionally, getting tossed around in tempestuous waves, Pat maintains that there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. “I love going out there. It’s quiet. It’s pretty peaceful,” he muses, as he secures a heavy cable running down the side of his boat. “People talk about loving what they do, and I love doing this. It’s not work.”

The fishermen and women know they are serving the Peninsula’s savvy, foodie community, and they have some guidance to get the most from your visit. Kerry Davis advises, “Get here early. We’re a first-come, first-served business.” Many boats start to sell out by late morning on a busy weekend. If you’re looking for crab, they will generally be alive, scrabbling away in live tanks. With croakers, also known as kingfish, or other smaller fish, they may be on ice. How can you tell if they’re fresh? ”Look to see if the eyes are clear and check the gills to see if they’re still bright red. If the gills are washed out or the eyes are cloudy, the fish is probably a day or two old,” says Kerry.

The harbor features other amenities to support visitors in getting the best fish-buying experience possible. If you’re squeamish about cleaning and filleting your own fish, you can make use of Princeton Seafood Company, which will take care of the dirty business for you. And, if you’re inspired by what you see at the harbor, you could get your own crab pot, or put some bait on the line. Just make sure to fish or crab at the rail nearest the Harbor Patrol office where sports fishermen are allowed to try for their own dinners.

Pillar Point Harbor is a treasure not to be missed, and when you visit, make sure to take a moment to appreciate the sharp sea air, the gorgeous views and the devotion of the fishermen and women that make it all possible. For Lance Govia, fishing isn’t just business, it’s a way of life. Peeling off the thick rubber gloves that protect his hands from the thrashing crabs in the live tank, he starts setting up his pots for tomorrow’s haul. “You either get addicted to it or you never want to do it again, but I love it,” he reflects. “I’ll never do anything else.”

Landmark: Dug the T-rex

Redwood City’s Emerald Hills is home to a prehistoric fixture that unites a community and never lets a holiday pass uncelebrated. Meet Dug—a six-foot-tall, XXXL shirt-donning Tyrannosaurus rex statuette that’s been grabbing attention since it appeared on the front lawn of Gnat and Chris Matthews’s home off Jefferson Avenue in June 2011.

“We were driving to Half Moon Bay for lunch one Sunday and on 92 there’s a place called Spanish Town,” Chris says. “They have these giant metal dinosaurs out front as a sort of landmark and Gnat, rather casually, remarked, ‘Who buys those?’ By the time we were done with lunch, she answered her own question: ‘Oh. We do. We buy those.’ Two weeks later, we were back to pick out Dug.”

Father’s Day then approached, so the couple decided to dress Dug up in a sweater vest and tie—igniting an idea. They’ve since become frequent customers at Savers and JOANN Fabrics and Crafts, decking Dug out in festive fare for Christmas, Halloween, Bastille Day, 49ers games and the Fourth of July. Dug also indulges in numerous pop culture references including Marge Simpson, an Aliens chestburster, a Valentine’s Day kissing booth and Pikachu from Pokémon.

Dug has amassed fans worldwide (with nearly 25,000 Likes on Facebook) but Redwood City remains his biggest supporter. An entire classroom from a nearby elementary school sent hand-drawn pictures of Dug to Gnat and Chris and families reroute their neighborhood strolls to make sure they pass by for a wave. He’s even inspired another dino in the neighborhood named Tango the Velociraptor.

The Matthews family moved out of Redwood City for work last summer (they hope to return soon) and bestowed Dug to a friend’s lawn near Roy Cloud Elementary School, where he keeps watch on the playground across the street. The possibilities for costumes are endless—only limited by Dug’s larger-than-life dimensions.

“The one costume we never pulled off was to build him a snow globe—we always wanted to pull that off for Christmas somehow,” Chris says. “Turns out, it’s…a lot of engineering.”

To follow Dug’s antics, visit facebook.com/DugTheTRex

Born to Ride

On this foggy morning, a light drizzle is coming down and settling over the lush, green foothills off Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. Sporting a vintage Icelandic wool poncho and well-worn paddock boots, Laura “Lala” Benson approaches two horses in adjacent stalls. “Góðan Daginn, krakkar!” (“Good morning, kids!”), she brightly greets. Noting their agitated excitement, “Rólegur!” (“Be patient!”) Lala gently admonishes, as she takes their reins to lead them to a nearby pasture. When one tries to push forward and nibble a snack along the way, “Hættu þessu!” (“Stop that!”), she responds firmly, but with a clearly-bemused smile.

With long, shaggy fur and short, muscular bodies, these Icelandic horses look dramatically different from the taller, lankier steeds out for morning rides on the nearby equestrian trails. Lala also has a way of catching the eye, from her confident carriage to her own thick, golden mane of hair. And then there’s that melodic lilt of her voice as she shifts interchangeably between English and Icelandic.

Passersby viewing this tableau may feel as though they’ve been dropped into a Nordic fairy tale. So it’s not surprising to learn that Lala is the founder of Valkyrie Icelandic, a riding school and training program named after the singing god maidens who would ride down from heaven to carry fallen warriors back to Valhalla. As the first American to become a licensed Icelandic riding instructor and trainer, Lala pays tribute to Norse mythology by embodying a storied life of her own.

BORN TO RIDE 

“I feel like I’m 100 years old,” Lala remarks, as she settles into a chair in her tack room. Rather than her physical well-being (which has included extraordinary challenges), she is referring to the magnitude of her adventures and experiences. In her mid-30s, Lala is clearly not an elder; she does, however, conjure up the essence of an old soul.

Born in South Carolina, the daughter of a preacher, Lala had lived in Ireland and Tennessee by the time she was three. As Lala tells it, she was obsessed with horses from the start. “My first word was ‘gony,’ which was pony,” she says. “I’d see the horses in Ireland and say, ‘Gony! Gony!’” After settling in Greeneville, Tennessee, her parents brought home a horse for Lala and her older sister, Heidi. “We grew up riding bareback in the hills of Tennessee,” recalls Lala. “I could ride before I could barely walk. I’d just hang onto the back of my sister, and we’d basically go out when the sun was up and come back in when the sun came down.”

From an early age, Lala felt drawn to one other passion: music. She started with piano and later picked up guitar. “When I sit down to play, I slip into a different universe and the music just envelops me,” she says. “For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was play music and ride horses. There has never been a doubt in my mind that this is what I was put on this earth to do.”

Meeting Destiny

Lala was 13 when she witnessed the sight that changed her life. Living with her family in Georgia, she had the opportunity to attend Equitana USA, a large horse expo in Louisville, Kentucky. Accompanied by strobe lights and a ’90s disco house remix, a group of riders came charging out. “The Icelandic horses were small, hairy and super fast with these huge Icelandic men riding them as they flew around the arena,” Lala recounts. “The crowd was freaking out. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and I was just mesmerized.”

Lala approached their booth the next day and asked to ride one of the Icelandic horses. She spent the rest of the weekend helping the Petursson family groom and tack up, which was capped by a friendly (if gratuitous) invite to come visit them in Iceland. Lala cleaned stalls all winter and saved up her money. The very next summer, she came knocking. “I don’t think they thought a 13-year-old girl would show up on their doorstep,” she laughs. “They put me on a horse and they never got rid of me.”

The year was 1997 and Iceland’s humans numbered 300,000 to the country’s 90,000 horses. “Because I never lived anywhere very long as a kid, somehow it just rooted me,” Lala recaps. “I knew this was where I was supposed to be.”

ICELAND’S LEGENDARY HORSES

Over the summer, Lala’s passion only deepened as she discovered the wonders of Iceland and its extraordinary horses. By prohibiting the importation of all other equines since 982 AD, Iceland kept its native horses in isolation, resulting in one of the purest horse breeds in the world. They grow up wild, in the harshest of conditions—with no natural predators, they’re not easily spooked. Celebrated in Norse folklore, they are stocky, robust and sure-footed. “They’ve had to endure horrible winters and volcanoes erupting,” Lala notes. “They have all this hair to protect them from the wind and snow.”

And yes, they are also smaller in stature. “Many people think they are ponies. They are not,” Lala says, emphatically. “Icelandic horses have the bone density of a large horse. They’re extraordinarily powerful and can carry up to 300 pounds.”

The Icelandic is also one of the only breeds that is ridden in five gaits. In addition to walk, trot and canter, the Icelandic has two extra gaits: tölt, a four-beat gait that always keeps a foot on the ground, and flying pace, a two-beat lateral racing gait. “Tölting is so smooth. It’s just a feeling that you don’t experience on another breed—it feels like you’re gliding along, even though you’re going fast,” describes Lala. “And the flying pace is called the ‘Gait of the Gods’ in Iceland. We only ride it at speeds of 25 miles or faster. It’s the greatest rush you’ll ever have.”

ALL-IN WITH ICELANDICS

Already selling Icelandic horses to U.S. clients, the Petursson family decided that providing additional support was the natural next step. In 1999, the youngest son, Gudmar, was sent to Kentucky to start a farm, and he asked Lala to come work with him. Homeschooled at the time, Lala secured the “go-ahead” from her parents. “I moved to Kentucky, and this 19-year-old boy and I ran this farm and imported all these horses and gave lessons,” Lala recalls. “I felt so old at the time. I was 15.”

When Lala turned 17, Gudmar suggested it was time to refine and polish her skills—Lala agreed. “I wanted to have an education where I could come back to America and promote the Icelandic horse,” she says. “That’s all I wanted to do—I wanted to share it with everybody.”

However, the only school offering a degree in Icelandic riding instruction was Iceland’s Hólar University. “No American had ever gone there before,” Lala points out. “You have to be able to speak Icelandic.” Gudmar’s solution: complete immersion on a remote farm in winter. “I lived alone in the north of Iceland with this family and became fluent within three months,” Lala says. She passed her entrance exam that summer and started in the fall.

AN AMERICAN IN ICELAND

The first year at Hólar focused on dressage—the systematic training of the horse. “To improve the horse, you have to do exercises and patterns in all of the gaits inside the dressage arena that help create focus and balance,” Lala explains. “This prepares horse and rider for the final tests in Icelandic competition, performed on an oval track.” Occasionally taunted and often intimidated, Lala fought to keep her spirits up in the fiercely-competitive program. “I’m kind of an all-or-nothing person,” Lala reflects. “When somebody tells me I can’t do something, that motivates me to do it more than anything.” Lala also turned to her music for solace: “I would spend those long winter nights in Iceland sitting on my porch, staring at the northern lights and strumming out tunes on my guitar.”

In the second year of the program, Lala hit her sweet spot—starting young horses and addressing behavioral issues. Familiar with bucking horses from training mustangs, Lala respected the wild nature of the Icelandic breed. “For me, it’s all about the connection,” she says. “We’re dealing with animals that will never speak our language, so it’s our job to learn to speak theirs.” After earning her two-year degree, Lala took a break from Hólar. With the third year focusing on advanced teaching, riding instruction and training, Lala knew her education would be enhanced by more practical field and teaching experience.

With her sister, Heidi, living in Colorado, Lala moved to Denver in 2004, where she found the opportunity to pick up music again, finding expression in piano and jazz. In Denver, she also met Keith Houston, who has been her life partner ever since. When Lala said, “I gotta go train horses,” Keith responded, “I’ll go with you,” and the two set course for the West Coast. Keith got a job in Palo Alto, and the pair moved to Redwood City. In the meantime, Lala’s work with Icelandics took her to Castro Valley and Watsonville and, after Heidi moved to California, the two teamed up to sell Icelandic horses and teach out of Santa Cruz. In 2005, Lala founded Valkyrie Icelandic, expanding her offerings to include summer camps, lessons and clinics, in addition to traveling and teaching all over the country.

SHOW TEAM AND BACK TO SCHOOL

Lala also continued to collaborate with Gudmar in Kentucky, which led to developing another outlet for her passion. Inspired by the Icelandic spectacle that once captivated her, Lala and Gudmar recruited professional riders to create a show team called the Knights of Iceland. “I was that kid in the crowd who saw them and it changed my life forever,” Lala fondly reminisces. “We usually have six to ten riders and we do patterns and mirror each other—it’s kind of like synchronized swimming but on horseback.” After viewing Knights of Iceland videos on YouTube, a more apt comparison pops into mind: the Blue Angels. The suggestion makes Lala chuckle. “That’s a way better explanation!” she concedes. “We do it at speeds of 25 miles an hour or faster, so it scares the s**t out of the audience. It’s dangerous, but it’s really fun.”

In 2010, Lala decided it was time to go back to Hólar, which temporarily meant leaving Keith, her business and her horses behind. Faced with even greater rigor in the program’s third year, Lala found herself confronting additional challenges—the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano and a devastating strep virus that sickened the Icelandic horse population. Lala persevered, ultimately completing the program with the high point for horsemanship. Officially the first American to become a licensed Icelandic riding instructor and trainer, Lala eagerly returned to her life on the Peninsula.

CONQUERING SETBACKS

In the years that followed, Lala continued to build her business, still working with her sister out of Santa Cruz, while juggling Knights of Iceland shows, new training in Portuguese dressage and more demand for her workshops and training. Then, late 2014 hit with a wave of adversity. Having already suffered two broken tailbones and her lowest disc going out, a central disc bulged in Lala’s back, effectively paralyzing her. “I had all my horses and my business—and I couldn’t walk. My savings went like that,” she says, snapping her fingers. “Everything was gone, and I had to start again from scratch.”

With the unfamiliar sensation of having time on her hands, Lala picked up her guitar again. “Even though it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, it brought me back to my other extreme passion,” she reflects. “I’d been so lost without music.” Injections eventually brought some relief, and after six months, Lala started walking again and taking light rides. But then in 2016, while still in PT for her back, she got caught in a terrifying accident during her Highway 17 commute. “The airbag broke some of my ribs and it ended up rupturing the bulge in my disc,” she summarizes. Surgery followed, along with more rehab, and Lala fought her way back to riding strength once again.

SOARING IN THE SADDLE

Lala credits a close friend, Cathy Luo of San Mateo, with helping her relaunch Valkyrie Icelandic in Palo Alto. The two met in late 2010 over their shared love of music, and in 2017, Cathy sought Lala’s help in buying two red Icelandic stallions for her and her daughter to ride. “She pretty much lifted me up at my darkest hour,” Lala says of her friend. “I don’t know if I’d be here now without her support.” The desire to find a closer home for the two horses led Lala to Page Mill Pastures, where her business is once again thriving.

For Lala, 2017 also marked the launch of Gæðinga (Guy-theen-guh) Dressage. Working with partner Carrie Lyons Brandt (Lala’s former student and the second American to graduate from Hólar), Lala drew on an epiphany about jazz to develop a new training program. “I told Carrie the way I want to play music and the way I want to train are exactly the same,” recounts Lala. “It’s knowing the structure and theory which then gives you the creativity to improv freely.” Derived from a term describing the perfect horse in Icelandic, Gæðinga blends classical exercises with the spirit and freedom of Icelandic horsemanship.

In another mix of music and riding, Lala worked with her songwriting partner to adapt a song she recorded into a new Knights of Iceland act. “Keith calls me ‘The Singing Viking,’” Lala says with a grin. “I sing on horseback and having my two passions come together is the most defining moment of my life.”

Even as she records her first EP, Lala remains devoted to the training and promotion of Icelandic horses. Beyond her homebase in Palo Alto, she currently works with clients in Portola Valley, Woodside and Los Gatos. She estimates that there are about 30 Icelandic horses on the Peninsula—and she’s confident the number will continue to grow.

“I’ll be flying down the road in tölt, on this stallion with his hair blowing everywhere,” she says, “and I’ll have people stop me and ask, “‘What is that?!’” By the time Lala is done, they’re clear on one fact: it’s definitely not a pony.

Tudor Transformation

For some, home means being enveloped by a favorite collection, cherished memories or dreams of travel. Living in a home that reminds you daily of the things you love with spaces designed to fit your needs nurtures a sense of well-being and contentment. That’s what drives and inspires San Mateo interior designer Kari McIntosh—balancing functional comfort with meaningful design elements.

From an early age, Kari’s knack for interior design was apparent. When she played with her doll collection, she wasn’t focused on what they were saying to each other but what their homes looked like and the function of each room. Her parents contributed to her understanding of design; her father was a civil engineer and her mother owned an antique shop.

When it was time to declare a major in college, Kari enrolled in the architecture program at Cal Poly. “I wanted to create interiors that would affect people and how they live and their enjoyment,” Kari remembers. But the program Kari found herself in was highly technical, utilizing physics and calculus to prepare students to design large-scale exterior projects like bridges.

She switched her major to business and entered the corporate world after college, becoming VP of Equities at JPMorgan in San Francisco. Even as Kari worked full-time managing investor conferences for the bank, her passion for interior design persisted. So she enrolled in UC Berkeley Extension’s Interior Design and Architecture certificate program. “I took these classes and picked away at them little by little at night,” she says.

In 2008, Kari founded Kari McIntosh Design (KMD), a small boutique firm that melds both her business and interior design skills. She clearly found her niche. KMD designs have been featured in national publications including House Beautiful, California Homes and Town & Country and KMD has contributed to the San Francisco Decorator Showcase. “The showcase is a wonderful way for people to be introduced to your firm and your design sensibilities because you’re designing for a faux client,” Kari notes. “You can put a lot of your own personality out there.”

Kari describes her design style as eclectic because she loves to incorporate both modern and antique items into her designs. Whether updating a San Francisco Victorian or a mid-century home on the Peninsula, she gets plenty of opportunities to do so: “I love to reuse things. If I can incorporate antique or vintage lighting, I think that’s a really brilliant way to keep an interior looking fresh and more unique because you’re not using mass-produced light fixtures.”

When working with clients, Kari likes to create designs that flow and tell personal stories. “I try to get to the heart of what inspires them and what they find soothing, relaxing and comfortable,” she says. She talks with clients about their interests and where they like to travel for design inspiration. One couple collects menus from the Michelin star restaurants they’ve enjoyed around the world, and Kari was able to incorporate their menu collection into the design of their new home. When her clients get a chance to add to their prized collection, they report back to Kari about their new foodie conquest.

In 2019, Kari completed an interior design project of a Tudor Revival-style home in San Mateo Park, a neighborhood known for its wooded elegance and storied past. San Mateo Park also happens to be where Kari lives; she and her family were drawn by the charming homes, outdoor spaces for children to play and the proximity to good schools. Development of San Mateo Park began in the late 1800s, and a wide range of home styles are represented. The area’s first homes near El Camino Real vary from Victorian to California Craftsman, and homes built on the hillside during the ’20s and ’30s reflect Romantic styles like Spanish and Tudor Revival. John McLaren, the landscape architect who designed Golden Gate Park, supervised the planting of San Mateo Park’s dense greenery, along with its winding streets and landscaped traffic circles.

KMD’s Tudor project called for the redesign of the home’s public spaces. Kari describes the owners as empty-nesters looking to create flexible spaces for entertaining. “They wanted to feel just as comfortable having a room filled with people at the holidays with little nooks and crannies for people to sit, as they would entertaining just one other couple and still feel intimate,” she says. The couple was inspired by their travels to London and wanted to recreate the “clubby” vibe they experienced there. Kari used some of the client’s existing artwork, antique pieces and a rug in the design, taking color cues from the artwork.

