unexpected guests: lisa solomon.
I’m so happy to introduce our next unexpected guest and she is the immensely talented, Oakland-based artist and author, Lisa Solomon. Originally from L.A., Lisa has called the Bay Area home for over twenty years — sixteen of those in this charming Craftsman-style abode I’m sharing with you today. Here she lives with her husband and daughter, as well as Mildred the pit bull, Diego the long-haired dachshund mutt, Gyoza and Lulu – her 3-legged kitties, and some fish. It is a very colorful and playful home, filled with lots of art, vintage finds, and treasures of all kinds. I recently stopped by to connect with Lisa and I’m delighted to give you a peek into the latest renovation of her house: the kitchen.
Tell us a little about your work and profession.
I am a mixed media artist that often contemplates the notion of hybridity (I’m happa – 1/2 Japanese, 1/2 Caucasian) often utilizing materials and techniques that are traditionally linked to domestic crafts (i.e. crochet/embroidery). I’m interested in the meaning of identity, personal histories, color theory, and finding beauty in the mundane and/or things I find frightening or out of my control. My work usually manifests as small to large works on paper and big site specific installations. Recently I’ve been exploring more of a social practice aspect. I also moonlight as a professor, illustrator and graphic designer.
What are a few things about Oakland that make you call it home?
The amazing art and craft community. The weather. The proximity to so many interesting and beautiful places. The fantastic food and the diversity of the population.
What’s the best way to get to know your neighborhood?
Come visit me! ;) I think all of Oakland has slowly but surely been changing in exciting ways. I do wish it wasn’t getting so expensive, but the plus side of all the interest in the East Bay is all the new great stores, restaurants and an ever growing art scene. You can find almost anything your heart desires here. There are some really charming homes, and some very nice people in my neighborhood. I like walking my dogs around.
Any secret or cool local gems we should know about?
A Verb for Keeping Warm is a lovely yarn/fabric shop that is super close to me. Kala Art Institute is also nearby and is an amazing print studio. I just finished a residency there where I learned to letterpress (SO cool). There’s also a beautiful gallery onsite and they hold really interesting classes all the time. Handcraft Studio School is also super close and offers some of the best maker classes in the Bay Area.
What has inspired your decor style?
Oh I don’t know… we are drawn to aesthetics. If we like the way something looks then we will most likely go for it. Also comfort and function – it has to work well, serve a purpose… I’d say if you had to label us we have an eclectic style – we like a lot of vintage pieces, but I’m also interested in some clean lines and resting spaces for the eyes (although those seem to be fewer and far between as we gather more and more stuff). We aren’t really big on trends. I like pops of color… We tend to make small groupings/still lives of objects that we like.
Tell us more about your cool kitchen remodel.
Our kitchen was AWFUL when we bought the place. 1980’s no longer white vinyl floor, 1940’s out-of-date and hard to use cabinets. Who-knows-what-era, really awful PEACH tiled countertops that were chipped and disgusting. (I swear the tile was a contractor’s special from a big box store.) They used it in our bathroom, too – which we remodeled in 2009. The windows were aluminum and didn’t work. What it had going for it was its size. It was (and still is) very roomy.
When we were finally able to redo the whole thing we were so excited. We wanted the kitchen to fit the house (built turn-of-the-century and re-done in the 40’s). We really wanted a clean black and white space. Some of the kitchen stuff we already owned had touches of pistachio and we wanted to keep and use them (our 50’s chrome trimmed kitchen table, farm table that we use as an island and hutch that stores our dishes). We used a local contractor, Andy Frasheski, who did an amazing job. He and his son made the process as painless as possible. With a young daughter they knew being without a stove and sink for weeks on end would be really hard. They put our stove on a moveable platform and hooked it and the sink up at the end of every day. We only had one night without a working sink – which was great.
We ended up going with simple Ikea cabinets, sink, hood, and countertop, but we spruced things up with better hardware and a restaurant grade faucet. We always wanted a black and white floor and found nice large size porcelain tiles that we laid on a diagonal. I hunted for and found Moroccan tile for our backsplash; we used really dark grout to make it pop. Andy came up with a GREAT idea for the area around the stove. He put up stainless steel and we mounted brackets to hang all our pots and pans. We also got a DISHWASHER (my first as a grown up) – it’s a small apartment sized one because we didn’t want to give up the drawer space for a regular sized one. It’s actually the perfect size for us.
