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Designer Spotlight: 1 Columbia Design

Based in California’s Bay Area, design firm 1 Columbia Design works primarily on residential interiors and some commercial offices, creating practical-but-expressive environments.

Kathleen Divney, 1 Columbia Design

Kathleen Divney, Principal/Designer at 1 Columbia Design

Based in California’s Bay Area, design firm 1 Columbia Design works primarily on residential interiors and some commercial offices, creating practical-but-expressive environments. Designer and principal Kathleen Divney uses her formal training in both design and fine arts to create meaningful spaces that emphasize space planning, scale and proportion—interiors that are more collected than designed. We caught up with Kathleen to get her take on trends, style and even a few films that serve as design inspiration.

What are your favorite resources for design?

Shelter magazines like Elle Décor and TRADitional Home are especially great for resources (in the back). European mags like Maisons Cote Sud and Vogue Living enliven my imagination and encourage me to be more artistic. When I am getting trapped in being too precious I visit Fabulous Frank’s blog or Interior Decline and films just have the best interiors. I go to Pacific Film Archive, particularly for films from the 40’s and or French films from the 70’s like Belle du Jour. ‘The Servant’ has a great Regency look.

I also look to a few websites that are about the broader world of design: The Coolist, Stylepark, Decorati, Starck to put interior work in perspective.

Do you have a most memorable project? Most challenging?

A family library/ guest room/home office that was previously a grown child’s bedroom: all the functions meld seamlessly  and it’s everyone’s favorite place to hang out in the house.

The client feels it is perfect and worth every penny. That feels memorable to me.

I also love the work we do for the residential rentals that have brought high-end features and a luxury feel to affordable spaces: built in storage, cool window treatments and chic lighting.

I think a challenging project was a little kitchenette for my husband’s first office when I first started: it had to have all the elements of a full kitchen on one little wall. It made us both appreciate the power of design a lot  more.

What about your job do you find the most rewarding?

Creating situations through design that make people feel alive and glamorous in everyday surroundings. If you combine great layout, scale and proportion and sensuous looking materials it brings out the best in people and they take that out into the world with them.

1 Columbia Design Oakland Remodel

A recent project for 1 Columbia Design was this kitchen remodel in Oakland, going from a plain 1900’s flat to a more contemporary open plan for a young art-collecting couple. The palette was cool and modern and Kathleen used George Kovacs Grid Pendants in brushed nickel to offer shine, texture and warm downlight for the counter/bar area. (Photo from 1 Columbia Design/Scott Hargis).

Any trends you’re seeing right now? Or what might be up and coming? Any notable ways you’re seeing products being used?

I see a return of elegance, a kind of  ‘neo-traditionalism.’  Younger families are foregoing the casual environments of boomer parents and returning to a much more formal living and entertaining style in decidedly upscale terms. It’s lovely to see this adoption of formalism and an appreciation for pattern, materials, and well made modern furniture.

That being said Pluralism is here to stay – the line between modern and traditional is blurring and people mix styles and pieces from all eras freely and with confidence. They have more knowledge of history and provenance.

I think the rapid development of after markets to recirculate furnishings is notable. The vintage pieces from early  modern and mid century designers like Michael Frank, Milo Baughman and Karl Springer have become the new high end antiques and they have brought new notions of elegance

What is up and coming will be decided by resources and politics – that is the story of design. I hope it’s a move toward limits and quality– our resources are finite so we should buy less and make it endure.

What is your style and how does that play into your work?

1 Columbia Design Nob Hill

For this small hall bath in a Nob Hill flat in San Francisco, Kathleen and her client wanted something classic with a spa sensibility. Kathleen said juxtaposing a stainless steel MURO Mirror by Blomus and matte nickel Laguna Wall Sconces by Alico Lighting made it modern and the palette of Oyster shell and aqueous green tile kept it warm. (Photo from 1 Columbia Design/ Scott Hargis)

My personal style is contemporary and understated. So I can stylistically break out for clients,  channel them but make it novel and exciting – introduce things that are a little bolder or sexier than they might for themselves. I like to make any style feel more chic and current but integrate a kind of naturalism because having to live with furnishings that feel ridiculous or inauthentic is silly.

You have a completely blank slate (i.e. a room). Where do you start?

Its function and feel: sleep, eat, gather, play, crisp, rogue, artistic? Then we find an anchor piece to begin playing out a narrative.

What design “mistakes” make you cringe?

Using color instead of form.

What does your own home look like?

Classic, urban, eclectic. We bought two matching Buddha lamps by James Mont and nothing has ever been the same.

If you could give one piece of advice in design, it would be _________?

Most people have too much stuff and pokey storage. Get rid of clutter and scale up!

Thanks Kathleen! Learn more about the team at 1 Columbia Design at their website,

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