The project was completed just in time for Thanksgiving entertaining, and the homeowners were excited to host their friends and family in the redesigned spaces. “I like that the project is very unique and it’s definitely tailored to my clients,” Kari reflects. “It speaks to all of the elements they were looking for and yet I was able to add some other elements that they wouldn’t have thought of to elevate the design overall.”

Edgy Elegance

When it came time for the 18-mile bike ride, Bridget King knew she was in for a different kind of spa weekend.

The Atherton jeweler signed up for a Tahoe spa retreat through a fundraiser at Menlo School where her son attends. She joined a group of 18 moms and jetted off to Tahoe last year. The bicycles awaited them when they landed.

“Every woman on the trip was very athletic—that’s not me. But I said, ‘I’m game,’” Bridget says during a bustling Friday morning at CoffeeBar in Menlo Park.

“I was the last one on the bike ride but I made it. When I got off the bike, I was seeing double. The next day was the ropes course where you had to climb up a tree and take a leap of faith. I just climbed up there and jumped. And I don’t really drink but I did take a tequila shot and danced on the tables. We had the best time, and because it was such a special trip, we wanted to give our hostesses something to thank them.”

Being the designer and proprietress of Bridget King Jewelry, she got to work and crafted commemorative bracelets with the engraving GG 2019, as in “Girlfriends Getaway.” Recently, all 18 members of the trip reunited with bracelets on wrists.

Don’t expect to see the design appear in her collection for sale since there are some designs Bridget would never commercialize. However, the jeweler isn’t desperate for any fresh ideas, as made evident on her website, where hundreds of distinct and graceful earrings, charms, necklaces, bracelets and rings sparkle on the screen. Her jewelry is sumptuous, created with the finest detail for diamonds, while equally wearable and discreet. Bridget King Jewelry, one could say, is the convergence point between elegance and edge.

Before launching her business in 2003—initially in Hong Kong before moving to Atherton in 2013 with her husband, Ed, and two children, Audrey and Kevin—design and jewelry were natural outlets for Bridget.

She designed her first piece of jewelry, a pair of earrings, as a 19-year-old with a pair of tweezers growing up in Los Angeles and her designer eye first extended to a career in fashion as a ready-to-wear designer. Amongst friends, she’s known as the Alicia Silverstone (á la Clueless) due to her reliable approach to orchestrating a successful makeover.

But jewelry design offers Bridget a deeper meaning that extends beyond glitz and glamour.

“Being a wife and mom, you can lose part of your identity,” she explains. “I’m Audrey’s mom or I’m Kevin’s mom; I lose my name. I felt like I needed my own thing, my own space—I needed something I can do that is purely me and my jewelry is that for me.”

Now, little reflections of Bridget’s identity flicker from the wrists, ears and necks of customers on the Peninsula who either peruse her collections online or while at Neiman Marcus in Palo Alto.

The creative process of a jeweler, much like that of any artisan, isn’t tied to a 9-to-5 schedule. Bridget works locally, which is to say that ideas for new concepts sometimes find her as she admires the artwork on the back wall of CoffeeBar.

“I get inspired by everything, but mostly geometric shapes,” she says while eyeing a photo of a glacier inside the coffee shop. “My designs are classic with an edge; I like it to have something a little different and nontraditional. And if it’s a traditional shape, I want to wear it in a nontraditional way.”

Another way in which Bridget’s collection can grow is from direct feedback from customers, such as the time a client asked if she could create a piece of jewelry inspired by dogs. Bridget is a canine lover herself (an outspoken fan of PUNCH’S Diary of a Dog column) and her family owns a Labrador named Jake and a Golden Retriever named Sally. With them in mind, she began designing a chic dog bone pendant encrusted with miniature diamonds.

Not long after the charm was released, Bridget’s sister-in-law Tina called her one night to tell her to turn on Entertainment Tonight.

On screen was Ayesha Curry donning Bridget’s diamond dog bone pendant. The celebrity endorsement was an exciting validation for her craft but Bridget had to laugh at herself when her penchant for perfectionism had her noticing that the charm necklace was ever-so-slightly out of sequence.

An element of Bridget’s success lies in her ability to create without rules since she’s self-taught and did not undergo a traditional path such as attending the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Her mother, however, attended GIA and Bridget recalls with painstaking detail how mother and daughter would carpool together, battling Los Angeles traffic, so her mom could take classes at GIA in Santa Monica while Bridget attended UCLA.

In college, Bridget studied design and learned an array of mediums from photography to graphics to designing cards. She loves stationery to this day, citing her father as inspiration, and instilled the importance of handwritten thank you cards to her two kids.

Bridget works with a group of gemologists she met in Hong Kong whom she can trust to execute her vision. Currently in her office are stacks of designs awaiting production such as her 24/7 collection, which is ongoing and crafted to feel like your favorite pair of jeans. (“I lived through the 1980s,” she says. “No heavy jewelry!”) She says that she prefers to spend more on a manufacturer to receive better quality (with a price point that is higher) rather than have it cheaply made to sell higher quantities.

It’s all part of her pursuit for the perfect sparkle to complete an outfit or inspire a stronger sense of confidence for her customers. Whereas large diamond retailers might grab ears through radio commercials or flashy storefronts, Bridget continues to woo clients simply by asking questions about the person’s preferences to whittle down possibilities for the ultimate bijouterie. In more ways than one, the Peninsula has a friend in the diamond business

“Who do you think of when you hear De Beers? Or what face comes to mind when you think of Tiffany? People want a story,” Bridget opines.

“And for me, there’s a story for everything. There has to be an origin.”

The Beat on Eats

Bird Dog
Palo Alto

Bird Dog’s chef Robbie Wilson honed his skills working with superstar chefs like Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio and Nobu Matsuhisa—and it shows. The daring and inventive menu is broken up into three categories: raw items, proteins and vegetables/grains. This includes multicultural dishes such as the Yeasted Waffle with uni cream cheese (aka sea urchin) and bone marrow, fried chicken thigh with smoked oyster and green curry and a carrot dish with chai flavors and pineapple. The decor is sleek, simple and ultra-modern. Leave the kids at home and bring only your coolest vibe. 420 Ramona Street, open Monday through Saturday from 5PM-10PM; Sunday from 5PM-9PM.

Seiya
San Carlos

Seiya’s dark, intimate decor gives the place an exclusive feel. While the extensive menu includes plenty of sushi, nigiri and items from Seiya’s Kurobuta grill, it’s the less conventional signature dishes that will surprise you. Try the Asari Butter Sakamushi (steamed manila clams in soy sauce, sake broth and butter), Mentaiko Spaghetti (pasta with spicy fish roe, grilled Hokkaido scallops and shiso) and the Seafood Cigar (scallop, shrimp and sea bass rolled in salmon skin, grilled and then tempura-fried). It’s the perfect restaurant for a romantic meal or a classy girls night out. 741 Laurel Street, open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:45AM-2PM; for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30PM-9PM, Friday and Saturday from 5:30PM-10PM; closed Sunday and Monday.

Pausa
San Mateo

A family-friendly, Michelin Guide-recognized restaurant isn’t always easy to find, but Pausa is just the answer. Everything from the friendly service to the daily changing menu warrants its Bib Gourmand accolade. Be sure to try something on their extensive charcuterie menu with dried meats cured in house for years. Other highlights include the house-made pastas and pizzas. On my last visit, it was the perfectly-prepared pork chop entree that stole the show. The space is modern yet unpretentious, so it’s nice enough for a casual first date but comfortable enough for a family dinner. 223 East 4th Avenue, open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30AM-2PM; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5PM-9:45PM, Friday from 5PM-10:45PM, Sunday from 5PM-9PM.

number5kitchen

Henry Eng’s most heartfelt childhood memories are of his grandaunt taking care of him and his brother. Talking about her, he pauses, removes his glasses and wipes tears from his eyes. “She has played an instrumental role in my life. Thinking of her brings up strong emotions,” he shares. “The way she cooked for us… it was like magic.”

Henry recalls going to the daily market with his grandaunt, where everyone knew her name and she would carefully pick out the freshest produce and meat. And he credits her with being the biggest influence behind his newest endeavor. As the chef/owner of number5kitchen, a family-owned and -operated restaurant in San Carlos, Henry is committed to serving farm-to-table local cuisine crafted with seasonal hand-picked ingredients.

Growing up in Hong Kong, Henry was surrounded by family and culture. Every night, at 7PM on-the-dot, the extended family, living in separate apartments, would gather for dinner. On Sundays, the larger extended family of 20 would come together for a lively evening of plentiful, freshly-prepared delicious dishes. Hong Kong, as a cosmopolitan city, offered Henry exposure to many different tastes and types of food. Unbeknownst to him at the time, this was just the beginning of his experience with culinary capitals, including New York, London and Singapore.

After earning a degree in information systems, Henry pursued a career in risk management. He first landed in New York, where his office happened to be right across the street from Les Halles, where Anthony Bourdain got his start. During this time, Henry enjoyed cooking for himself and friends. After a short stint in London, he ended up back in Hong Kong where he met his wife, Carly. Their last stop on the metropolis journey was Singapore. After city life and Henry’s career had taken their toll, the Engs were ready for a slower-paced lifestyle. So, in 2011, Henry and Carly decided to move to California. Drawn by family ties in the Bay Area, they put down roots in San Carlos.

The question facing Henry: What to do next? Recognizing Henry’s passion and talent for cooking, Carly suggested that he become a chef. With her encouragement, he began his pursuit.

First came a six-month, eight-hour-a-day, immersion program at the French Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class. Henry then spent two years working for Chef Tusk at Cotogna in San Francisco. For Henry, it was an eye-opening experience. “I had never seen so much variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables,” he recounts. “Cooking seasonally was my biggest takeaway.”

Henry’s next opportunity, as the sous chef and operations manager at Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto, gave him valuable insight into the business aspects of running a kitchen. With the intent of owning his own restaurant, Henry looked for the logical next step. It came in the form of KitchenTown, a San Carlos-based incubator program that supports food startups. Henry became chef at KitchenTown Café, where his brand, number5kitchen, was born.

Henry’s two-year venture at KitchenTown delivered valuable hands-on experience in running a restaurant business. “It was like having my own restaurant without the financial investment,” he says. “One of the things I most valued was being able to bounce ideas off of others, including chefs, food experts and the owner. I remember one American-Indian woman made the most unique cilantro sauce that I used with my dishes.”

While at KitchenTown, Henry learned about an ideal retail space becoming available in downtown San Carlos. After nine months of preparation, number5kitchen opened its doors in February 2019. Carly did all the design, creating a space that is aesthetically pleasing with a simple, modern touch. As for the meaning behind the name, Henry wanted something that represented his family, so he looked to his name and heritage. The Chinese character of his last name is also the character for the number 5.

Creating number5kitchen’s ever-evolving menu starts with shopping. While other chefs might build a menu and then procure their ingredients, Henry reverses the process. After selecting what’s seasonal and fresh, he fine-tunes the menu accordingly. Henry sources his product from three places: the local farmers market, wholesale and directly from a few small farms. As he thinks about what goes into each dish, Henry explains, “I prefer to limit the ingredients to no more than five per plate. The simplicity of cooking is what I like best.”

On a typical Saturday morning, Henry begins his day at the College of San Mateo Farmers Market. Not only there to buy, he likes to explore. He then heads back to San Carlos to prepare brunch. While his trained chef prepares the main dishes, Henry tastes each and creates the sauces himself. When the doors open, you will find Henry serving as host, waiter, bartender, barista, et al. After brunch, it is time to prepare for dinner. He typically calls it a day around 10PM. 

Sampling number5kitchen’s seasonal menu, the food is light, flavorful and plated with an artful touch. In another nod to Henry’s Chinese heritage, he wields chopsticks to precisely place each dish’s delicate garnishes. With the first bite of number5kitchen’s popular crab pasta, each ingredient pops—the freshness and quality of the crab, the silkiness of the burrata cheese, the zest of the backyard lemon, the crunch of the breadcrumbs, the flair of the fennel and the kick of pepper. The turmeric fried chicken beckons with a delightful crispness to the skin and is flavorfully served on a bed of cilantro chili yogurt, with a side of herb salad and turmeric rice. House-cured sardines are fresh from Monterey and paired with organic egg, potato and pea shoots, drizzled with a citrus vinaigrette. “Fresh, seasonal food is the only way we should be eating,” Henry says, gesturing to the dishes.

With a business philosophy of touching people’s hearts, Henry’s biggest reward is seeing people smile after eating at his restaurant—and return customers, of course. 

As spring begins to make its appearance, you can expect to see touches of asparagus, peas, fava beans, spring onion and garlic on the menu. Walking through the aisles of the farmers market to procure the freshest ingredients, Henry is clearly channeling his grandaunt as he creates number5kitchen magic.

Kombucha King

Less than two miles from Fitzgerald Marine Reserve’s teeming tide pools of sea creatures, Douglas Nelson reaches down into a 600-gallon fermentation tank and pulls up a slimy, gelatinous mass that’s floating on top. Needless to say, it bears zero resemblance to anything you would want to eat. “It looks really gross,” he concedes. “It’s squishy and feels like a jellyfish.”

And that’s being generous.

The goop Douglas is showing off has an equally unappealing name: SCOBY, which is an acronym for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” To be clear, this is no failed science experiment. When combined with sugar, tea and water, SCOBY is actually the magic ingredient in the purportedly health-enhancing fermented beverage known as Kombucha.

Kombucha here. Kombucha there. Kombucha everywhere. Walk down your supermarket aisle, and you’ll find a refrigerator case devoted to this wonder drink. It’s on tap at the gym, ready for grab-and-go at the corner grocery and on the menu in local cafes and restaurants. In Douglas Nelson’s case, he’s brewing and bottling it right here on the Peninsula under the brand of Moss Beach Kombucha (MBK).

To backtrack (and we’re talking hundreds, if not thousands of years), the exact origins of Kombucha aren’t known—although the effervescent tea is most frequently traced to Manchuria, Russia and Eastern Europe. The name Kombucha means “kelp tea” in Japanese, adding yet another layer to the mystery. (There’s no kelp involved here.)

Douglas first encountered Kombucha in 2010, when a friend who brewed her own Kombucha gave him a sample. He was immediately hooked. “I said, ‘You’ve got to show me how to make it,’” he recalls. “So she gave me her SCOBY and set me up. Kombucha is one of the classic communal hobby foods. You need to know somebody to get started.”

How Douglas went from homebrewing for family and friends to becoming the Peninsula’s first Kombucha manufacturer is part of a bigger roundabout story. Originally from Louisiana, he moved to New York after earning a theatre degree in college. While his desire to pay the bills eventually led to data processing work, the through line in it all was the pleasure he found in the flavors of food. After his wife’s work brought the couple to San Francisco, Douglas got the opportunity to chase his passion and pursue a culinary school degree. He graduated in late 2016 and realized that while he loved to cook, he didn’t want to be a professional chef: “I thought, ‘I make good Kombucha. Maybe there’s a business to be had.’”

Douglas and his wife had relocated to Moss Beach in 2013, and he sensed a synergy with his Kombucha epiphany. “Moss Beach is that place where you go to rest and become a new person. In a very small footprint geographically, there is rejuvenation,” he says. In January 2017, he launched Moss Beach Kombucha with a parallel mission. “I would like to restore you a bottle of Kombucha at a time,” he states simply.

Naturally rich in probiotics and antioxidants, Kombucha has garnered its share of health claims—from restoring your gut biome to disease prevention. Douglas is careful not to push the miracle elixir agenda. “There are apocryphal stories of it curing various things and there’s plenty of skepticism,” he notes. “I drink Kombucha for pleasure—not for health. The only thing that I can say experientially is that I feel better when I drink it.”

Back to MBK’s fermentation tanks—and that symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It takes about two weeks for each batch to reach just the right level of sugar and acidity. Douglas uses only organic ingredients, many scooped out of fragrant large bins, including his proprietary blend of black and green tea, celery seeds and hibiscus flowers. When it’s time to bottle, the fermented tea mixture is strained to filter out any pieces of SCOBY and pumped into the mixing tanks, where Moss Beach’s unique flavor profiles are added. Whether it’s Hibiscus-Lime, Meyer Lemon-Ginger-Cayenne, Celery-Lavender or Turmeric-Black Pepper being brewed, the final steps include bottling into pint-sized glass containers, labeling, capping and shrink-wrapping.

And then comes the tasting. Which is what enticed Douglas in the first place.

Twist the cap to break the seal—and there’s that quintessential sound of carbonated pressure being released. Hssss! The first sip is bubbly with a complexity of flavors to process and absorb, followed by a tantalizing tickle at the back of the throat and then a satisfying settling into the stomach.

“What you get from Kombucha that you don’t get from any other non-alcoholic drink is depth,” Douglas says. “When you’re drinking juice or Coke or something, you’ve got a single dimension. Kombucha has at least two, painting in broad strokes, dimensions: sweet and sour. There’s a vertical matrix of interest in the mouth and that goes back to why I love it. There’s just a lot going on in there—it’s exciting.”

After opening in 2017, Douglas started out by self-distributing and working the farmers markets. Given that he considers himself a culinary artist (along with musician and writer) more than a “business guy,” Douglas is thankful for the Kombucha version of being discovered. “A distributor bought one of my bottles and contacted me out of nowhere and said we’d like to represent you,” Douglas says. “That was a Cinderella moment for me.”

MBK is now sold in about 120 stores across the Bay Area, including Draeger’s Markets, Bianchini’s Markets and Piazza’s Fine Foods. But Douglas acknowledges that the company’s future growth likely hinges on bringing in additional resources. “I would be open to a partner who complements my skill set,” he says. And while he’s intellectually curious to see how far Moss Beach Kombucha can go, he’s also content with whatever size footprint the company creates. “It’s my mission in life to create and share beauty,” he explains.

For right now, that means Kombucha, and he encourages anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a shot. How much should you drink? “Some folks feel great having half a pint a day, some drink half a gallon,” he says. “The only real answer that makes sense to me is to follow your gut. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. How do you feel? Your gut will tell you.”

Indoor Outings

Rainy days are certainly not the norm on the Peninsula (consider it reason #256 why living here is subpar to none) but sometimes a few soggy afternoons find their way into our cooler seasons. During such damp days, it’s natural to want to hunker down at home. However, it’s even more fun to stay in—while technically going out.

For example, consider the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo—with its newfound bounty of indoor activities. No longer just a one-stop shop for shopping, Hillsdale also offers bocce ball, bowling, escape rooms and cinema.

Hillsdale Shopping Center has become emblematic for how commerce centers can regenerate interest. Following a $155 million open-air renovation, the food court is reimagined (long gone are the neon lights, now replaced by a breathable, sunlit atrium) and the entire north block building was restored to house major attractions like Pinstripes and Cinépolis.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to remain home on a stormy day but for those who seek adventure regardless of having an umbrella in tow, here are indoor outlets ready to add some rhythm to the pitter-patter of rain.

Cinépolis

The ways in which Cinépolis rethinks the movie-going experience hit you before you even land in your seats, which, by the way, are plush recliners robotically equipped to maximize comfort. Ascending from the staircase onto the second-floor lobby in the San Mateo location, you quickly notice that a box office is nowhere to be found, instead replaced by a full bar, lounge area and electronic kiosks for purchasing tickets.

