Craftsman's Journey

Charles de Lisle's wild ride as an award-winning designer is fueled by a deep love for making.

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When the tiny mom-and-pop restaurant State Bird Provisions opened last year in San Francisco, the dim-sum-cart-meets-California-forager joint immediately fit into the city’s existing culinary—and design—landscape. With a menu that featured variations on savory pancakes; a deep-fried quail; and a clean and simple, hand-hewn design aesthetic, the place was perfectly emblematic of contemporary directions in restaurant design. Pegboard walls, an open butcher-block counter, and spare wooden chairs brought together a handmade nostalgia, sleek globalism, and grounded sense of craft. The success of the concept, which won the James Beard award for restaurant design, was largely due to San Francisco–based interior designer Charles de Lisle’s input, a contribution he terms a sense of “direction and ideas,” a way of detailing “the concept and the process and how you actualize that.” Practically, this meant trading emails with owners Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, advising them on chairs, lamps, and material surfaces. Conceptually, it meant continuing the restaurateurs’ careers that started almost 30 years ago and have since been woven—sometimes loosely, sometimes tightly—into the changing design and financial landscapes of the past three decades.

A sense of concept and process and working everything out materially—with the hand—underpins all of de Lisle’s work, from a restaurant in Mexico (his first stand-alone independent project) to a pop-inspired Japanese-themed hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown, to the lamp that started it all. The designer has been working for more than 15 years, first independently as an industrial designer, then with two partners as an interior designer, and now with his own four-person firm in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. His circuitous career path exemplifies the new randomness of design careers, where rather than a perfectly linear trajectory—school, small firm, bigger firm, own small firm, own bigger firm—the threads are more conceptual. Here it’s based on tactility, a love of making, and a deep sense of traditional roots.

The product and interior designer Charles de Lisle is shown inside his studio, which is located in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.

Photo: Leslie Williamson

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