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Publication Date: 2011-10-11

Behind the Design

Q&A with William Hefner & Kazuko Hoshino of Studio William Hefner

Los Angeles-based architect William Hefner and interior designer Kazuko Hoshino, his wife and business partner, run Studio William Hefner a multidisciplinary practice in architecture, interiors, and landscape design—and have a chameleon-like ability to adapt to a project’s specific needs. With their Dering Hall storefront, they’ve brought some of the pieces they’ve developed for private clients to the public market. We caught up with Hefner to find out more about his inspirations, how he approaches a project, and sustainable design.

Q: Who are your biggest influences?

A: In light of the fact that interior architecture is so important to us, it would be Jean-Michel Frank and Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. What we like about that period in general, and specifically those designers, are the proportions of the pieces, the slenderness. They conceived of interior environments fully, as floors, walls, and ceilings, and went so far as to create custom-designed furniture to complete every aspect of a space from door knobs to upholstery. We’re always impressed by how much of a complete environment they created in their projects.

Q: You work in a variety of styles, from Spanish Colonial to Modernist. Are there guiding principles that bind all of your projects?

A: It’s hard for us to see—sometimes we’re too close to the work—but people often point out threads that run through what we do. I would say there’s an interest in materials, particularly natural ones like stone, wood, and metal, and those that express themselves and really look like what they are. We also bring a simplicity and clarity to detail—whether it’s a traditional or a modern project.

Q: So you wouldn’t say you have your own style?

A: We deliberately try not to have a style because we feel like that way it keeps it fresher for us creatively. When we approach a new project we try to pretend we haven’t done a house before and really try to be open to making that particular project unique. Our goal is to not repeat ourselves or do the same thing twice.

Q: How does working in a megacity like Los Angeles, which has such a diverse design history, affect your work?

A: There is such a rich history for residential architecture here, from the Spanish Colonials of the 20s, to Art Deco, to modern architects like Neutra, Schindler, and Wright. I think the one thing that is very special—especially having spent time in Santa Barbara, where the dedication and richness of the Spanish Colonial is unparalleled—is that people were really dedicated to making houses wonderful. We’re always discovering new gems around Los Angeles and that is a source of inspiration.

Q: How has your work changed since you started your practice in the late ’80′s?

A: I think when I started out—and before that when I worked for Skidmore Owings and Merril doing high rises—I was more interested in doing contemporary architecture, and I didn’t have the depth of experience in terms of developing a more traditional project. I didn’t posses a vocabulary of ornament like moldings or different styles of doors. So what has really changed about our work since then is that as a firm we’ve developed a tool chest full of wonderful details and materials that can be applied to a variety of projects. Also, in that time my wife and I have traveled throughout the world and I think that travel has brought a richness to our work that wasn’t there originally.

Q: Are any of the pieces in the collection for Dering Hall inspired by your travels?

A: Definitely. One of our biggest influences in the last few years has been southern France, and a number of the pieces were influenced by classic French furnishings. The woods we selected are directly influenced by what we saw in France. Others such as the Francesco dining chair, have their roots in those great French Art Deco-era designers I mentioned.

Q: Are there any design trends now that intrigue you?

A: It seems more and more people are open to the idea of a contemporary interior, even in a traditional house, which is a juxtaposition I find interesting. While in some measure it’s being driven by comfort and flexibility, it also fits people’s lifestyles today. Five or 10 years ago, if you had a traditional house, you had to have a traditional interior.

Q: Are your pieces for Dering Hall contemporary then?

A: They’re definitely skewed as a contemporary interpretation of traditional. We try to avoid a look where it seems like someone went to one store and bought everything. We would see them being mixed with both contemporary and antique pieces for a style that feels more eclectic. Some of the other pieces are what we call our workhorses. We’ve used them time after time and in all kinds of different projects and have refined the design to the point where we feel like they are hitting a sweet spot in terms of scale and proportion.

Q: How would you use these pieces together?

A: Stylistically they’re quite diverse‚ ranging from the contemporary to the more traditional to the Art Deco influence. We tried to use a variety of materials and finishes to give these pieces all the elements that would make them, as a friend used to say, appropriately complex. That way in an ensemble they don’t look as though they are all from the same place and time. Our goal was to create an assortment that looked like it was collected over time.

Q: Is there anything happening in the current design scene that excites you?

A: Sustainable design is a very exciting field because literally every month there are dozens of new products—whether it’s equipment for houses or finishes or eco-friendly materials. We’re currently working on a house for Ed Begley Jr., which has been a unique challenge because it has raised the bar on us learning the latest about sustainable products and design. We try to pick and choose the best, but at the same time not have them interfere with the aesthetic. The idea is to create something that looks like a beautiful house, and not so much a house that screams green features. We’re looking at houses that are 150 years old because all houses were “sustainable” at that point in time—there was no power grid to be tied into. We’re looking at things like siting, passive solar, recycled materials, and not relying on the latest gadgets.

Q: How does that play into your furniture collection?

A: We have as much as possible tried to make the pieces from FSC-certified woods and the steel is 99% recycled content. The other thing that’s important are the interior materials, because people have more allergies and sensitivities. So we’re conscious of trying to use the latest materials for construction and fill and glues that don’t off-gas and create interior pollution.

—Sam Grawe

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