Patrons are encouraged to purchase movie tickets online, with prices starting at $10 for a matinee, and arrive 20 minutes ahead of showtime to allow for the Mexico-based cinema chain to lavish you with its additional features like in-seat concierge dining and drink options. Servers appear with a push of a button and they’re privy to the film’s plot so as not to disturb during key moments.

The menu offers a variety of snacks, from edamame to gourmet truffle fries with a beer, wine and cocktail list sporting favorites such as the blackberry mule or the spicy strawberry margarita made with Tanteo jalapeño tequila. Veggie melt sandwiches, Mexican street tacos and Nathan’s hot dogs are among the entrees and what good would a movie theater be without a full offering of chocolate candies and multiple flavors of popcorn.

Cinépolis opened in November, the worldwide chain’s first Bay Area complex, and brought with it some of the most unique screens available on the Peninsula. San Mateo’s location is the first theater in the country to present Screen X, where a full 270-degree panoramic view is sometimes projected during the movie using dual screens on the left and right of the main display. Your retinas are engulfed in action.

“With the proximity to Silicon Valley, we wanted to see what people would think about it,” says Annelise Holyoak, the national director of marketing & communications for Cinépolis. “It’s quite affordable compared to other luxury experiences; you can see a movie on the weekends for $15. Things like Netflix and Hulu are out there but we want to create a memorable experience.”

8 Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo
cinepolisusa.com
650.581.8901

Sandbox VR

The future of video games thrives in San Mateo. After opening to much success in June 2018, Sandbox Virtual Reality relocated last October to a larger facility on the second floor of the shopping center to allow the virtual reality arcade to expand into four greenrooms for a digital escape room experience unlike anything you’ve played before.

Sandbox VR has done to laser tag what the iPhone did for mobile phone calling: Live-action battle gameplays are no longer limited to a television screen, rather, they exist in your hands and beneath your feet. (But don’t worry, you’re not going to bump into each other or trip onto the floor; the system is designed for function as well as dazzle.)

A greenroom covered with cameras is what it takes to transport gamers from the Peninsula into otherworldly frontiers. Gamers wear five trackers (two on the arms and legs with one on the head), which monitor and react to all their movements. There are currently five options for experiences, called titles, including the Star Trek Away Mission, which is a story-based experience using familiar characters and the famous holodeck that immediately whisks gamers into a number of thrilling situations.

Eric Anjain, the San Mateo store manager, explains that weekdays are packed with corporate bookings whereas weekends are when individuals come in to compete. From 5PM to 9PM on Mondays through Thursdays, a virtual fight club is available for gamers to defend their skills. The community scoreboard showcasing the top players is Sandbox VR’s first step into the expanding e-sports arena.

“VR is not as mysterious as it used to be. When people hear about what sorts of things I get to do, they get excited and immediately want to play,” Eric says. “If you say that you have VR at home, it’s not as exciting as going to a communal space.”

60 E 31st Ave #2044, San Mateo
sandboxvr.com
650.458.5484

Pinstripes

Senses overload in the best possible way when stepping into Pinstripes. The crashing of bowling pins against the back rack are met with cheers whereas elsewhere, a well-placed pallino earns praise during a tight back and forth on the bocce court. A server squeezes by with a plate of chicken saltimbocca while the name on the reservation is called to pull you in.

A trinity of Bs defines Pinstripes: bocce, bowling and bistro. Born in a suburb outside of Chicago during the mid-2000s, Pinstripes blurs the lanes between a gourmet menu of homemade Italian-American cuisine and competitive active games for all ages and abilities.

The Pinstripes in San Mateo took over what used to be Sears and is the company’s first outpost on the West Coast. The complex sprawls across 33,000 square feet on two floors with 12 bowling lanes, four indoor and outdoor bocce courts and a full-service restaurant and bar. Prices are fair and welcoming; bowling, per person and per hour, tends to be $15 most days but $20 on weekend nights while the bocce court remains a flat $10 per hour.

The kitchen prepares wood-fired pizzas, seasonal gelato and each and every Italian-American dish is made in-house. Pinstripes’ flexible ballroom seats up to 200 people with private reception rooms and outdoor fire pit areas. This might be one of the few places on the Peninsula where a tech company on a team-bonding retreat meshes with a 12-year-old’s birthday party.

36 Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo
pinstripes.com
650.781.4720

Breathtaking Blooms

March heralds the beginning of wildflower season on the Peninsula. The good news is that spring blooms can be viewed at numerous nearby preserves, offering flower fanciers both easy jaunts and real leg stretchers. Head to the ridgetops or stay closer to sea level, take your pick!

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) offers a downloadable guide to 30 local wildflowers. Before you head out, make sure to visit openspacetrust.org/wildflowers, so you’ll know whether you’re feasting your eyes on a seaside daisy, California fuchsia or coyote mint.   

Here are some of our favorite scenic hikes, accompanied by a hint of what you’ll see, thanks to photographers Robb Most and Frances Freyberg. Of note: Frances will be exhibiting flower photos from nearby locales at the Portola Art Gallery in May—learn more in the May issue of PUNCH.

Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve
Redwood City

If you’re a 280 commuter, you’re undoubtedly familiar with this very showy springtime treat. Edgewood Park boasts an endless carpet of wildflowers amidst its serpentine grasslands.

The 467-acre park has 10 miles of trails, and you can choose from a number of loops. Or, for easy access to wildflowers, park along Cañada Road just south of Edgewood Boulevard and enter the park via the Clarkia Trailhead.

What makes the wildflower display at Edgewood unique is that its serpentine soil normally inhibits plant growth. Thankfully, a number of mostly low-growing plants have adapted. They include blow-wives, blue dicks, California lomatium, California plantain, goldfields and serpentine linanthus.

Starting March 14, docents will be leading free wildflower walks on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10AM through June 7. Departing from the main parking lot, the three-mile routes vary according to what’s in bloom. Groups of 10 or more need a reservation but otherwise it’s first-come, first-served. In addition, on Saturdays from April 4-25, tours will also start at the Clarkia Trailhead at 10AM.

Enid Pearson-Arastradero Preserve
Palo Alto

Another option for easy wildflower viewing is the Enid Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, which offers 533 acres of land that was protected from development in the 1970s thanks to the city of Palo Alto. The Preserve is noted for its rolling savanna grassland and broadleaf evergreen forest with no elevation over 775 feet.

Among its 10.25 miles of hiking trails, the grassland areas above and beyond Arastradero Lake boast the best wildflower displays. You’ll see California poppies, lupine, thistle and wild pea on the Juan Bautista de Anza and Meadowlark Trails.

Of note: Mountain lion warnings are often posted at Arastradero as it’s part of their local habitat. They’re a good reminder to keep dogs on leash and children close to you. In years and years of hiking there, we’ve never seen a mountain lion, although we did spot a bobcat once and have seen rattlesnakes later in the spring.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Redwood City

The over 3,000-acre Russian Ridge Preserve just may boast the showiest display of wildflowers on the Peninsula. From about 1920 to 1950, a Russian immigrant known as Mr. Paskey grazed cattle and ran a dairy farm here, inspiring Russian Ridge’s name. Today, the preserve’s grassland trails—Bay-Ridge, Borel Hill, Hawk Ridge, Alder Spring and Ancient Oaks—offer hikers a dazzling assortment featuring first poppies and lupine and later gumweed, mules ears, farewell-to-spring and brodiaea.

Russian Ridge also boasts the highest point in San Mateo County—Borel Hill at 2,572 feet with 360-degree views. Just a half-mile from the park entrance, it is named for Swiss banker Antonio Borel who lived there at the turn of the 20th century and helped create the Crystal Springs Reservoir to the north.

There are 10.4 miles of hiking trails to choose from, with some trails shared with cyclists and equestrians. You can mark the season at the Peninsula Open Space Trust Council Circle by standing on the brass marker and seeing where your shadow lands. The Circle honors Audrey Rust who served as president of POST.

Skyline Ridge Preserve
La Honda

At over 2,000 acres, Skyline Ridge Preserve features not only great views from its ridgetops but also comes with its very own lake.

Once owned by James Ralph, Jr., aka “Sunny Jim”—who served as both mayor of San Francisco and governor of California—a fun fact for long-time Peninsula residents is that it was subsequently owned by John Rickey, who used it as a hog ranch. Mr. Rickey was the owner of three much-loved restaurants in south Palo Alto: Rickey’s Studio Inn, Rick’s Swiss Chalet and Dinah’s Shack. Dinah’s Shack remains in the form of Dinah’s Garden Hotel while the other “Rickeys” were torn down for housing in 2005.

Amongst its 10 miles of trails, the grassland trails—Sunny Jim and Ipiwa—provide seasonal wildflower viewing as does the 1.3-mile loop around Horseshoe Lake, which was constructed in the 1950s to provide water for ranching and agricultural operations. Depending on the month, you’ll see milkmaids, Pacific hound’s tongue, Henderson’s shooting star, miniature lupine and giant wakerobin trillium.

Besides its lake, unique to this preserve are two multimedia nature tours, a family-friendly jaunt around Alpine Pond and a longer, two-mile hike that features four different habitat types.

Wildlife Champion

Charlie Knowles’ epiphany arrived 26 years ago while reading a New York Times article about the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Charlie, a Stanford-educated entrepreneur fresh off the sale of his company, was searching for his new purpose in life.

“I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my time golfing,” he says.

Through reading about the CCF, Charlie found his purpose: He would apply his entrepreneurial instincts to global animal conservation.

Twenty-six years later, Charlie is the co-founder and president of a successful conservation non-profit, the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN).

Growing up in the Midwestern forests of Elgin, Illinois, he says he felt incredibly connected to the wildlife he saw on his strolls through his hometown. Yet Charlie felt it was his destiny to become an entrepreneur, being from a family of self-starter engineers.

“I felt like if I went to my parents and said, ‘Hey, I want to be a veterinarian or want to work at a zoo,’ they would’ve rolled their eyes,” he says. “So I never really felt like working with animals was an option for me.”

Charlie moved out to the Peninsula to attend Stanford University, where he completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies. With a background in physics, engineering and business, Charlie was well-equipped for the ever-advancing Silicon Valley. He worked for Hewlett-Packard out of college, then for a robotics company before starting his own software company, Rubicon Technology.

Though WCN headquarters is in San Francisco, Charlie resides on his wooded Los Altos Hills property. As to what has kept him on the Peninsula rather than moving to the city, Charlie says he has formed a similar bond with the grassy hills as he once had with his hometown forests.

“Essentially, I can go out my back door and there’s nothing between my house and the mountains,” he says. “I’ve got camera traps in my yard to see wildlife walking through and I can take my kids hiking to various places.”

Starting with $350,000 at WCN’s founding in 2002, Charlie shepherded the organization into a $24 million force for conservation as of 2019. The non-profit is also on the cusp of unveiling a new North American conservation project this year—a significant step for a typically internationally-focused group.

“We’re hoping an inital species will be mountain lions,” Charlie says of WCN’s proposed North American initiative. “But we would look at a broader North American strategy that could certainly include grizzly bears, wolves and other species.”

WCN functions like an entrepreneurial incubator for conservation projects. Charlie hopes that WCN can exponentiate the impact of conservation projects that have attained positive results, but have further room to grow.

“Much like a venture capitalist evaluating a company, we’re looking for the right people, working on the right problem, with the right strategy,” he says.

However, according to Charlie, unlike traditional investments, conservation projects do not always have traceable metrics, which makes measuring the “success” of a project a bit murkier.

“When you look at a for-profit company, you can see what their market share is, you can see whether they’re growing and at the end of the day, you can see what kind of a profit comes out,” he contrasts.

Furthermore, even basic measurements that conservationists observe, like animal population size, are often misleading to philanthropists. In 2019, a rabies outbreak amongst Ethiopian wolves cut the already dwindling population in half.

“Does that mean that I’ve failed in my investment?” Charlie asks hypothetically. “The population went from 430 down to 210. Should I invest more; should I invest less? As a philanthropist, it’s hard to know the answers to these questions.”

“Lions are in crisis. In just 25 years, lion populations have declined by half. The Lion Recovery Fund invests in the most effective projects aimed at recovering lions across Africa—backing key tactics such as supporting the parks and reserves that serve as lion strongholds and promoting coexistence so that people can live alongside and benefit from lions. The LRF is moving swiftly to convene conservationists and other institutions to address the threats to lions and ensure that the King of Beasts can thrive across Africa. Lion recovery is within our grasp.”

While Charlie says that he contributes a six-figure check every year to WCN to help offset overhead costs, he and co-founder Akiko Yamazaki have made a point not to over-invest. Charlie says this was tough, emotionally—especially in the early years of WCN when he wanted to grow the organization right away. Akiko advised him that propping up funding for WCN with their own money was unsustainable. They needed to make new donors feel like integral members of the team.

“You want to build a collective ownership of it,” Charlie says. “Most organizations look at philanthropists and donors as a necessary evil to fund what they’re doing. We turn that on its head and say, ‘You are partners from the beginning.’”

WCN hosts expos twice a year including its spring expo scheduled for April 25 in Redwood City. WCN invites any organization doing wildlife conservation or animal welfare work to come and exhibit for free. These events feature lectures from a range of conservation and ecology leaders, such as Dr. Jane Goodall, who has become a friend to the organization.

For a field with noble intentions like conservation, the competition between organizations for donations is fierce. A cursory Google search for “competition for charitable donations” yields thousands of articles and blog posts, all trying to explain how to out-fundraise non-profit opponents.

“My experience has been that for people working in the conservation space, their intent is pure and their passion is deep; they’re really, really good people,” he explains. “If you can get them in the same room and talk about what you share in common, the competition can melt away.”

Ultimately, Charlie trusts that everyone is born with an innate respect for wildlife.

“I haven’t met a kid who wasn’t deeply connected to animals,” observes Charlie. “I think it’s more that some people lose that along the way. At WCN, our goal is to rekindle and nurture that connection.”

Unravelling Mysteries

Any minute now, the phone will ring, bringing news of an award nomination and a new benchmark in his literary career, but during a recent morning, John Billheimer remains untethered to his landline because as any good mystery writer might, he has a keen sense for what’s about to transpire.

He instead breaks open The Wall Street Journal. In between sips of his regular sweet and spicy caffeine-free tea, he contemplates completing the daily crossword puzzle, a 30-minute exercise that he can now afford since retiring as the VP of a small engineering consulting firm that specialized in transportation research.

This relaxed schedule offers further opportunities for John to search for the right words. In 2019, the Portola Valley resident had two books published: Primary Target, his sixth installment in the Owen Allison mystery series, which whisks John back to his Appalachian roots in West Virginia, and the nonfiction Hitchcock and the Sensors, a detailed documentation of the painstaking measures the famed director took to create cinema within the antiquated standards of Hollywood code officials.

It’s his treatise on Hitchcock that’s earned John the imminent phone call.

Having served as a judge in previous years for the Edgar Allan Poe Awards (or the Edgars), John is aware that after the nominees are announced online, the feat is personalized by a congratulatory call. The awards are commissioned by the Mystery Writers of America in New York City to honor the year’s best in mystery fiction and nonfiction; John read that morning that Hitchcock and the Sensors made the shortlist for best critical/biographical book of 2019.

This is his first Edgars nomination and at 81 years old, John embraces the recognition with equal measures of pride and humility. Seated on a couch in the luminous living room of the hillside home he shares with his wife, Carolyn, John clings to his reading glasses as he thinks. His neatly-trimmed beard has more salt than pepper and sometimes, when he looks off to the side, he resembles a distant relative of a grizzled Paul Newman. Perched on a stand on the back patio is a colorful, mobile sculpture of a cowboy and Indian on horseback that swings like a pendulum. It’s by Palo Alto native Fredrick Prescott and the pieces begin to sway slightly in the direction of the wind as John recollects his mysteries.

Carolyn, his wife of 51 years, is on the line in the other room, allowing him to disconnect from thoughts of that impending phone call. He turns to discuss his approach to mystery writing, informed by hardboiled, mid-century greats—Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald—writers who famously diminished attention to plot and mastered the simile.

“Usually, I know the ending, but the path getting there can vary,” John says. “One or two times I’ve changed an ending but most of the times I know who did it. One aspect of my engineer training is that I have to feel that this is plausible and that it can happen. My problem with a lot of mysteries is that the plausibility just isn’t there. Hitchcock hated that in people—he called them the de-plausibles.”

The Master of Suspense captivated John since his first job as a teenage usher at the Keith Albee Theatre in his hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. Years later, John can still hear the audience’s gasps during a murder scene in Dial M for Murder.

His father, Wayne, was a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who would travel up and down the neighboring Ohio River to work on dams while his mother, Mildred, taught at the local Catholic school. Born the oldest of four in November 1938, John was often found in the Huntington library reading World War I dramas or baseball stories.

He’s an avid fan of America’s pastime, rooting for the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds alike, and he’s penned two mystery novels centered around a baseball sportswriter named Lloyd Keaton and one nonfiction book exploring some of baseball’s more infamous, egregious misplays. The book, Baseball and the Blame Game, begins with the clever truth: “Baseball is the first thing most men fail at.”

Appalachia colored in the backdrop of his youth. (Which, for semantics’ sake, is pronounced App-a-latcha or, as John divulges, “It sounds like, ‘I threw an apple atcha.’”) The coalfields, integrity of the common blue-collar worker and colorful colloquial phrases seep into John’s novels as easy as sliding off a greasy log backward.

“When I was growing up, each state had its own culture but now the Internet and TV have homogenized everything,” John says. “Steel Magnolias came out when I was writing my first book, The Contrary Blues. I was in the theater watching the movie and Shirley MacLaine says, ‘That woman has a butt like two pigs fighting in a gunny sack.’ The audience broke into laughter but I’ve heard that my whole life. That’s when I became aware that jeez, the world at large might not know these things.”

Leaving West Virginia for his education, John first graduated from the University of Detroit in 1961 before attending MIT for his masters’ degree in electrical engineering. He then earned his PhD in industrial engineering from Stanford in 1971 and afterwards he began working for the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. His first assignment: Return to West Virginia for a project regarding coal mining. His interactions with the West Virginians would later become fodder for his first novel, which introduces his failure analyst-turned-crime solver hero Owen Allison (whose namesake references childhood friends Robert Owen and Allison Read).

“I thought I was writing a short story but when I got to the end, I thought, these guys are fun—what would happen next?” John says of his debut into fiction, 1998’s The Contrary Blues. “I can think three chapters ahead but when it comes to writing, I outline a chapter in grim detail. But not the book. I need to have enough leeway so I can meander with the plot so that there are surprises for me. And if there are surprises for me, then there will be for the reader.”

The latest installment in the Owen Allison series, Primary Target, has his protagonist reconciling with his collapsed consulting firm that took on transportation projects but fell to cronyism. One dialogue exchange involves characters discussing how the Highway Patrol set policies for when mobile phones hit the market. His prose is full of action, not just due to the bombs exploding in garages or shootouts at the airport, but when his characters talk, they also tend to walk, creating a forward momentum that pummels his stories onward. 