We also re-did all the lighting – we had ONE overhead light and ONE over the sink light in the original kitchen. UGH. I found a repro 1950’s industrial light for the middle of the room, we added recessed lighting all over the place, undercounter lights (who knew they’d be so useful) and I converted a 1940’s metal desk lamp to an over the sink fixture.
Where do you find all these lovely vintage pieces?
My husband and I have been collecting stuff since we first moved in together (20 years ago now?). We used to hit up thrift stores all the time. We still go to the Alameda Flea now and again. I also used to frequent Porch Light Antiques – she’s now in Portland, but she started in Oakland. We became fast friends and she’s responsible for my acquiring many of my best vintage pieces of furniture. Last summer I went to Wichita, Kansas for a residency and fell in love with thrifting again. There was SO much good and affordable stuff there – it was scary. I bought an extra suitcase and brought a lot of stuff back.
What are some of your most treasured finds in your kitchen?
I really like our vintage lunch boxes. They are just cute and fun. I also like my Pyrex collection (form + function). Our stove is also pretty great – the oven is temperamental but it has a “port hole” which always makes me smile. I also just put out a bunch of vintage glass bottles that came from a very dear friend. We had our own collection that had grown over the years, and when she saw it she said she wanted to give me her collection to add to ours. She passed away soon after gifting them to me and I couldn’t put them out because they made me sad… but enough time has passed and I wanted to see them.
Who’s the chef in the house and what are some of his/her specialty dishes?
My husband is the chef (I’m SO lucky). He’s really good at so many things – it’s hard to pick. BBQ (pulled pork) is always amazing. He mades a fantastic Miso Black Cod… Often times we’ll get the Sunday New York Times and if the recipe strikes his fancy he makes it. He’s also become a really intuitive chef – he’ll make something yummy out of whatever we happen to have in the house. And his sandwiches. He’s a master at those!
Favorite dishes that are whipped up Saturday and Sunday mornings?
OH… he makes waffles or pancakes for me and my daughter almost every Sunday. He is also super duper good at eggs in a basket. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Coffee or tea? And how do you like to prepare it?
BOTH! My friend gifted me her Nespresso when she gave up caffeine – so I have a nice cappuccino every morning. But I also like cold-press coffee. And there are very few teas I don’t like. My husband drinks green tea in the morning and I often drink tea all day long, so we have a hot water pot so we never have to wait for 98 degree water.
Future plans for your home?
I’d love to get a new sofa. Replace some more windows. Get some good wardrobes for upstairs (these old houses have CRAP for closet space).
Before we leave the kitchen and head over to your studio, let’s jump back to your work. Tell us about your recent projects and some upcoming ones.
Last month Christine Buckton Tillman and I put up a big installation at a non-profit art space in Baltimore (her home town). Entitled CHROMA we collected items from people around the world and hung them on the wall in color order. There are a lot of views on Instagram with the hashtag #chromagalleryca. You can see all the contributions we received [we photo’d them as mini installations] at the hashtag #chromainstallation. There are also some fun interviews about the project on Baltimore’s Art Blog and Lisa Congdon’s blog.
Upcoming I’ll be doing a residency at Irving Street Projects in San Francisco. It’s run by Kelly Inouye (an amazing artist in her own right). I can’t wait – I’m going to be doing this social practice project that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. It’s called The Keepsake Project, I’ll be documenting and working with people’s keepsakes.
I also have a new book! It’s called 20 Ways to Draw A Chair and 44 Other Interesting Everyday Things – it comes out September 1st! It’s the biggest illustration job I’ve ever done – 900+ illustrations. It was a lot of fun and totally different from my first book – Knot Thread Stitch which was a mixed media/embroidery craft book. The 20 Ways books are a really fun series – you are supposed to use the 20 different versions of something that I’ve drawn (say bowls) for inspiration to try your hand at it. There’s blank space on the facing page for you to jump right in. The great thing was that I got to research and draw a lot of vintage stuff – like cameras and TVs – stuff I like looking at anyway. Each book in the series is done by a different artist/illustrator and it’s really fun to see how personal style comes through.
I hope you enjoyed this visit with Lisa today. On top of her many uber talents, she’s just a warm and sweet woman to know. I couldn’t let the fun end in the kitchen, so I’m extending the tour and conversation into her studio and you can follow along here.
• all photography by leslie santarina.