Prior to solving his own mysteries, John worked as a specialist in modeling, analyzing and evaluating transportation systems for SYSTAN, Inc. in Los Altos from 1972 to 2005. He helped establish the California Motorcyclist Safety Program, a statewide program of mandatory training that saw motorcycle fatalities drop over 70% during its first 15 years. And if you’ve ever been caught driving solo in 101’s carpool lane, John’s research helped the CHP to establish HOV lane enforcement policies. His engineering career was fruitful, but looking back, he recognizes a resemblance between his life and his fiction.

“I had been almost too laid-back. I didn’t go out beating the bushes to develop things and we probably would have been better off with more salesmen,” he says now. “We eventually fell prey to the same thing in Primary Target: A big job we won was taken away from us. We had a small business for 33 years that eventually fell fallow to bureaucracy.

Acknowledged in the front of Primary Target is the Wednesday Night Wine Tasting and Literary Advancement Society, a writing group John has been a member of since the mid-1980s. The group keeps him humble, telling him what works and what needs editing, but he says their most important function is to crack the whip on deadlines to ensure he produces at least a chapter a month.

When he’s writing, John prefers to use a pen and paper, lounging on the couch in his downstairs office and since he’s a lefty, his hand sometimes smears the story as it inks out, leaving him unsure of what he just wrote—furthering the layers of mystery. He’s casting around for ideas for his next book idea and perks up at the suggestion of somehow introducing the protagonists from his dual mystery series, Lloyd Keaton and Owen Allison, in one story.

But that’s a mystery he’ll solve some other day. Carolyn is off the phone now, the line is free and John returns to reading. The Prescott sculpture still gently sways on the patio like the eyes of a Kit-Cat Klock while from a distance, across the country in New York, someone begins to dial 6… 5… 0… on the telephone keypad.

Pillar Point Coots

PUNCH reader and Los Altos resident Paul George had just finished lunch at Barbara’s Fish Trap in Half Moon Bay and was strolling along Johnson Pier when he was struck by the complex line formed by the convergence of a small stream of fresh water flowing into the lapping waves of the harbor. With his Canon EOS 5Dsr in hand, Paul focused and took this Perfect Shot: “The coots had been scattered about as I started shooting,” he says. “When they all suddenly converged to get a drink of fresh water, I knew I had a winner.”

Image courtesy of Paul George / flickr.com/people/paulgeorge

Diary of a Dog: Chase

While I am officially a Yorkshire Terrier, I’m not the fanciest sort since I don’t have a long, silky coat or the most distinctive of colors. But my family chose me anyway because I was the quiet one in the litter. I was initially brought home for the two girls in our family, Arielle and Talia. They were teenagers at the time and ever so excited to get a puppy. They loved me and played with me, but before long, they were off to college. I had more time on my hands, so it made sense to get a job. Sloane, the dad in my family, started taking me into the office. And back at home, I still had Coby, the youngest son, to give me lots of attention. But then Coby went away to school. Before I could get too lonely, the oldest son, Josh, moved back from college into a small home in Palo Alto and he wanted a turn with me. I still put in my office time with Sloane but every night I’d return to Josh’s house. Then, a few years later, Josh moved away. (It’s not just me, right? You’re seeing the pattern here too?) I moved back in with Sloane, and as you might imagine, we became pretty tight since we both missed having the kids around. I’m getting a bit old now, 14 or so, and I retired from the office and spend most of my time sleeping. But here’s the crazy thing! Suddenly, there are kids around again. I hear them being called “grandkids,” and they’re always coming to visit. Best of all, they’re fun to play with because they’re small like me.

Real ID Is Not Free

A mix of stress and anxiety came over me as I braced myself for the task ahead. I parked my car and briskly walked toward the long line snaking around the nondescript beige building. I was at the DMV.

A month before, I had learned about the Real ID and how, starting this October, you would need this special enhanced driver’s license in order to use it as your identity proof at the TSA. If you don’t have it, your only choice will be to use your passport. Since one of my daughters and her husband and baby are doing me the great disservice of moving to Los Angeles (I’m secretly hoping they quickly regret the move and return here, where they belong), I did not relish the idea of constantly traveling with my passport, a document that seems too important for a 50-minute Southwest run.

When I heard about the Real ID, I jumped on the Internet and learned as much as I could about it, all of it bad. First, you can only get the Real ID at a DMV, no online possibilities. Second, despite my trying for weeks, it seems impossible to get an appointment at any DMV (well, maybe in Arvin). Third, you have to gather a bevy of documents and bring them with you and hope that they will pass muster.

It’s only logical that as every week passes toward October, the situation, whatever it may be at the DMV, will get worse. In October there will be tomes written about all the eager flyers at SFO who miss their flights because they will have arrived with only their driver’s licenses. My thinking was that early action in this situation was imperative.

And so, on a cold, early February Saturday afternoon at 2:30PM—with nothing planned until Sunday at noon—I took my place in line outside the door. There were about 50 people in front of me (not bad, I thought) and within 20 minutes, 50 people behind me. I had brought the weekend edition of the WSJ, the current book I was reading (something about deep-sea treasure hunting), a fully charged phone and, to the best of my limited ability, patience.

The line moved at a tediously slow clip. I found myself reading each word of every article of the paper. I made sure not to initiate any conversation with those in front or behind me since there is nothing more distressing to me than trying to keep an unintended conversation going, talking about nothing.

After a slow, cold hour, I finally made my way inside the DMV building where two women, business-like, were—first stop—checking documents to see if we had brought the proper ones. I watched as some of my fellow liners, crestfallen that their documents had not passed the test, limped out the door they had waited an hour to enter.

I was nervous because one of my documents—proving my social security number—was almost four years old. Like approaching the Soup Nazi (Google it if you don’t understand), I smiled, said nothing and hoped. After a few minutes of shuffling my papers, she gave me a prized number, G51.

I took a chair as distant as possible from the multitudes, knowing that there was no end to the number of viruses floating through the angry DMV air. A loudspeaker cried, “G12 to Window 8.” Patience. I read some, but mostly watched the process—people making their cases for their Real IDs, a woman illicitly helping her elderly husband pass the driver’s test, a mother demanding that it was not too late for her daughter to take the road test. Slowly, the numbers crept up: G24, then G33, then G45.

Suddenly after a little more than an hour: “G51 to Window 12” and I quickly made my way there. A pleasant-looking woman took my papers, my driver’s license, my passport and my hope.

“How are you hanging there today?” I tried to sound sincere, though I don’t know if I came across as pathetic instead. She didn’t respond, keeping her head down, attending to business. After about ten minutes with nothing negative said, I became hopeful. She printed out several documents and asked me to carefully review and sign them.

True joy! I was almost done. A few minutes later she printed out two papers and handed them to me. One was my receipt and one was for me to, gulp, go get into another line for my photo. It occurred to me that perhaps this whole process was designed to ensure that you had a big smile on your face for the picture, ecstatic that soon you would be done with this mishegoss. After waiting another 15 minutes, I put up a big, honest smile at the photo booth. I was done.

It was a bit after 5PM then. I had to leave out the back door since the front section was closed. As I walked into the crisp, clear winter air, I felt as though I had just left jail after a two-year term. A free man with a Real ID.

Cantor’s Hidden Art Collection

Part of Elizabeth Mitchell’s job is to become unstuck in time. As a curator for Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, she’s constantly referring to the past when reviewing possible new additions to the collection. How could this piece relate to another already in the archives to form a conversation or, better yet, an argument? As she cross-references, she mentally ticks through the museum’s database stored in her memory.

She also thinks decades ahead, prearranging exhibits for 2030 and beyond that assemble the pieces she’s spent years acquiring into a cohesive array. When considering a potential artwork donation, Elizabeth interprets art history before turning to forecast its future, and all the while the Cantor rests in the present with its ever-beckoning walls awaiting.

“Part of my job is collecting for now and then part of my work is determining if this will be interesting in 50 years,” she says. “After I discovered what a curator does, I didn’t know what else I could do. You’re thinking like a historian but also thinking visually. Thank goodness this weird little job is here.”

Hermes #V (2018) by Wesaam Al-Badry “Photographer Al-Badry investigates assumptions about consumerism, religious freedom and cultural values in provocative images that ask: Would the niqab be more accepted in the West if women wore high-fashion scarves? Themes exploring the construction of identity permeate Paper Chase and are captured beautifully in Al-Badry’s work.”

Elizabeth joined the Cantor in 2010, where she is the Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator and director of the Curatorial Fellowship Program for the museum. As she marks her first decade of curating, she’s on the eve of rolling out Paper Chase, an exhibit opening on April 3 featuring over 100 works done on paper (prints, photographs and drawings) that she and the museum have collected during her tenure. Some of these pieces have been held in reserve, anticipating their inaugural display.

“Looking back at what I’ve acquired, it was really interesting to stop and think about what we have done in the last 10 years. It feels to me, as we’re getting a little farther away from the 20th century, we can now start to define who we are,” Elizabeth says. “I thought it would be interesting to survey something from the 16th century to yesterday. That really got me thinking about different categories I could use to organize. I started with the section that thinks broadly about different identities and how we project them. This first section will look at age, religion, sex and relationship status—all these ways in which we define ourselves.”

Untitled (2008) by Ambreen Butt “In this print, one of a series, Pakistani-born artist Butt contemplates issues of power and personal autonomy in the lives of young women who endure many forms of repression. The artist considers the perspectives of the school girls who were used as human shields during the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad. Paper Chase features many works by female artists and images illuminating women’s experiences.”

The show is grouped into themes: women’s lives, fashion and identity, political responses to war, nature and science. Elizabeth hopes the display will ignite questions around collecting and why the Cantor collects.

“It’s a strategy in museums to show off what’s been acquired and to honor the donors who have been so generous to give,” explains Cantor’s director, Susan Dackerman. “Hopefully, it can inspire other people to collect and encourage a relationship with the museum. This kind of show has a real objective behind it.”

The museum was the recent recipient of a gift donation that included photographs from environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy. Elizabeth was struck by his interpretation of nature and immediately placed the work against photographs they had by Ansel Adams.

“I can look at one photograph and think of 20 different things,” Elizabeth says. “When I go to someone’s house to look at their collection, I start to think how this can go with that. I’m constantly thinking of what kind of conversation we can have.”

Cassette Grid No. 10 (2009) by Christian Marclay. “Composer and visual artist Marclay is interested in both visual culture and sound. In this piece, he uses the early and outdated cyanotype photographic process to depict a set of audio cassette tapes—another discarded technology. In turn, he asks questions about collecting, memory, media and time. Those are questions we ask when we build a collection of art: What is important now? What will be important to teach with in the future? What conversations do those objects enable us to have about who we are and how we live?”

A museum is defined by its wall space as well as its storage. Presently, the Cantor has about 40,000 objects in its collection but a vast majority is kept in storage, safe from damage and potential thievery.

“In museums across the county, only two or three percent of a collection is on view at one time,” Susan says. “One has to be precise in terms of collecting practices. Things have to meet a certain criterion. The most complicated storage challenges are around the scale of things. Think of the Rodin bronzes we have here—it’s easier to keep them on view than to put them in storage because they’re so big.”

A team of registrars work in and out of the storage facility to maintain the art’s security and to retrieve specific pieces requested by students and faculty. The Cantor’s mission is to educate and most of the pieces in its micro-encyclopedic collection are available for viewing in any of the museum’s study rooms, which can be refashioned into miniature galleries.

“There’s a myth that the storage in a museum is a locked door and no one goes in and out but it’s really like a beehive. You can only see a few bees,” Elizabeth says. “Nothing is forgotten; things are just used in
different ways.”
 

Landmark: Facebook Thumbs-Up Sign

About 500 people make the trek to Menlo Park every week for a photo op (and social media post) that’s becoming synonymous with Silicon Valley. What was once the original Sun Microsystems sign at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road is now a beacon welcoming visitors to Facebook. After Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle in 2009, Facebook secured the sprawling site for its new headquarters. In 2011, Facebook officially moved from downtown Palo Alto to what’s known as its Classic Campus at 1 Hacker Way. Real estate head John Tenanes suggested wrapping Sun’s existing sign with the iconic thumbs-up Facebook emoji banner to welcome employees to their new home. The sign was so well “liked” that Facebook decided to keep the existing monument structure, flip it and reuse it—with the backside still carrying the vestiges of the property’s history.

Courtesy of Facebook

Faces of Art

All share a passion, the same motivation: the need to create. Working in every imaginable medium, Peninsula artists contribute to the aesthetics all around us—from our homes and offices to galleries and museums. Often, we know them only as a signature, so here’s a glimpse at the faces behind the works of art.

Jill Andre

Always drawing, whether in the margins of books, on her iPad or on vellum for architectural renderings, Bay Area native Jill Andre spends her time capturing people in their element, doing their work: “It’s the intensity I see in the people that compels me to draw them. I’ve got a wonderful sketch of Dr. Stacey Quo tightening my son’s braces.”

While studying design at CSU Long Beach, Jill attended a Wayne Thiebaud exhibit and had a revelation about color. “I have multiple instances of synesthesia, with my senses crossing. I can ‘taste’ color and ‘see’ sounds,” she says. Jill’s color sense is informed by Matisse, Milton Avery and the Peninsula’s own, Mitchell Johnson. Jill was selected for the 11th Annual 50|50 Show at Sanchez Art Center this past summer, creating 50 artworks with her chosen theme ‘Single Serving’ in 50 days.

Mitchell Johnson 

Contemporary painter Mitchell Johnson is the subject of the monograph, Color as Content, and the documentary film, The Artist of Silicon Valley. Based in Menlo Park, Mitchell’s shape-driven paintings are known for their personal approach to color and have been exhibited in Milan, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. An American Academy in Rome Visiting Artist (2015) and a Josef Albers Foundation Artist in Residence (2007), Mitchell divides his time between his favorite painting locations in Europe, New England, New York City, Asia and California.

Mitchell’s paintings can be found in the collections of 28 museums and over 600 private collections. The most recent museum acquisitions were Museo Morandi in Bologna, Museum of Modern Art in Rome and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. Mitchell moved to the Bay Area in 1990 after completing his MFA at Parsons in New York.   

Krytzia Dabdoub

Born in Mexico City, Krytzia Dabdoub is a global artist with long sojourns in France, Spain, Venezuela, the Netherlands and the U.S. Her work is often large-scale, organic and inspired by environmental colors, textures and moods. Lately, she has been concentrating her work on climate change, trying to create awareness about the impact our actions have on the ecology. Specifically, she has been making contemporary works with butterflies as she explores their migration to and from Canada and Mexico. Krytzia believes in the Butterfly Effect, where our actions have a ripple effect that can destroy or save our ecosystem. She also uses an app to show butterflies flying to give another layer to her work.

She showed her work in Prague last November, Miami Inspire during the week of Art Basel in December and opened a show in Half Moon Bay this January in the Coastal Arts League Gallery.

Barbara M. Berk

Barbara M. Berk’s journey has been circuitous: a childhood love of fabric and sewing, a master’s degree in Russian history and over 15 years in magazine publishing. Her introduction to antique jewelry led to studies in gemology and metalsmithing—and the discovery that her true passion is working with the metal itself. She learned that metal can be worked like fiber and that sheet and wire can be woven.

Most exciting for Barbara was the realization that structurally sound, three-dimensional forms could be fashioned from the metal “fabric” she makes. She established her company in 1992 to create her signature handwoven high-karat gold and platinum jewelry. In 2013, with her move into a studio at the Peninsula Museum of Art, she began producing large-scale, free-standing, wall-mounted and hanging sculptures in stainless steel and phosphor bronze. Her sculpture has been exhibited in museums and art centers nationwide.

Kim Lordier

Native to the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, Kim Lordier combines keen observation and sensitivity to create her award-winning landscapes. Kim can often be found with her easel, painting along the Crystal Springs corridor, San Mateo Coastline and the Baylands, or farther afield along the Monterey Coastline, the High Sierra and much of the Western United States.

Working out of a studio in Millbrae, Kim’s paintings are in private collections throughout the country. Kim has exhibited at New York’s Salmagundi Club and the National Arts Club along with the Haggin, Irvine and Autry Museums in California. Her work has been showcased on the covers of Art of the West, Southwest Art, PleinAir and The Pastel Journal.

Nancy Woods

Nancy Woods has been making art in various forms throughout her life. She graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts, majoring in graphic design and ending with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art. She began her career in graphic design and, after a short stint in “Art to Wear,” she found furniture a creative outlet for new and different forms of art. She appreciated how such art was usable. Today, in her studio in the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame, she finds old furniture, renovates it and reinvents it to have a colorful new life.

Nancy believes that we spend most of our growing up life trying to fit in and then, much later for most, trying to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. She thinks that having some fun in your house represents a connection to the whimsical world that can be revitalizing.

Neil Murphy

Neil Murphy was born and raised on the island of Oahu. Tropical colors and Asian art influences contribute to his off-beat and whimsical style. He uses mixed media (digital and traditional painting) to create curious maps, fanciful animals and art that often depicts neuroscience topics.

Neil is a strong advocate for those who suffer from mental and addiction illness. He believes that viewing art about both of these subjects opens conversations about difficult topics and experiences that we all share and provides invaluable pathways to understanding each other during difficult times. He thinks that creating art that illustrates neuronal networks and interactions is a wonderful way to learn about brain function and opens dialogue that helps to de-stigmatize mental illness and promote empathy.

Roberta Salma

Although Roberta Salma comes from an academic painting background, her focus for the past seven years has been abstract art. Roberta’s large acrylic paintings begin with a theme, color choices and a composition but often evolve into something quite surprising. She adds layers, subtracts layers and suggests shapes and lines—letting the painting tell her what it needs—building on elements of rhythm and balance. Nature is always present—water, trees and rocks all play strong roles in her work.

When Roberta works on commission, she looks to weave in something personal that relates to the person, believing that a painting should always connect with the viewer on an emotional level. She refers to her studio on Burlingame Avenue as a “community outreach studio” since it’s a working studio with a gallery room for displaying Roberta’s art as well as works by other artists.

A PAL to the Arts

The soothing melodies of Mozart drift throughout the Forest Gallery of the Pacific Art League (PAL) during Robin Scholl’s Tuesday morning class. The concerto complements the gentle scratching of pencils in mid-sketch. Robin, a teacher at PAL for nearly 30 years, strolls between her students to sprinkle tidbits of wisdom when needed. Sometimes, the learning reflects back onto the teacher.

“I love the students,” Robin effuses. “Over the years, because of the teaching, I realized that I’m growing, too.”

Robin counts herself among the many who have utilized the Palo Alto fine arts center to learn artistic technique, teach students and display their works of art. Now in its 99th year of operation, PAL’s newly-hired executive director Lisa Coscino is hoping to cement PAL as the Peninsula’s hub for artistic engagement.

“A world without art is actually a world none of us would want to live in, whether we consciously know that or not,” Lisa says. “Art affects our daily lives; art is in architecture, cars and programming.”

PAL offers a trident of artistic influence on the Peninsula: art classes, outreach initiatives and gallery space. PAL’s function as a gallery is the prong of the trident that Lisa is most focused on overhauling. “What we’re really trying to do now is give working artists an opportunity to earn a living,” Lisa says.

Emerging up-and-coming artists display their work at PAL’s headquarters in downtown Palo Alto and in exchange for wall space, the artists can either pay a membership fee or teach a class for PAL.

“Almost everyone knows who Picasso is by now but people don’t know who Michelle Louise is,” Lisa says, gesturing to Louise’s geometric yet chaotic paintings displayed on the Ramona Gallery wall. “And in order to become Picasso, you had to be Michelle Louise at some point in your life. Here is our opportunity to give everyone a chance as an artist who comes through our walls to have a career arc and start them off.”

Lisa adds that displaying emerging artists’ work helps address a certain wealth inequality plaguing the art community. A former private gallery owner herself, she says that price points on pieces by emerging artists are too low for private galleries to turn a profit. This system, in turn, prices out many people looking to purchase an art piece and leaves emerging artists underexposed.

Rather than subsisting on art sales, PAL is a non-profit primarily funded through membership dues and class fees. Therefore, PAL can afford to display emerging artists’ work and people coming from all backgrounds and interests can afford to buy the art they see on the wall.

“It is really rare in a city like Palo Alto to have a place where emerging artists can exhibit their work,” Lisa says.

Lisa wants exhibitions at PAL to center around the causes that artists engage with to improve the social relevance of the exhibit. She also wants more exhibitions to focus on a particular artist and demonstrate the journey of the artist.

“Michelle Louise might have beautiful paintings—but I want to know who she is and where she came from,” Lisa points out.

She then references the slips of paper, barely larger than an index card, that hang next to the artist’s work, providing scant background or meaningful insights. “Having this little bio isn’t really telling me enough,” she says.

PAL offers close to 70 classes a year for all degrees of artistically-inclined people. For example, Robin Scholl’s Tuesday course is a beginner-level class on landscape drawing in preparation for painting. Her Monday class on watercolor and oil painting is structured for advanced students—many of whom have been under her tutelage for over 20 years. PAL is also multi-generational and offers one- or two-day workshop courses for children.

In 2019, PAL rolled out their “beginner arts series,” designed for people who want to engage with art but lack some basic artistic skills necessary for some of the more rigorous classes. Lisa notes that this beginner curriculum was something PAL lacked for many years—many students are simply trying to scratch a creative itch that they otherwise cannot satisfy.

“There’s this desire for so many people to get away from technology and to get back to the basic, tactile kind of experience,” Lisa says.

PAL draws many students from the competitive corporate world that engulfs Silicon Valley. Even some of PAL’s artists/teachers hold demanding tech or medical jobs. PAL designs and hosts art classes for the likes of Facebook and IDEO, and Lisa is convinced that more artists are hiding in plain sight among these giant corporations.

“I find it interesting that so many people followed the corporate pathway because their family made them do it,” Lisa says. “And now that they have become adults on their own, they can go back to doing what they want to do.”

PAL’s sphere of artistic influence extends beyond its headquarters; instructors teach art classes at the Bill Wilson Center for at-risk youth and PAL organizes an art after-school program for the San Mateo Boys and Girls Club. PAL’s DREAM program, based in the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto, aims to enlighten kids to the connections between artistic expression and STEM fields of study.

While Lisa admires these outreach programs, she hopes the diversity in students taught by PAL ultimately translates to the walls of PAL’s gallery space. “Creativity is best supported by diversity,” she says. “Diversity in thought and from diverse backgrounds. This is what we’re going to bring into PAL.”

Catching the Art Bug

It’s not a necessity. It’s a luxury. It’s not a need to have. It’s a want to have. That being said, Stephanie Breitbard and Evie Simon work toward one goal: connecting clients with art that they will love and want to live with for a lifetime.

“Everyone works hard and what are you going to spend your hard-earned income on? Is it vacations with your kids? Is it beautifying your home?” questions Stephanie. From the perspective of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts, immeasurable satisfaction can be found in finding pieces of art that speak to you.

“I tell clients that it’s your personality on the wall and each piece can describe a different aspect of who you are,” Stephanie explains. “It all works sort of synergistically to create this dialogue and environment within the home that affects your daily mood—it’s happy vibes coming at you or intriguing vibes or conversational vibes or whatever you want it to be.”

After growing up in Marin and attending college and business school on the East Coast, Stephanie ventured into finance, marketing and fashion apparel retailing. She caught the art bug from her husband, who comes from a family of collectors, and together they embraced the building of their own collection, mostly works by local SF Bay Area artists. Stephanie’s eye for visual aesthetics drew notice—and she began to dabble in art consulting. “Friends would come into our home and enjoy the art that we had, and so it started organically, just helping friends acquire art for their own homes,” she says. The tipping point came in 2007. “I finally made the decision to switch into the fine arts as a full-blown career.”

Meanwhile, Evie started out on the East Coast and looks back on herself as an English major who should have been an art history major. Sharing her family’s passion for museums, she studied abroad in Italy, and throughout non-profit, sales and illustration work, she always maintained touchpoints—whether it was the Art Institute of Chicago or the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—with art.

Three children each. Both living in Marin. Stephanie starts to build her art consulting business, and the two connect through their kids. “When I met Stephanie, she said, ‘You have a passion, I can see that. If you want to try this, let’s see what we can do together,’” recounts Evie. “It was a very untraditional way to enter into this career. Because we didn’t have a lot of rules around how we were going to operate, we were able to get really creative.”

Stephanie nods in agreement. “We still don’t!” she adds. “I think that’s reflective of our business, which is very atypical—very much a disrupter in the art category. We just continue to invent and reinvent our own unique service model to art acquisition in the home.”

Initially operating out of Stephanie’s home in Mill Valley—with walls and two added-on gallery spaces displaying artwork on consignment—Stephanie and Evie took the next leap in 2015, partnering to open their first retail gallery space in San Francisco. Calling it Simon Breitbard Fine Arts (SBFA), they honed in on a target market they felt wasn’t being adequately served.

“This area is very unique in that it has a lot of people who are new to the income levels that they’re enjoying through tech and finance and may have lovely new homes and not a lot of experience or knowledge in the art world,” observes Stephanie. “Our gallery space is always reflective of this need for clients to explore and really discover their own tastes and even what kind of art they like.”

While a traditional gallery might rotate through a series of four- to six-week solo or two-artist shows, SBFA exclusively represents over 100 artists—specializing in contemporary fine art from emerging to mid-career—spanning photography, painting, mixed media, sculpture and works on paper. Stephanie and Evie are always scouting new talent, whether they’re attending Art Basel in Miami or responding to an email introduction or referral. “Are they good at what they do? Are they unique? What is exciting and new and different from other art that we’ve seen?” is how Evie summarizes the evaluation process.

“We like to have a diverse collection because you don’t want your home to be curated with a single note or single style or genre or medium.”

A typical engagement starts with a visit to a client’s home to take photos and measurements, followed by an SBFA gallery visit to spark the process of discovery. “People will come in with every wall empty in their big homes and they are just sort of paralyzed,” relates Stephanie. “We always say, ‘What do you like? What are you drawn to? Let’s just look. Let’s see what you fall in love with and start from there.’”

Next comes Photoshop mock-ups blending favorite pieces with different options for placement, leading to actual works being brought in for in-home viewing—with delivery and installation all included. “We want to make sure they love it, see it at night, in different lights,” says Evie. “The only way to feel confident in your choices is if it comes from you—if it’s your own reaction.”

That need to foster a personal connection is what prompted Stephanie and Evie to further expand. Recognizing that half of their clients live on the Peninsula, they opened up a Menlo Park gallery in 2019. “Our clients don’t have a lot of time to see art or come up to our gallery in San Francisco,” comments Stephanie. “Our success in finding out what our clients like goes up dramatically if we get them into the gallery, so we realized that we needed to have a location down here.”

SBFA’s two galleries both convey the feel of a well-decorated home with eclectic furniture, vibrant colors and wallpaper. And while artists may not get the resume-builder of a solo exhibit, they enjoy the benefit of steady exposure—which Stephanie says maps to a dual goal: “Making clients happy in these beautiful home environments and making artists happy by allowing them to make a living at what they love to do.”

Stephanie and Evie say clients typically spend anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for quality, original works of art, 4’x4’ or bigger. And they emphasize that the most difficult hurdle is making that first selection. “Once they get over that hump with all this pressure on the first piece, they start relaxing into it and enjoying the process of discovering the artists and buying artwork,” Stephanie says.

Evie advises to look at art collecting as an evolving process: “To me, as your collection grows, it shows the diversity of what you’re caring about and sort of an arc of your taste. Art is this amazing way of reflecting your own visual aesthetics—it’s a timeline of the history of your family and your life.

After capturing museums, galleries and art fairs, art world photographer Andy Freeberg turned his focus to art in the home—as seen through the lens of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts. Photographing Stephanie and Evie in action over the past four years, Freeberg will wrap up the project in 2020. “The series has become a documentary of the acquisition of art in this part of the world, especially Silicon Valley, and all that is happening in the homes around us as we come in to hang art,” notes Stephanie. View more images at andyfreeberg.com.

The Beat On Your Eats

Alana’s Café
Redwood City

Under the shade of the pepper and elderberry trees planted around 1900 and inside the historic Dielmann House lies Alana’s Café, a cozy eatery with time (and their butyraceous Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes) on its side. Alana’s shares premises with the Main Gallery, home to a 16-person artists collective showcasing 2D and 3D work in photography, mixed media, collage, painting, jewelry and ceramics. The café’s walls are updated with fresh art from the gallery every six to eight weeks—which is the doctor-recommended lapse in time to keep you from overindulging in their oat bran, buttermilk pancakes sweetened by drops of lingonberries.

1020 Main Street, open Monday through Friday from 7AM to 2PM; Saturday and Sunday from 8AM to 2PM.

Courtesy of Allied Arts Guild

Cafe Wisteria
Menlo Park

Since replacing the Blue Garden Cafe in 2018, Cafe Wisteria has served as a cool complement to a stroll through the Allied Arts Guild’s open art studios and scenic botanical gardens. The menu is both casual and satiating; sandwiches, soups and salads prepared in a union of greens and flavor. Chef Jose Bernal’s crab cakes come topped with a savory mango chili salsa while the chicken cranberry salad makes excellent use of goat cheese and caramelized onions. Whether you’re exploring Portola Art Gallery, Joy Imai Pottery or the Artisan Shop, taking a break at Cafe Wisteria refreshes with simple epicurean pleasures.

75 Arbor Road, open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 2:30PM.

Courtesy of Eric Wolfinger

Cetrella
Los Altos

Cetrella (pronounced che-trella) in downtown Los Altos is named for the panoramic valley on the Isle of Capri, which, like the Californian cuisine the eatery prepares, is at a crossroads for cultures. The borderless menu features the inspired forest mushroom risotto blending maitake and beech brown mushrooms in truffle oil while the New Zealand Ōra King salmon pizza comes with a coat of crescenza from Bellwether Farms in Petaluma. The décor includes two murals and a painting by Matt Farrar, who gives nods to Adobe Creek and Redwood Grove in Los Altos and the highlands of Los Altos Hills through his serene landscapes.

400 Main Street, open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2PM; dinner Monday to Sunday from 5PM to 9:30PM.

Culinary Canvas

A dining room table is transformed into a culinary artwork overflowing with artisanal cheese varieties, multiple shades of sliced breads and crackers, vine-ripened fruits and crisp vegetables. Vases of fern-wrapped pink, red and white flowers lend color and sweet scents to the decadent spread. Delectable treats dot the foodscape—a handful of dark chocolates here, meringue and gingerbread cookies there. The grazing table, a wonderland of gastronomic discovery, awaits soon-to-be oohing and aahing party guests.

The creative hands behind this sumptuous soirée centerpiece come from Menlo Park-based Feast and Floral. The grazing table mavens include founder Ashley Higashi, co-owner Kim Cassingham (Ashley’s sister) and florist Akemi Gertz (Ashley’s sister-in-law). Launched in 2019, Feast and Floral focuses on grazing tables and picnic-sized grazing boards. Currently working out of a friend’s newly renovated backyard cottage, Kim and Ashley spend hours prepping food to fill spaces measuring anywhere between dining room size to 16-foot event tables.

The sisters are well aware that the role food plays at a get-together goes way beyond filling stomachs. The placement and flow of food could make the difference between sticking with the familiar or mixing it up to uncover rewarding results, like making a new friend or discovering a taste sensation. Grazing tables help bring about these additional benefits by encouraging folks to mingle and nibble.

“A grazing table is a gathering place that is so different from passed hors d’oeuvres,” says Ashley, as she slices triangles of Manchego cheese at the cottage’s kitchen island. “Passed hors d’oeuvres sort of forces you to stay in your little clique of people and you don’t have to move because someone is going to bring you the food.”

“Same with a buffet because you’re going down the line,” adds Kim, from the opposite side of the counter. Her knife clips against the cutting board as she slices an English cucumber. “You go up to the table and get what you need, whereas at a grazing table, we set it up so you can move around it.” Plus, the stigma of grabbing seconds is eliminated by the continual noshing nature of a grazing table.

Feast and Floral has honed in on what makes a grazing table aesthetically pleasing, streamlining its food presentation techniques around party theme and color palette. However, even the sisters’ first over-the-top attempt at creating a grazing table was a party hit. Pictures of the “bountiful, beautiful table full of food” caught fire on Instagram. “People who didn’t go to the party were talking about it. We called it our epic cheese board,” says Kim.

 

The piling up of positive reactions for Ashley’s party hosting skills from friends, family and strangers on social media convinced her that she had what it takes to turn her passion into a business. “Some people get really anxious about hosting a party. For me, it’s the opposite,” she says. “I get energized by it. I love hosting people. I love making them feel welcome. I love making it beautiful for them.” After routinely hosting six parties a year for 20 years, Ashley decided to up her hosting game for her sisters’ bridal and baby showers. Over the last three years, fueled by Pinterest photo inspiration, she turned her hand to perfecting the art of crafting custom grazing tables.

Feast and Floral offers three types of grazing table styles and can customize them to fit the theme and color scheme of any celebration. Classic Graze incorporates floral arrangements and dimensional props like cake stands into its design. The Flat Lay takes over a portion of a countertop or table and the artistry flows from the placement of locally sourced cheese board fare. The Brunch Graze dives into bagels, pastries and smoked salmon. Grazing tables come with a 20-person minimum, but Feast and Floral has smaller parties covered with its “Graze on the Go” Picnic Box and Grazing Board.

Feast and Floral creations have transformed corporate conference rooms into banquet halls and the dining rooms of private homes into cozy gathering places. In consultation with sister-in-law and full-time florist Akemi on the color palette for a retirement party, Ashley pulled together a striking purple- and burgundy-colored spread with in-season pomegranates and deep purple grapes. The “wow” factor generated by the artfully arranged food draws guests in. “It’s like a little treasure hunt,” says Ashley. “People are always finding something new and they talk about it together. To me, a successful party brings people together.”

The Art of Chocolate

Growing up in Bern, Switzerland, Ursula Schnyder fondly remembers coming home from school each day to a warm, inviting kitchen. Every afternoon, her mother greeted her with the same snack: dark bread, a glass of milk and a small piece of Swiss chocolate. That daily indulgence became one of Ursula’s sweetest childhood memories—to the point that decades later, it reshaped her destiny as an adult. “My mission is to create Swiss chocolate like nobody else here in this country,” Ursula says. “I really wanted to bring that here, to show this Swiss craftsmanship of chocolate.”

Although Ursula recalls being drawn to the kitchen at an early age, her parents steered her in a “more practical” direction. She heeded their advice and pursued a career in journalism. Through her work as a foreign correspondent, Ursula, along with her husband and two children, moved to Palo Alto in 1994. As both life and career advanced to 2010, Ursula found herself writing a story on the food revolution in the Western U.S. for a national Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung. “I reported to the Swiss readers that Americans actually eat more than just french fries,” she says wryly. As Ursula spent time immersed in the culinary world, the feeling of being at home grew in force.

Ursula remembers thinking, “What am I doing? I really want to be in the kitchen.” That recognition inspired her to quit her job and chase her childhood passion, leading to the creation of SWEET55 in Half Moon Bay. Why SWEET55? Ursula was 55 when she started the business, and the name represents the ability to reinvent yourself and launch a “second career,” regardless of age.

The first step in Ursula’s new adventure was professional training. She spent six months at the San Francisco Baking Institute followed by two years in Switzerland training under an award-winning Swiss chocolatier. However, she acknowledges that other vital ingredients contributed to her success. “I rely on my curiosity, creativity and love for the food,” she shares. “Additionally, my mother’s steadfast belief in me is a strength that I always carry with me.”

Ursula launched SWEET55 in 2013. Initially, she worked out of a small test kitchen she built in her backyard cottage in Palo Alto. “It was a fantastic opportunity for me because this allowed me to develop my products without any commercial pressure,” she says. In 2014, she moved into a shared commercial kitchen in Redwood City. After two years, SWEET55 needed more room, so Ursula began to search for a new venue. When a space was offered to her in Half Moon Bay, she jumped at the opportunity: “The cooler climate is actually really good for chocolate.”

SWEET55 has a small, inviting storefront with a kitchen behind it and then a large storage room. A glass window separates the kitchen from the store so customers can witness the chocolate-making process. Surrounded by a plethora of equipment and sheets of chocolate ready to be cut, Ursula oversees it all with buzzing energy and a powerful presence. In one corner stands the coating machine, fondly named “Rolls Royce.” As the chocolates are loaded onto the wire mesh conveyor belt, a constant stream of creamy, divine chocolate flows like a fountain of silk.

The first step in SWEET55’s chocolate-making process is procuring the couverture—high-quality chocolate sourced directly from Switzerland. It’s critical to know how to temper the chocolate—bringing it into a working state—just right. Tempering is not just melting chocolate over heat. According to Ursula, it’s a complex skill. “Technique is a very important component,” she explains. “There is an art to it that you have to learn and develop through hard work.”

SWEET55’s mission, and tagline, is “enhancing the essence of chocolate.” Ursula achieves this by adding a creative mix of ingredients to the base chocolate. SWEET55’s logo is another distinguishing element: an outline of the Eiger mountain, one of Switzerland’s most challenging climbs. Conveys Ursula, “I like the idea of using this mountain to symbolize the challenge of starting a business later in life.”

SWEET55’s flagship Eiger chocolate—almond gianduja with orange caramel crunch—uses 3D printing technology to precisely contour the real face of the mountain. The Caramel Muscovado, another of Ursula’s own inventions, has a dark chocolate shell and is filled with award-winning caramel that carries a hint of balsamic vinegar and alpine salt. Before you bite into any of SWEET55’s assortment of treats, you’ll want to admire the exquisite hand-painted details, gold dusting and splashes of color. And while Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated to the same extent in Switzerland, Ursula produces a variety of exquisite chocolate hearts—a mix of online and in-store selections—including romantic confections airbrushed in pastel French floral patterns.

Complementing the beauty of the chocolate is SWEET55’s packaging—Ursula is very deliberate with the boxes she designs, effectively creating art within art. Corporate clients, online and storefront sales all contribute to the business, along with chocolate master class and tasting workshops. World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a chocoholic and SWEET55 customer, sent Ursula a CD with a handwritten thank you note, “To Ursula, OMG, they are heavenly.” Celebrity and James Beard award-winning chef Lidia Bastianich also came to the store. “These are the best chocolates I have ever had,” she proclaimed, to Ursula’s delight.

While there’s an industry trend towards dark chocolate for reputed health benefits, Ursula feels strongly about SWEET55’s focus. “We are not in the health business—we are in the happiness business,” she says. “We are creating a product that makes you feel good and that’s super enjoyable to eat.”

If you stop by the store, along with specialty chocolates, you’ll also find a selection of coffee drinks and Swiss confections including Nussgipfel (nutty croissants) and Swiss Bricelets (thin, crispy wafers baked in a special waffle iron). Noting the shop’s growing list of regulars, Ursula likes to imagine customers creating their own special memories. She smiles at the thought of a child being greeted after school with a hug… and a delicious piece of SWEET55 chocolate.

Año Nuevo Escape

Before the first sighting, the peculiar sounds can be heard from as far as a mile away—vocalizations that are difficult to describe. We ask Año Nuevo interpretive specialist Sarah Mastroni to try.

“Sometimes they sound like flushing toilets to me. Sometimes it’s like a gurgling pipe sound,” she offers. “The juveniles sound like little screaming monkeys and then the females kind of screech also. They are a noisy group.”

The group Sarah is referring to is the colony of Northern Elephant Seals that haul out on the beach twice a year at Año Nuevo State Park (1 New Years Creek Road) in Pescadero. Like clockwork, Northern Elephant Seals return to this area to breed and to molt, drawing curious visitors from all over the Bay Area, across the country and even around the world. Located 35 miles south of Half Moon Bay, docent-guided walks start in mid-December and run through March. “It is the closest thing you can get to being on a National Geographic crew,” Sarah tells us. “The ability to see this unique group of large animals in their natural habitat is mind-blowing. This is not a zoo. We are inside the exhibit.”

BOOKING YOUR TOUR

To join the adventure, advance reservations are recommended to secure a spot. Public seal walks depart every 15 minutes daily—from early morning to mid-afternoon—with each departure time limited to 20 people. Weekends sell out quickly, so aim for a weekday for best availability. Even if you’re shut out on a prospective date, spots do occasionally open up, so it’s worth it to swing by and ask. Tickets run $7 plus fees, with a $10 parking charge per vehicle. Visit parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523 or call 800.444.4445.

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

When you arrive, check in at the Marine Education Center, where you’ll find natural history exhibits and all kinds of fascinating facts. Here’s one: Male and female elephant seal pups look alike when they’re born. As they mature, the males grow significantly bigger and develop a prominent “elephant”-like proboscis. Those description-defying guttural noises you hear? That’s the males inflating their fleshy noses to threaten and scare away rivals.

Come prepared for a three-mile (approximately 2.5-hour) moderate hike over varied terrain, including sand dunes. When your time slot arrives, you’ll be directed down a gravel path, allowing you to take in the first mile (and later return) on your own. As you bask in soul-replenishing coastal and freshwater wetland views, keep an eye out for Coots, Mallards and Black Phoebes foraging for food. You’ll meet your assigned docent at the staging area, which also offers one last bathroom stop before you officially head out.

On this particular day, the 11:30AM tour is led by Andrew Kaufman, one of more than 200 extensively-trained volunteers eager to share the natural and cultural history of the park. “Stay alert,” Andrew cautions our group. While there are generally designated routes and stops, Andrew reminds us that we are in another animal’s habitat. “I may have to call an audible,” he says. “At any point, we can be walking and stumble across a 2,000-kilo male 20 feet away.”

Año Nuevo offers the rare opportunity to observe hundreds of these spectacular mammals up close. As we pull up at an overlook, at first, they present like massive, motionless lumps dotting a stretch of sandy beach. Until you begin to notice small movements: over there, a pup nurses; across the way, a large male tosses sand onto his back; just yonder, a female rolls over, in a fluid ripple of lumbering fat. And, suddenly, an alpha bull bellows a warning and arches his back.

Through a mix of walking, talking and watching, Andrew conveys the wonder of this species over the course of the tour. “The physiology of the elephant seal, what they’re able to accomplish for their existence, is just extraordinary,” he says. “The lengths that they take to procreate and to get back here and the fact that they come to the same place… I marvel at them each and every time I see them.”

ON THE WAY TO AÑO NUEVO

Although an Año Nuevo guided tour can be pulled off as a Peninsula day trip, it’s also the perfect excuse to plan a coastal getaway. Whether you’re taking Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay or winding your way along curvy State Route 84 to San Gregorio State Beach, you’ll feel like you’re lightening your load with every turn of the road.

Once you’re on Highway 1, keep an eye out for Pescadero State Beach. Veer off on Pescadero Creek Road for the scant two-mile stretch leading to historic Pescadero. The knotty-pine-paneled Duarte’s Tavern (202 Stage Road) is the town’s time-honored eatery. Save room for a piece of Duarte’s famous Olallieberry Pie with its flaky, buttery crust. Right next door to Duarte’s, you’ll find the cozy tasting room for Sante Arcangeli Family Wines (216-A Stage Road). Named after the great-grandfather of owner/winemaker John Benedetti, Sante Arcangeli specializes in small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, primarily sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Just down the road, you’ll find Arcangeli Grocery Co. (287 Stage Road), also known as Norm’s Market (Benedetti’s dad), which is managed by Benedetti’s brothers, Mike and Don. Three words are all you need to know: Artichoke Garlic Herb. Think fresh-out-of-the-oven crusty Italian bread laced with chunks of artichoke. Pro tip: Grab a loaf and a wedge of goat cheese (locally sourced from nearby Harley Farms Goat Dairy) and pair it with Sante Arcangeli’s crisp Chardonnay Integrato for a deliciously simple feast.

Six miles south of Pescadero State Beach, a treasured (and oft-photographed) landmark on the California coast comes into view, signaling another reason to stop. Constructed in 1872, the 115-foot Pigeon Point Lighthouse (210 Pigeon Point Road) was equipped with the most powerful Fresnel lens of the day, using 1,008 handcrafted, brass-framed lenses and prisms to project its beam up to 24 miles. The tower itself is closed to tours with restoration efforts underway, but you can see the Fresnel lens and other exhibits up close in the Fog Signal Building. The grounds are open from 8AM to sunset, offering stunning backdrops and scenery.

If you’re looking to extend your stay, four Light Station buildings make up Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, offering bunkrooms and private lodging for couples and families. On a moody, drizzly day, it’s easy to look out at the fog-blanketed coastline and imagine the many shipwrecks that happened here, including the Boston-based Carrier Pigeon, a clipper ship torn apart on the rocks in 1853, giving Pigeon Point its name.

Complete the Escape at Costanoa

Less than a 10-minute drive from Año Nuevo State Park, you’ll find the eco-adventure resort known as Costanoa (2001 Rossi Road at Highway 1), a critical piece in the unplug and decompress equation. Overlooking a stretch of rugged bluffs, Costanoa offers a gateway to secluded beaches, four state parks and 30,000 acres of hiking trails.

What strikes us first is that there’s everything and nothing to do here. We take a deep breath and try to process the unfamiliar sensation of slowing the rush. We look over the trail map we are handed when we check in. The short trek to Whitehouse Creek Beach & Tidepools looks enticing—or perhaps the hike to Ohlone Ridge Lookout for sweeping views of Año Nuevo Point.

On Costanoa’s events calendar, we see offerings of complimentary yoga, a mushroom hike exploring the local fungi and guided bird-watching. There’s also kayaking, on-site horseback riding or mountain biking. The thought of a rare afternoon nap beckons too, especially when a light rain begins to fall.

Later that evening, we make our way to Costanoa’s Cascade Restaurant + Bar and settle in on two bar stools. Casually conversing with (and high-fiving) other patrons, we take in an epic 49ers win on the property’s only TV screen. We meet a San Francisco couple who share that this is their seventh Costanoa visit. With accommodations ranging from luxury lodge rooms with private baths to cabins and tent bungalows with well-equipped “comfort stations,” they say they make a point of switching up their experiences.

We talk with Craig and Tracey from Vallejo and hear about their memorable bike ride past artichoke fields. They also rave about a presentation they caught the night before when Katharina Pierini provided insights into trail camera footage of the local wildlife.

Sipping on drafts (we select a hazy IPA and a Kolsch-style ale) and nibbling on bar bites, we taste that delicious Harley Farms goat cheese again, this time with a balsamic reduction on flash-fried crispy Brussels sprouts. We savor Pacific mussels and manila clams, dipping crusty bread (and even french fries) into the white-wine garlic broth. And we glance, with full stomachs and envy, as farm-to-table specialties get carried by, ranging from diver scallops to mushroom risotto.

Be prepared for limited cell reception and spotty wifi, but calling Costanoa rustic would be a stretch—you’ll even find spa services here. Surrounded by every bit of nature’s bounty, it’s up to you to define “unwind” and choose your own path and pace. costanoa.com

Diary of a Dog: Annabelle

Feelin’ stressed? I’m Annabelle and I’m here to help! I was born on a ranch outside of Yuba City in 2008 alongside my 10 other siblings. Beth and Chris brought me home to Palo Alto and immediately noticed my calm nature. People really enjoy looking into my deep brown eyes and petting me, which makes me happy because I love to be petted. Beth thought I’d make a good therapy dog, so she helped me pass a series of tests so that I can share my chill vibes. Kids seem to know I’m a good listener and love to read books to me. I’m a frequent visitor to the East Palo Alto Library and Sand Hill School at Children’s Health Council. I also hang out at Palo Alto High School a lot where students can pet me during lunch or as they pass by Beth’s office. I don’t really like barking, so I’m pretty quiet for a dog. A while back, no one could find me when it was time for bed, and my family frantically searched the neighborhood, thinking I got out. (It didn’t help that I’m black and hard to see in the dark.) Luckily, Beth needed to grab something in the pantry, and when she opened the door, she discovered me sitting there. I accidentally got trapped inside, but I wasn’t worried. I waited patiently, knowing my family would eventually discover me. Here’s the good thing: When they did, I got lots and lots of pets.  

Portola Valley Vintner

Alarm bells sounded in the neighborhood when Courtney Kingston and her husband purchased a home in Portola Valley in 2003. The culprit: a sign declaring “the intent to sell alcoholic beverages.”

“We needed to reassure the Ladera Community Association that we were not opening a speakeasy!” she recalls with a chuckle.

The sign, though, was correct. This was the North American headquarters of Kingston Family Vineyards, which Courtney founded in 1998, and she would be fulfilling orders from her home office.

Courtney is the fourth generation to be involved in the dairy farm and cattle ranch that family patriarch, Carl John Kingston, started in the early 1900s. He left Michigan in search of copper and gold, joining the Cerro de Pasco Mining Company in Chile. While he never found the Mother Lode, he did acquire a large dairy farm 12 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

Courtney grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and didn’t visit The Farm, as the family calls it, until she was in her 20s. “My father, CJ’s grandson, was born and raised on The Farm,” she says. “He saved up for his college education at Princeton by starting a pig business. While at college, he mowed lawns to help with expenses. From my dad—the lawnmower and pig farmer—I learned perseverance and humility and using what you have.”

While pursuing an MBA at Stanford University, Courtney wrote a business plan that laid out the steps needed to expand the offerings of her family’s farm by planting grapes on the western hills and starting a winery. She held true to the three family tenets that are passed from generation to generation:

Ask not what The Farm can do for you but what you can do for The Farm.

Don’t quit your day job.

Never bet The Farm.

Keeping those guiding principles in mind, Courtney worked in tech after getting her MBA, paying off her student loans. And before planting any grapes, she oversaw a variety of soil analyses—and talked to California vintners, large and small. Pinot Noir and Syrah were planted in 1998 in an area that had previously yielded mostly white varietals.

The Kingston vineyards now consist of about 350 acres of grapes that are used to handcraft small-production lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, totaling about 5,000 cases a year. Most is sold direct to consumer through kingstonvineyards.com, although the wines can be found locally at Bianchini’s in Ladera and K&L in Redwood City. About the selection at Bianchini’s, Courtney observes: “Matt, the wine buyer, gives us great placement on a shelf below the butcher counter. They’re easy to spot when you’re buying meat or fish!”

While Kingston Family Vineyards has practiced sustainable farming for years, it is now in the home stretch to international certification for Organic Vineyard, a process that takes three years and will be attained in 2020. “Sustainable and organic—it’s about the long-term stewardship of the land,” says Courtney. “The land that has been in my family for 100 years.”

Chile is the 10th largest wine producer in the world with most of the production coming from 10 commercial wineries. “Being a small producer is rare,” Courtney says. “Plus, our focus on Pinot Noir sets us apart. We discovered that it’s great to be ahead of the market, except when you are too far ahead.”

HyperFocal: 0

Kingston Family makes two Pinot Noirs: the award-winning Alazan, and the more affordable Tobiano, which also has received accolades. Named after The Farm’s horses, the wines are made from blends of different blocks and different lots that are barrel-selected in the winery, just prior to bottling. Courtney calls Pinot Noir “the heartbreak grape.” “It’s difficult to grow and difficult to make—and all about finesse and not about power. The best thing about Pinot is that it speaks to where it’s from.”

Courtney admits that operating a family business is not without challenges. “The hard part is that it’s all-consuming,” she reflects. “The gift is that I get to talk to my father and brother every day.” It’s also clear that running a successful business isn’t the Kingston family’s only goal. “We strive to be thoughtful about increasing opportunities in the Casablanca Valley,” Courtney adds. “Our goal is to provide the team with growth opportunities and to focus on entrepreneurial businesses in Chile.”

Kingston Family Vineyards, which is an hour’s drive from Santiago, welcomes visitors with a variety of experiences—ranging from wine tastings to four-course lunches with wine pairings to gourmet picnics amongst the vineyard vines. Chef Elyse Guizzetti, a Blue Hill Stone Barn alum, sources ingredients locally and from the winery’s hillside garden. A beautifully-appointed new tasting room equipped with a professional kitchen sits on a hillside surrounded by grapes and granite sculptures. Future plans include luxury experience offerings around a new guest house, which will also be available for corporate events and retreats.

With her head and heart in two locations 6,000 miles apart, Courtney sees lots of parallels between Chile and California, saying that the Bay Area even smells like Chile. “There are the Andes in Chile and the Sierra here,” she says. “In both places you can ski and swim on the same day.”

And then there is the palm connection. “We even have a Palm Drive going into our farm,” she notes with a smile. “Although the palms aren’t as big as Stanford’s Palm Drive.”

Perfect Shot: Oy/Yo at Cantor

PUNCH photography director Annie Barnett captures one interpretive angle of the newest sculpture welcoming visitors to Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center. Artist Deborah Kass describes OY/YO as a distillation of everything she cares about—a blend of art history, popular culture and identity—in an unexpected form. As viewed from the steps of the museum, this Perfect Shot spotlights “OY”—a Yiddish exclamation of shock or dismay. From the opposite direction, that same word becomes “YO,” Spanish for “I” or a slang “hello.” 

Scraping the Sky

There’s a dry lake in the desert that Oleg Lobykin visits to solicit reaction to his sculptures. Since 2004, he’s attended the annual events there 12 times and in 2019, he debuted the largest sculpture yet from his repertoire: Talking Heads, an 18-foot stainless steel piece that, for some, might seem like a fantastical backbone glimmering in the northern Nevada desert light.

“Burning Man provides me with direct feedback. Within that kind of radical self-expression, people aren’t afraid to please you and they tell you what they really think,” he reflects from the serene calm of his backyard in East Palo Alto.

“They saw different things in Talking Heads. Some people saw corals or bones or faces. But for me, this work was just to spark somebody’s imagination. It’s abstract work. At Burning Man, people stopped and took pictures or climbed on it. I could see how they really interacted with it.”

Burly and benign, Oleg values such moments of untainted interaction between the world and his art. As a sculptor, he’s often removed from his work once completed. He no longer lives near the walls he adorned at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan during the 1990s and his restorations of marble statues on Stanford’s campus are in pristine shape, no longer needing his chisel and care.

Not only did the placement of Talking Heads on the desert floor offer Oleg personalized feedback, but the piece also achieved his ultimate goal of sparking the imagination. Countless people interacted with the piece and sought him out afterwards to share their interpretations. The abstract sculpture is based on a balance between negative and positive spaces in conjunction with how the viewer interprets it through its high-polished veneer.

Oleg is driven by the exploration of such harmonious contradictions within the natural world—the space between chaos and order, light and darkness, good and bad. Born in Russia, Oleg has lived in the U.S. since 1989 and he even toggles between languages when speaking to his wife Kimberly (or when playing catch with his shaggy white dog).

Oleg managed to physically demonstrate the concept when developing Talking Heads last year. He began by carving shapes with his hands before running it through a 3D scanner. From there, he built the sculpture using the smaller pieces made of S-316 high chromium steel. The combination of using advanced technological tools like a 3D printer alongside sculpting, one of the oldest forms of art-making, deepens his investigations into harmonious dualities.

“If you don’t know what’s bad, how do you know what’s good? That’s what I call a harmonious contradiction,” he muses. “Art is a unique language; you can use it to explore deeper than you could with science. Art is a connection between the conscious and subconscious. People look at art but might not understand it. But if it produces a feeling or makes you think, then it still did something.”

The narrow brick path leading to Oleg’s home and studio in East Palo Alto is lined with his work. There’s a life-sized baby statue he carved in stone modeled after a small toy (he even replicated the “Made in China” imprint for laughs) and a stone placard reads: “Oleg Lobykin 1966 — 20?? Life is a dash between dates.”

He lives here with his wife and their 16-year-old daughter. He designed and made their backyard stone look-alike table and benches by hand and on the wall in his garage is a conceptual rendering of a local public art installation: a massive SF sign alongside Highway 101 that he envisions for the hillside near Hunter’s Point in South San Francisco. Inspired by the Hollywood sign and the Giants logo, the sign would honor a sustainable future with solar panels and would serve as a proper greeting for visitors as they drive into the City. It’s a lofty idea, perhaps stunted by its own ambition, but Oleg’s capacity for imagination extends beyond the physical world.

“I keep in touch with reality but I fly in the clouds,” he says. “I dream big.”

For the last two decades, Oleg has lived on the Peninsula, but he was born on the other side of the earth’s mantle in St. Petersburg, Russia. When Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703, he called the Western-leaning port city the “window into Europe”—a concept that would eventually find its way into Oleg’s idea box when he was contemplating ways to celebrate his hometown.

He envisions a stainless-steel monument in the form of a window frame he’d install off the city’s coast in the Gulf of Finland. The rectangle frame could tower as high as 600 feet and its reflective steel would mirror the sky and the Baltic Sea. He’s already constructed a few renderings of his vision and even put a model on display at Moscow’s Manezh Central Exhibition Hall and later in a scupture museum in St. Petersburg. However, when he met with city officials, they supported the idea but lacked the capital to produce it at this time.

“I just bring the idea and not necessarily the fundraising,” he says. “I was talking to my friend who lives in St. Petersburg and when he heard about my idea, he said that I needed to patent it. How can you patent an art idea? I record it and make it public so someone can be inspired by it.”

On the desert playa last August, one of the Burners who passed by Talking Heads and paused for a moment of reflection (and a selfie) was Menlo Park councilwoman Catherine Carlton. The work also caught the attention of a new arts commission, Menlo Park Public Art, which presented it to the city last October. The Menlo Park City Council approved the sculpture, making Talking Heads the inaugural piece of public sculpture art for the city.

With Talking Heads expected to debut somewhere in Menlo Park later this year, Oleg deserves a moment of reflection himself, but he just can’t seem to press pause on his imagination. After all, “My studio is my mind,” he says, before returning to his dreams.  

The Google Drain

Friends often ask me, “How’s it going at PUNCH?” I tell them that I’m proud of what we have accomplished, that the response to the magazine has been great and that we have a terrific staff.

What I don’t share with them is the dirty underbelly of running a small business: technology, or rather, the failure of technology. Even though I have a quantitative mind and can generally fix things, I find that I spend approximately 20% of my time dealing with the failure of technology. Some days, it’s all I do.

From our CRM to our copy machine to our cloud-based software to my always sensitive iMac, every day is a new adventure on what will not work and what will go wrong. The iMac I first bought was so filled with unfixable nonsense that Apple gave me a brand-new upgraded model as they wanted mine to study.

But of all the technology failures, a recent one was the most tormenting. When we first started the company, we couldn’t buy the domain punchmagazine.com so we settled on punchmonthly.com, which was descriptive and close enough. On the occasion of building our spectacular new website, we were finally able to buy punchmagazine.com.

In order to be consistent, we decided that our email should bear our names at punchmagazine.com, replacing our use of punchmonthly.com.

I went onto Google to G Suite (where you can set up mail with your own domain) and registered and set up an account so that all our email could be under that domain. Simple enough. We bought our staff boxes and boxes of new business cards with the change to
“name@ punchmagazine.com.” 

Shortly thereafter, the disaster started. Few people were receiving our emails! We discovered through some investigation that any email sent from our new accounts that went to recipients using either Gmail or G Suite was landing in their junk or spam folders. Conversely, any recipient who was not using a Google product (say, jim@hotmail.com) found their email from us where it should be, in their “in” box.

I started then what would be a three-month process of trying to fix this problem. After all, we had all those lovely boxes of new business cards just sitting there, ready to be cracked open.

My first session with G Suite help chat, with someone named Ernesto, lasted about three hours, and he gave me several tasks to complete: putting code into our email system; setting up an authentication system; and so on. I excitedly did this, thinking that this would solve our little problem and on we would go.

But I was mistaken and a bit crestfallen when we tested our email, and our sent messages continued to go to spam. The next Colombian I spoke with (I learned that’s where my team was located) could not fix the problem but promised to have a supervisor call me. I never received that call.

I was determined to fix this problem. Week after week, in Sisyphean fashion, I would find two or three hours when I could brace myself for the arduous process of working with one of my Colombian friends. Each one bravely said that he would fix the problem, and each would offer something new to try. But then I would test it and we would find our poor lonely test emails stuck in spam hell. More experts were promised to call me, and again I never received a call or an email back.

I kept telling myself to give up, to admit defeat, but I would not have it. I would see those boxes of business cards and decide to give it one more shot. I would find a clear afternoon, take a deep breath and push the “chat” button. Each time we would try new ideas, but nothing worked. I kept asking myself, “Why can’t Google fix this issue?”

Finally, after dozens of attempts and an incredible amount of practiced patience, I decided to give it one last shot: I went back onto chat with Norberto who, of course, could find nothing new to try but promised to put me on with a specialist right away, which, to my surprise, he did. After an hour with the bigshot specialist, he told me that he could not fix the problem. Unfixable.

I was beaten and quietly ended the chat. Technology failure had won. You would think that Google could fix this, but apparently, they are too busy building flying cars to make sure that G Suite works.

Yesterday was a day of catharsis. The burial, if you will. I cancelled our G Suite account (after Mr. Bigshot told me there was absolutely no way to get our money back) and, finally, I gathered up all the boxes of freshly printed business cards and, slowly, like placing earth on the top of a just-lowered casket, tossed them—one by one—into the recycling bin.

Peninsula Art Stroll

Up and down the Peninsula, tucked into every town, lie artsy nooks and destinations awaiting discovery. Some of them are in more traditional venues like galleries or centers—ranging to century-old Victorians and Spanish-style art guilds. View. Paint. Imagine. Draw. Soak it all in. Here’s just a sampling of ways you can encounter art on the Peninsula.

Burlingame

Although Burlingame is known as the City of Trees, the gateway to the north Peninsula is also home to a bevy of galleries and opportunities to create. The Peninsula Museum of Art (1777 California Drive) offers the chance to visit working artists’ studios, along with rotating exhibits. Now through May 3, through concurrent solo shows, explore the works of sculptor Tor Archer and painter Lynette Cook, along with Kamal al-Mansour’s mixed-media social commentary assemblages and Diane Komater’s witty wire portraitures. Andra Norris Gallery (1107 Burlingame Avenue) focuses on contemporary art while Kerwin Galleries (1107 California Drive) specializes in California artists active between 1880 and 1950. To discover your own inner artist, head to Art Attack (1810 Magnolia Avenue), where you’ll find weekly classes like Bottle and Brush. Taught by local artist Ellen Howard, it’s the chance to enjoy fine wine with a paintbrush in hand.

Photography: Courtesy of Studio Shop Gallery

Janet Martin couldn’t have foreseen the legacy she’d one day inherit from her parents after they purchased Studio Shop Gallery in 1955. Originally founded in 1915, Studio Shop is now recognized as the oldest gallery in the state. Specializing in fine paintings and sculptures by Northern California artists, Janet and her husband Carl offer customers the opportunity to “test drive” acquisitions for a week to ensure it’s the right fit in their homes. Twenty artists are represented on the gallery’s walls, including the South Korean-born and Paris-trained multimedia artist Mirang Wonne. Opening on March 6 with a 6PM reception is Unbound, a retrospective celebrating Mirang Wonne’s artwork, which hangs untethered to convention. “She uses a blowtorch as a paintbrush,” Janet says of the artist, whom she has worked with for the past decade. “Mirang’s medium is stainless steel mesh as opposed to painting on a canvas.” Color and textures create vibrant floral imagery; however, Mirang opts for mediums of the stainless variety to exhibit an industrial-yet-sophisticated beauty.

San Mateo

Peering over the interactive map that plots the public art pieces scattered around San Mateo on the city’s website reveals the fruits of the Art in Public Places Program, an ordinance passed by the San Mateo City Council in 2005. Eighteen pieces are currently installed—ranging from Jeppe Hein’s Mirror Labyrinth NY – for California at Bay Meadows’ Town Square to the illustrious El Camino Real Mural by Mona Caron, which stretches over 120 feet near the Hillsdale Mall. Visit cityofsanmateo.org/artinpublicplaces to plan your route, and keep watch for a new installation expected soon, destined for 3rd Avenue and visible from Highway 101.

Belmont

The Manor House that contains the Twin Pines Art Center (10 Twin Pines Lane), just a short stroll from the Belmont train station around the Ralston Avenue bend, is as much a piece of art as the artwork it showcases inside. The tan, two-story Spanish marvel was built in 1908 in the wake of the Great Quake and the large, open windows draw sunlight into the historic venue. The Art Center features 11 resident artist studios with monthly rotating shows, such as the Burlingame art collective Art Attack showcase throughout February.

San Carlos

The artists behind Art Bias (1700 Industrial Road) appreciate the little wordplay in the San Carlos collective’s name. Not only are they partial to each other’s paintings, book arts, films, mosaics and various other mediums, they encourage public support. A buy us, if you will. Since originally forming as the Art Center of Redwood City and San Carlos in 1993, Art Bias has grown into a non-profit community center that offers affordable studio space, art classes, events and workshops. The center is in the process of expanding, upping the total to 49 studio spaces for active artists.   

Redwood City

On a shoulder off Main Street, under the canopy of pepper and elderberry trees, the Main Gallery (1018 Main Street) embraces the indefinite reaches of modern American art. The 16-member cooperative may showcase abstract paintings of sea stars in one exhibit before shifting to clay work of a glistening spinosaurus. Every six weeks, the Main Gallery refashions the interior of its century-old Victorian house into a fresh commemoration of style and form.

Photography: Courtesy of Robb Most

Menlo Park

With convenient three-hour parking near Santa Cruz Avenue, you have ample time to explore the bevy of galleries dotting the tree-lined street. In February, look for images of striking black silhouettes evoking moments in time at Art Ventures Gallery (888 Santa Cruz Avenue), courtesy of Yuri Boyko’s Transience exhibit. Across the street is Marcela’s Village Gallery (883 Santa Cruz Avenue), where Marcela de Alcazar herself may likely greet you to trade ideas about the local and Latin American paintings and crafts in view—before giving you a personal tour of the pieces stored in back. And to see a surprising side of Dr. Seuss, drop by Peabody Fine Art Gallery (603 Santa Cruz Ave), a family-owned business showcasing works by contemporary American artists including paintings, sculptures and drawings by the beloved children’s books author. A short mile away, you’ll find Menlo Park’s storied Allied Arts Guild (75 Arbor Road), an historic garden oasis offering artist studios, boutiques and dining.

Palo Alto

Swing by any of the numerous coffee shops along University Avenue and load up on caffeine to help navigate the diverse array of art galleries either centrally located downtown or worth the trek outwards. The Pamela Walsh Gallery (650 Ramona Street) is the latest fine art gallery to open in Palo Alto and in February, the exhibition Modern Portraiture explores the redefinition of portraits in the modern era from traditional renderings to sound. To catch Seeing Picasso: Maker of the Modern, get to the Pace Gallery (229 Hamilton Avenue) by February 16. Nearby Bryant Street Gallery (532 Bryant Street) has been displaying abstract and Expressionist paintings for over 20 years. Near Palo Alto’s southern border, discover the wonders of The Foster (940 Commercial Street), which shares artist-explorer Tony Foster’s powerful watercolor exhibitions of wilderness journeys. Mark your calendar for the volcano-focused Family Fun Day on February 8, inspired by Foster’s Fire and Ice journey.

Los Altos

The early ’70s ushered in an awakening of art in downtown Los Altos. After launching in Menlo Park in 1970, Gallery 9 (143 Main Street) opened its doors in Los Altos in 1973 to feature artwork from a cooperative of nine artists (hence its name). Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Gallery 9 now has about 30 artists working in various media including ceramics, sculpture and weaving. To mark the milestone, the Los Altos History Museum is hosting a retrospective Gallery 9 exhibit through March 8. The nearby Viewpoints Art Gallery (315 State Street) is owned and operated by 15 local artists who work in watercolors, oils and pastels. Viewpoints opened in 1972, suggesting that a minor renaissance sprouted in Los Altos 50 years ago.

Photography: Courtesy of Foster Art & Wilderness Foundation/The Foster

Behind the Lens

“It was so breathtaking, it stopped me in my tracks,” Michael Collopy reminisces. “It was really an epiphany moment.”

Hearing Michael’s words, it’s easy to imagine him as an awestruck college student visiting the Oakland Museum. The year was 1982. Raised in Burlingame, the Serra High School grad was wrapping up a fine arts degree at St. Mary’s College, intent on a career in graphic design.

That is, until Michael saw, really saw, an exhibit of Ansel Adams’ work. Increasingly frustrated by the technical nature of his own studies, he sensed a different calling, an alternate path. “I was so taken by Ansel’s pictures of Yosemite, the detail of his black and white images, the profoundness of his photographs—I knew I needed to be in something more creative.”

It’s a familiar trope in the art world: seeing something that changes everything. Ask any artist and they’ll share a similar moment of inspiration. But when Michael recounts his story, it takes an unexpected twist.

“A docent mentioned that Ansel Adams lived in Carmel Valley,” Michael continues. “So the very next day, I called up information, and sure enough, he was listed. I called him and his wife answered and she passed the phone to Ansel. I said, ‘I’m interested in photography,’ and he said, ‘Oh, that’s great. You can come down and have a glass of wine with me on Wednesday.’”

Ansel Adams, courtesy of Michael Collopy

That simple act of dialing 4-1-1 led to Michael being personally mentored by the legendary landscape photographer. “Ansel was such a warm-hearted individual and so willing to share his photography skills,” Michael reflects, before injecting a humorous side note. “The only thing I regret is not going back there and stealing the prints that he would throw away—they would be worth a fortune now!”

“Wow!” “Can you even imagine?” Even as these thoughts start to whirl about in one’s head, Michael is relating another remarkable encounter, connecting one extraordinary dot to the next. Yes, working shoulder to shoulder with Ansel Adams in a dark room. But also accompanying Mother Teresa through the streets of Calcutta. And playing word games with Maya Angelou after Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Through a series of stories, Michael traces his epic journey to becoming a world-renowned portrait photographer, an evolution of skills and relationships blossoming and compounding over time, with each and every focus of the lens. Astronauts. Athletes. World leaders. Seven U.S. presidents. Two popes. Dozens of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Hundreds of celebrities. This is a life and career defined by not just one but countless life-altering moments of inspiration.

“Shirley MacLaine is such a great actress and a fantastic dancer. That was just one very brief moment in which she took her hat off and I happened to capture it. I loved her expression and how she fanned her fingers out. She was lovely to work with—not at all pretentious and just very endearing.”

Growing up on the Peninsula, Michael’s earliest memories were infused with art. With a graphic designer father and a ceramic artist mother, family outings frequently meant visits to museums or galleries and learning to appreciate all mediums of art. But even as he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, Michael now recognizes the early breadcrumbs that would lead him on his own path.

“I would spend hours and hours at the Burlingame Public Library, looking at Life magazine and Look magazine and just going through all the photographs. At that time I was thinking I was going to be a graphic designer, but I was always very interested in drawing my heroes, mostly people from magazines,” he recalls. Michael also distinctly remembers learning about Mother Teresa in a Serra High School religion class. “We saw a movie on Mother Teresa, and it piqued my interest because I thought, how interesting that there’s a woman who is allegedly a living saint working in the world.”

Although Ansel Adams influenced his decision to pursue photography, Michael came to recognize his desire for a different subject emphasis: “After quite a bit of time working with Ansel and continually going back and forth to his house, I realized that there was no way that I could ever become a nature photographer. My real focus was people.” Thinking back on the magazine photographs that always captivated him, Michael set his sights on connecting with preeminent portrait photographer Richard Avedon. “It wasn’t as easy as just picking up the phone like I did with Ansel,” he recaps. “I saved my money and went to New York, and it took me a couple of weeks to get a short meeting—but that was the moment I needed to propel me to come back and start building a portfolio.”

Intent on photographing notable San Francisco figures, Michael’s zeal and earnest passion found receptive subjects willing to help him out—from famed philanthropist Louise M. Davies to Streets of San Francisco star (at the time) Michael Douglas. During these early years, he also recounts a chance meeting—inspired by his Serra High School days—that developed into one of his most meaningful relationships: “I heard Mother Teresa was coming to San Francisco and somebody I knew arranged a seat for me. I arrived late and walked into the cathedral basement and she was right in front of me as if we were meant to meet. We talked for a little bit and she gave me her business card—I thought it was very funny that Mother Teresa would have a business card.”

Mother Teresa, courtesy of Michael Collopy

Michael clearly made an impression. Mother Teresa invited him to visit her at the novitiate house where she was staying. “I rang the doorbell the next morning,” he says. “She answered the door and she said, ‘I’m so happy you’re here because you’re going to drive me around to all my appointments today.’” That day marked the start of a treasured friendship—and led to Michael’s 1996 release of Works of Love Are Works of Peace, a 15-year photo documentary of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity work.

Self-trained and struggling to get his start in his early 20s, Michael pulled down whatever paying jobs he could find—including taking school portraits for a local company. Charged with snapping 1,000 photos in a single day (“It was, ‘Sit down. Look at me. Boom. Next.’”), he expressed dismay at the assembly line approach and was shown the door. Thankfully, he had secured enough experience to lock down his next gig with the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos. That’s where he met Frank Sinatra, who later tapped him to be one of his photographers. “Let’s give the kid a chance,” he recalls Sinatra saying, effectively launching Michael’s career into a new orbit. “He was really kind to me and introduced me to his friends. Suddenly, I started working with people like Liza Minnelli and Natalie Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.”

Meeting Frank Sinatra sparked Michael’s interest in documenting early rock and roll, blues and jazz pioneers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard. And thanks to a referral from Sinatra, Quincy Jones hired him to work on his illustrative memoir, which in turn led to photographing additional luminaries like Sidney Poitier and Clint Eastwood. “I never had an agent, so looking back, it’s baffling to me how it all worked out. I think if I were to pinpoint one instance, it was probably Sinatra because he was such a mogul in those years and he would introduce me to people,” Michael reflects. “If he liked you, he would definitely be very loyal to you.”

“I’ve known Carlos Santana for about 40 years. He’s kind of a spiritual prophet and you always get something from being with him—his humanity is infectious. What’s great about photographing musicians is that they will play for you, so you have this one-on-one opportunity to hear their music.”

Talking with Michael, it’s easy to see how loyalty and friendship played instrumental roles in his professional success. Technical skills and lighting are vital components but his affable, humble nature, warmth and humor distinguish him as well. Michael approaches every subject with deep research, learning everything he can—to discern the essence of a person—before the camera even comes out. “The greatest thing I ever learned from Ansel Adams was pre-visualization,” Michael explains. “In other words, you’re visualizing the finished picture before you even take it. It’s almost like a spiritual thing because it’s not something necessarily tangible.”

Given the choice, Michael prefers to photograph subjects in familiar settings, ideally in their own homes. Then, it’s about having a conversation. Asking questions. Drawing out stories. Getting a subject comfortable enough to reveal character and true emotion. “You want to make it a revelation of some genuine part of their personality, bring out that quality that is best about them,” he notes. “I try to treat each person with the utmost dignity and respect. With most people you have just a few moments, so it’s really about visualizing that image prior to going into it and then being open to what might happen.”

TIME. Rolling Stone. Sports Illustrated. People. Michael’s commissioned work can be found in almost every major magazine, on album and CD covers and in newspapers and numerous books. However, above everything, he has always felt a special affinity with the peacemakers of the world, dating back to his early fascination with Mother Teresa. “That’s really what drove me in getting involved with photography,” he says. “I always have a radar out for people who are doing good work that I feel should be documented.”

John Cleese, courtesy of Michael Collopy

In 2001, Michael published Architects of Peace, profiling 75 of the world’s greatest peacemakers—spiritual leaders, politicians, visionaries and activists—ranging from Nelson Mandela to Elie Wiesel to Cesar Chavez. In 2008, he founded the Architects of Peace Foundation to continue the work of illuminating lives to inspire social change. “Architects of Peace is my way of giving back to the community, to try to inspire students the way I’ve been inspired,” he says. In addition to being offered as a school curriculum, Michael’s Architects of Peace project is also permanently exhibited at sites like the National Civil Rights Museum and locally at The Hoover Institute at Stanford University and Santa Clara University.

“Sometimes when you bring a prop in it works and sometimes it fails miserably. I searched at Whole Foods for the proper green apple because I always like photographing against black or white. And I thought, we’ll see what he does with it. And so he just took it and I have this range of different expressions from him with this apple. Steve Wozniak was a lot of fun to photograph.”

Exemplifying the value of inspiration, Michael also works with Caminar, a San Mateo-based organization providing behavioral health and support services. As the teaching artist for Caminar’s Expressive Arts Program, he uses the therapeutic power of art to help clients in recovery from serious mental health issues. “It started out just teaching them photography with their iPhones and then integrated drawing and painting and music—in a safe and secure place to create and express themselves,” Michael relays. “It goes back to the years when I was working with Mother Teresa. It’s just been so rewarding to me, trying to give back in some way.” In 2019, in recognition of Michael’s passion to help others and inspire world peace, Serra High School awarded him the Junipero Serra Award, the school’s highest alumni honor.

Balancing his commitments to non-profit work with “making a living,” is a challenging and demanding endeavor, and Michael has integrated family time through all of it. He met his wife, Alma, in his Circle Star Theatre days, and they raised two sons as his business steadily grew. “When I did my second book, Architects of Peace, I traveled for five years almost straight,” Michael says. “I can go into a week thinking that I’m going to be home and then be off to New York or somewhere two days later. Having my wife be so supportive really has been the impetus for me being, if I can call myself ‘successful,’ successful.”

With 2020 underway, Michael anticipates an even closer partnership with Alma. She recently retired from her work at Ohlone College and is joining his efforts with the Architects of Peace Foundation. Next on the agenda? There’s mention of a session with Bill Nye the Science Guy and photographing three more Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Not much time for even a pause, let alone to fully process each astonishing dot that connected to the next to get him here. “It’s been such a remarkable blessing that oftentimes I think, ‘Is this some other person?’ You don’t see it as being yourself,” he reflects. “My wife and I always talk about what an extraordinary life we’ve had—I would never have thought that I would have been able to meet all my heroes.”

“Even before she was named Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg was on my radar, and I was able to get my request to photograph her to her father. I ended up spending a good part of a day with her in Los Angeles. She’s just an extraordinary young lady and one of my heroes. She reminded me of Jane Goodall. She has that same tenacity and conviction that nothing is going to stop her.”

Landmark: Carolands Gate House

At the corner of Ralston and Eucalyptus Avenues in Hillsborough, a charming French-style cottage catches the eye. Constructed in 1929 with detailed ornamentation, a slate roof and hand-painted overhead beams, the 1,000-square-foot Gate House marked the entry to the Carolands subdivision leading up to the Carolands Chateau. The Gate House originally housed a live-in attendant charged with greeting and admitting residents and visitors to the community. After being abandoned as a residence in the 1970s, the Gate House fell into disrepair. In 2007, Hillsborough residents Jim and Sally Meakin led a successful fundraising drive to restore the building and construction was completed in 2010. A familiar sight to passersby and students at nearby Crocker Middle School and North School, the historic bungalow now serves as a multi-use outpost for the Hillsborough Police Department.

80×80 A Year of Discovery

Two positions on her LinkedIn profile, the photographer and the homemaker, feed into one another like an ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a serpent consuming its own tail to illustrate wholeness.

Becky Logan first began photographing her world at age eight when she would toy with her mother’s mid-century Ansco Panda camera. In 1996, her focus would shift to becoming the home manager for “Hale Logan,” the Hawaiian-influenced home in Woodside that she shares with her spouse, Andy, and their two sons.

It’s a role she cherishes immensely. However, between preparing dinners and picking up the boys from Our Town rehearsals at Crystal Springs Uplands School, she felt the balance between her passions tilt to one side.

In 2015, the visual poet and artist decided to commit to her photography with unwavering focus. She developed a website portfolio, acquired a mentor and wrote a brief poet’s manifesto: “Through my work, I give voice and recognition to the unnoticed beauty around us by highlighting significant moments.”

Becky was poetically parched in the spring of 2017, in need of a project to fix her camera’s gaze, when her mentor Neal Menschel suggested that she explore a contained space for a full year. She didn’t have to look much further than her own backyard.

The 80-foot by 80-foot quadrangle along a slope contains a slice of the natural world that’s small enough to digest but teeming with life for the observational eye. Daisies, bluebirds, lichens, silver grass and a common garden hose began to transcend fleeting glimpses from the kitchen window. They became reflections of life’s impermanence, duly transformed by either a season’s warmth or chill. Becky’s backyard became Woodside’s very own Walden Pond.

By the following spring, Becky had amassed a collection of photography she then distilled into 45 complete interpretations where one half is a photograph and the other is a written poem, either by her own hand or from the pages of the poets who inspire her.

She published the 80×80 project as a book (both softcover and a limited-edition handcrafted version that she literally stitched together herself), greeting cards and rubber stamps. And while she’s progressed into new creative explorations like shooting in infrared, the lessons from 80×80 have not faded from the light.

“I think it just heightened what I already knew but moved it to the forefront: impermanence, chance and beauty in the minute. How do we remember that every day?” Becky muses. “We get so ambushed; you’re in traffic trying to get places. People’s houses are burning—life is heavy right now. We can retreat to the beauty of what’s around us. And that’s what feeds the soul.”

80×80 is dedicated to her sons, Hayden and Wyatt, as well as her husband, whom she met while pursuing her Fine Arts degree at St. Lawrence University in New York. Becky grew up in Atherton and was bred in creativity. Her father has published five books and worked for Intel before becoming a venture capitalist (she arrived at St. Lawrence as the only person with a Mac computer) and her aunt was an illustrator who published books about drawing. She’s a descendent of the 19th-century Impressionist painter Robert Monks.

Becky is the family’s photographer, a self-described generalist forever drawn to the natural world while always seeking new challenges for herself (namely: shooting portraits, her least confident genre of photography). She’s photographed wildlife across the continent, capturing brown bears in Alaska and following migratory bird routes from Oregon to Texas. A few years ago, she joined her father on a trip to Palmyra Atoll, a secluded nature preserve a thousand miles south of Hawaii.

When Becky began the 80×80 project, there was the excitement of spring with a flurry of activity and change. Then the seasons shifted and the dry weather created a barren field filled with dead grass. By winter’s arrival, the mornings offered a coat of ice that blanketed the backyard—or “winter’s frosty kiss” to hear it from Becky.

“There was frost all over these grasses—talk about impermanence, I had to act before it melted away,” she explains. “How do I grab and communicate what nature did with that blade of grass? You stand there, drink it all in and it’s so restorative. It’s what we should do all the time, to take a minute to look outside your window. What am I really seeing here?”

Sometimes everyday chaos became the product of beauty. To some homeowners, it might have just been the backyard hose entangled in a messy circle, but Becky looked closer, refocusing on the ripple of halos stemming from its center.

Her backyard has been extensively observed, but the Peninsula offers countless avenues for exploring the natural world. Recently, Becky felt the typical anxieties of daily life, so to find ease, she ventured up to Filoli in Woodside with her camera in tow.

“As I was walking out of the garden, I passed by this marble table covered with oak leaves that were drying out in the coolest shapes. The light was reflecting in a different way. I spent 20 minutes shooting the leaves on the table,” Becky recounts. “That’s what I love about photography—my intention was to photograph the house and garden but then that marble table dropped into my lap and I couldn’t miss it.”

Designing with Moxie

Their showroom is a lofty space with an upstairs library chock-full of all kinds of samples. It’s an inviting spot for clients to linger and dream about, yes, putting together the home of their dreams. In this age of endless online searching and researching, what Evars + Anderson offers, they say, is “the ability to come in and touch the fabrics, feel the wallpaper and even sit on the couches,” all while getting expert advice. Nancy and Dimitra provide practical answers to typical home furnishing questions like, ‘Where can I go talk to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about?’ and ‘How do I know what I need?’ and ‘Where can I sit on it?’

The question of sitting on it is particularly relevant because Evars + Anderson created their own line of furniture called MoxieMade to compete with the high-end chains. Instead of “ready to wear,” they refer to it as “ready to live.” Here’s how they capture MoxieMade’s key attributes: “Quality custom furniture that’s well-made, competitively-priced and stylish. It’s really functional and versatile. Each piece can be customized with fabrics, trims, sizing and wood choices.”

MoxieMade was born when Nancy and Dimitra saw an opportunity in the marketplace—fatigue with mass-produced furniture—and did what every self-respecting Silicon Valley resident is supposed to do: Start your own company to solve the problem. That takes moxie, which the two New Jersey natives have in abundance, thus inspiring the name of the furniture line.

“It feels substantial. I don’t want to throw other vendors under the bus, but sometimes the big chains’ stuff can feel really cheap, especially when you look inside,” says Dimitra. “Ours is really good quality and it’s similar in price.” Moxie is also Made in the USA.

The two principals and their team of showroom designers take a big-picture look at a client’s design needs and figure out a way to incorporate MoxieMade and other brands so that no project looks the same. They also subscribe to the notion that no project is too small—walk-in clients who are interested in just the furniture are also most welcome.

“We design from a love-centric place where we are looking at the client’s space and how they’re going to use it. How are they going to raise their family in there? How are they going to entertain friends?” Nancy explains. “We think about how we love going into our own homes as a sanctuary at the end of the day and we want to make sure that we’re designing and providing that for our clients.”

Nancy and Dimitra traveled very different routes before aligning in design. Nancy first caught the decorating bug in her 20s while living in Greenwich Village. She specialized in PR and marketing and oversaw Yahoo!’s first social media program before opening her own interior design business in 2006. Dimitra spent years in the fashion division of Chanel Corporate in New York City, running the merchandising of watches and fine jewelry for the company’s boutiques and specialty stores. After moving to San Francisco, she started up a design firm while undertaking the redesign of her own home.

The two fashionable Menlo Park/Atherton moms joined forces after hitting it off during a mutual friend’s 40th birthday trip to Los Angeles. As they snuck off to shop La Cienega Boulevard, they found themselves dreaming and scheming about a creative collaboration, leading to the 2011 launch of Evars + Anderson. “We probably approach ‘California Style’ a bit differently than most,” says Dimitra. “Our East Coast roots play a big role in our blending of California casual with a little more polish and refinement, while still being family-friendly.”

They also pride themselves on having the exact opposite of a cookie-cutter approach. “We love bringing in color, pattern and texture while layering in antiques and unique finds with newer pieces,” Nancy shares. “We don’t go for the ‘safe’ look and rarely use the same materials or decor elements twice—we like each project to feel unique and speak solely to each homeowner.”

Nancy and Dimitra say they’re always working to develop different levels of service for a variety of client budgets, with the ideal goal being for everyone to have access to a beautiful home. “We’re not necessarily here to save you money. We’re here to spend your money wisely, the money you were going to spend anyway,” Dimitra says. “Really, nothing makes us happier than when our client moves in and we get emails saying, ‘I cannot believe this is my home! I cannot believe I live here!’ If a client trusts the process, they can trust us because they know we care.” evarsanderson.com

Marvelous Marble

Cold as stone. Joe Concilla would argue it’s anything but.

“Stone has emotion to it. Some stones are calming. Others are sexy and exciting,” Joe observes. “Different stones have different emotions to them.”

Stone can apparently beckon too. While working on their San Carlos home remodel in 2002, Joe and Leslie Concilla found themselves driving back and forth to check out samples. “We knew that the Peninsula didn’t have anybody with a presence,” Joe recalls. “Everyone was in the East Bay or San Jose.” And while Michelangelo looked at a single block of Carrara marble and saw his David, Joe and Leslie took in the sleek, shiny slabs and recognized a business opportunity. “The level of service in the stone and tile industry was pretty mediocre,” says Joe, reflecting back on their experiences at the time.

Customer service was something the pair knew quite a bit about. After growing up in the East Bay and studying mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, Joe accepted a sales job with Hewlett Packard and moved to the Peninsula. “Customer service was just ingrained in me. It was the HP way that you take care of customers, that you do the right thing,” Joe says.

Although Leslie initially started out in banking, she also ventured into sales and spent time at HP. The two married in 1991. As a sales VP, Joe found himself on the road three weeks a month. When the couple eventually added three young children into the mix, “It just got to be too much,” he summarizes. “It was a great journey while I was there, but after 20 years in tech, it was time to do something different. We wanted to open a business.”

In 2005, Joe and Leslie opened Da Vinci Marble in San Carlos, envisioning a boutique high-end store emphasizing customer service. “It kind of exploded much more than we ever thought it would,” Joe says, in a nod to the company’s current eight warehouses packed full of inventory. Fifteen years into it, Da Vinci imports and sells all types of stone and decorative materials and runs a cut-to-size custom business with a team that includes Joe and Leslie’s son Mark and over 50 employees.

Joe recounts a critical turning point in Da Vinci’s success—the arrival of the company’s in-house “Stone Master” Nasser Al-Robaidi. “My buyer is crazy fanatical about stone. If he sees a stone, he’ll know where it comes from,” notes Joe. “He has really helped me on the import side to get the quality material. There’s a limited amount of it, and just show up and take all the best stuff. It’s a process to get to know people.”

Italy is known for controlling the best quarries around the world, and Al-Robaidi spends about half the year traveling there, always on the hunt for a hard-to-find granite or dramatically-veined Calacatta. As for Joe, the previously beaten-down road warrior? He says making treks to places like northern Tuscany’s Apuan Alps never gets tiring. “The mountain range is gigantic and it’s solid marble. Everyone I’ve taken is always just awe-inspired,” he says. “How can we be walking on solid marble? The beauty is just unbelievable.”

From marble, granite and quartzite to onyx, limestone and travertine, even after 15 years in the stone industry, Joe acknowledges that the myriad of choices can be overwhelming. Asked to quantify it, he says that any given vendor might have 2,000 options—and almost every day, a new container arrives with approximately 80 slabs, each 10 foot by 5 foot and weighing about 800 pounds. “We try to curate the best products from the best lines and that’s what we hang on our walls,” Joe explains. “There’s so much inventory in so many different colors and so many new things coming out all the time. For the big homes, you have to have a designer to help you—it’s just too much.”

With that challenging prospect in mind, we asked Joe for some additional tips and insights.

How should stone be viewed within the context of design?

We called our business Da Vinci Marble because of all the connotations with Da Vinci and art. Stone, wine and art all go together. When you go to Italy, all the stone people are into wine and they’re into good food. The top restaurants will spend a lot of effort and passion going out and finding the best spices, the best meats, the best vegetables—all the best ingredients. If you’re a designer and you’re designing a house, it’s kind of the same thing. The stone is your palette and then how you put it together in the room is what makes it amazing. It really does make a difference in the overall look of the house.

After 15 years in the business, what are the trends you’re currently seeing? 

The trend is for linear—anything linear, anything gray, white, calm. White marble is still number one, popularity-wise. We probably have 80 different types of white marble. Quartzite is number two. We also sell a lot of limestone for bathrooms, flooring and exteriors. Absolute black is probably the most popular granite with different textures and finishes—that adds another dimension to the stone. In the past, we saw a lot of smaller-format mosaics; now we’re seeing big slabs everywhere. We’re seeing slabs on the walls, slabs on the floors, slabs that wrap around the fireplace. In the kitchen, waterfall is a great look and also countertop to ceiling instead of just to the cabinets. We’re doing a lot of carved vanities and carved bathtubs out of thick chunks of stone. And then outdoors—just everywhere outdoors.

What’s critical to know before making a selection?

You have to weigh the beauty versus the practicality of where you might use it in a house. You want to know the technical characteristics. The hardness will tell you whether it’s going to scratch easily. The porosity and absorption will tell you if it’s going to stain. And does it have calcium? Meaning, will it etch? If lemon juice or something acidic gets on calcium, it eats the shine away. You need to know that before you put it in your kitchen. All stones will etch, except for granite and most quartzites.

How is technology impacting the options that are available?

One of the hottest things in the market is quartzite. It’s a natural stone and behaves like a granite. Quartzites are beautiful and look like marbles but they’re very durable and won’t stain or etch in your kitchen. They didn’t used to be able to manufacture quartzites. They would crumble when they tried to cut them into slabs. But now they use new techniques and technologies with diamond blades and diamond wire, so there are all these new stones. Every time we go back to Italy, there are five to ten new quartzites available that have been quarried and discovered.

Harmonious Balance

The second-floor office of Sullivan Design Studio  (SDS) in downtown Menlo Park is typically tranquil on most Friday afternoons. Following the lunch hour, desk chairs might remain empty while a computer screen flickers with activity as an employee remotely accesses the machine offsite. Some of the dozen or so creatives work from home alongside their children or pets; others use the open time to schedule lighter meetings.

The full-service interior design practice was envisioned with an equilibrium in mind. When the company began in 2006, it was designed using a framework set by its founder, Linda Sullivan, who desired a business that adhered to a firm work-life balance.

“It was something I never had anywhere else,” Linda says. “I knew that if I offered a very flexible schedule, I would get more out of my design team than if I was standing behind them with a ruler. They would be happier while working and more refreshed on Monday morning. It comes from what I wished I had from other firms.”

In the same vein as form following function, Linda wants how we live to influence how we work. The subtle distinction also lends itself to how SDS approaches a new project for their clients, which begins with a formal questionnaire: Do you have children? Do you play sports or music? Will you use your house to entertain? Then they’ll start pulling back layers: Is wallpaper okay? Do you like electronically-operated window treatments?

Before the end of the initial conversation, Linda will jot down the client’s height to ensure countertops are compatible. She aims to understand clients on an intuitive level, leading to customized and tailored solutions for each individual project. It’s an instinctual approach that’s earned her the nickname “The Client Whisperer” among certain circles.

Whereas some firms may approach interior design with a more flashy attitude, Linda positions SDS to honor the project’s space as it stands and find a balance between the architecture, interior design and, in more recent years, the final decoration of the home.

“We’re not flamboyant and don’t pretend to be. There are other people who do that really well,” Linda says. “If we were a Hollywood celebrity, we’re more Jennifer Aniston than Katy Perry. Katy Perry is awesome but we love Jen. It’s design that’s very approachable and livable. It resonates in a very natural way that’s soft, detailed, well-crafted and timeless.”

SDS often gets referrals from local architects due to a holistic approach Linda acquired through her unconventional route to becoming a designer. She was already halfway through college when she discovered that her penchant for interior design was a viable practice.

Raised in San Carlos, Linda was naturally drawn to design and would spend the money she earned through paper routes and babysitting at the local fabric store. Her childhood friends were her first clients and their rooms became her first projects. However, Linda believed that architecture was the only route to take and began studying at the College of San Mateo, paying for her education through a job at the hometown architectural firm Stewart Associates.

Her mentor, John Stewart, taught Linda the fundamentals of architecture, including how to letter and draft blueprints. She was drawn to how people lived rather than what people lived in and she began taking classes in interior design at Cañada College. She knew she was taking the right courses when she earned her first A+. She transferred to San Jose State and graduated with a degree in interior design in 1989.

Linda’s first job after college was with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco where she worked on projects like renovating the Palace Hotel. After she had her two daughters, Linda couldn’t pull the 1AM late nights anymore and decided to strike out on her own. One of SDS’s first projects was designing a library in San Jose and soon she developed a strong relationship with architects, heightened by her background and deeper understanding of the process. Her clients today tend to be Stanford graduates in their 40s and one is on a first name basis with the 14th Dalai Lama.

Linda lives with her husband Dave and when they met as adults, they realized they had attended the same middle school in San Carlos. (They were walking partners during their 8th grade graduation.) When it was Linda’s turn to design her own home, she chose a comfortable abode in Redwood City with an abundance of natural light.

“I don’t think people put much thought into what is happening outside their homes,” she says. “If the shape and form are working well, then everything else follows. In a lot of ways architecture and interior design are in a blurred effect. It’s a harmonious balance.”