unexpected guests: tom bonauro.
by victoria comment


Tom Bonauro is an amazing and multi-talented designer you’d probably like to know about, if you don’t already. I met Tom when we worked together on some Levi’s 501 Jeans advertising projects many years ago, and later on, a much less commercial project, some bus graphics for a pro-bono project encouraging teens to get out and Rock the Vote for MTV. Anyone remember that? We then collaborated on a SCI-Arc Fall 1995 Lecture Series Poster. Tom’s graphic design work, including the poster project we produced together, is in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Be sure and check out Tom’s online portfolio to see some of these projects, along with lots more of his wonderful graphic designs.



Tom’s work has been published in a variety of high-profile books and publications, including; I.D., Print, Paper, Vanity Fair, Interview, Communications Arts, Blueprint, and Dwell (featuring a gorgeous home he previously owned when we were neighbors in Sausalito). I sat down with Tom recently in his new, and incredibly beautiful San Francisco home, to catch up and talk about his current projects, including his new my new artist’s book, ‘The Third Stage of Matter‘.


Above, a page from Tom’s new book, ‘The Third Stage of Matter‘.

More to come on the book later this week.

Tom shared, “where I live and work has become an experiment in visual and spacial relationships – a kind of laboratory that contains aesthetic specimens. I identify with the character in Huysman’s book ‘Against Nature‘ who creates an all inclusive sensory engaging environment to interact with. It’s a practice. The place becomes a physical narrative to live with and around. There’s a fractal quality to how I operate. Irregular patterns and ideas repeat themselves from paper and film to three dimensional space. It’s like a story that continues to unfurl.”

Shooting Tom’s apartment became a fun, collaborative project between Tom and I, and we had a great visit, examining all of Tom’s beautiful and inspiring collections. Tom explained, “I especially like Victoria’s photographs which include music related items. The ‘soundtrack’ is a considered element where I live. I like record covers without copy on them. they can be nice pieces of art. The Beatles (White Album) is still one of my favorite records, sonically and visually. I remember thinking how sophisticated it looked when it first came out. Blind embossed type, individually hand stamped, gray type on the inside, black and white versions of color photographs, and of course lots of white space. A ‘pop – fluxus’ piece for its time. A white vinyl version was released in the eighties. It is still one of my favorite items.” I asked Tom some of my usual Unexpected Q&A, and got some really interesting answers. I think you’re going to enjoy this visual and very musical visit.


What is your idea of a perfect day in San Francisco?
I like it when it feels like a beach town. Foggy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon.



Other than San Francisco, where would you like to live?
I like it here. But, I like history and archeology. Maybe someplace that felt like another time. Somewhere around the Mediterranean.


Where do you find inspiration?
I find it in my head, mostly when i listen to music.

When did you start getting interested in collecting music, and do you have any idea how many albums you have in your collection? What are some of your favorites?
I bought a Beach Boys record right before ‘Meet the Beatles‘ came out. So, that must have been around ’63-64 when I started getting records. I might only have about 200 vinyl records left and about fifty 45’s. Unfortunately I traded in many albums when cd’s came out. I have a lot of music on my computer now and I’ve been listening to cassette tapes that I made from records. I need a new turntable for my bed room. I love going to sleep with a record on. Some of my favorites are: The Beatles (White Album), Revolver, Rubber Soul. Patti Smith: Radio Ethiopia, Horses. Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced. Van Morrison: Veedon Fleece. Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left. The Cure: Seventeen Seconds. Jefferson Airplane: Crown of Creation. Beck: Sea Change. The Smiths. Prince: Sign of the Times. Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisisted. Bon Iver: For Emma. Brian Eno: Discreet Music. Marc Bolan: Unicorn, Beard of Stars. My Morning Jacket: The Tennessee Fire. Badly Drawn Boy: The Hour of Bewilderment. Morrissey: Viva Hate. Kruder and Dorfmeister: G-Stoned. Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. The Doors. John Frusciante: To Record Only Water For Ten Days. The Young Bloods: Elephant Mountain. Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers. Ween: Pure Guava. Nico: Chelsea Girl. George Harrison: All Things Must Pass.

Which museums and galleries has your work been shown in?
SFMOMA, The British Design Museum, Pratt Institute, Oakland Museum, Printed Matter, Feature Gallery, The San Francisco Center for the Book, Quotidian Gallery, Cranbrook, and L.A.C.E.




What are some of your favorite local shops?
Mac, The Curiosity Shoppe, Flora Grubb, William Stout Books, Amoeba Music, Miette, and Diptyque.




Do you have a favorite artistic collaboration?
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues‘, film titles with Gus van Sant, ‘Inbetween‘, stage and performance piece with cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, ‘Gnomon‘, a site specific installation at SFMOMA with architects Bruce Tomb and John Randolph, and the ‘Free Love’, music video with ‘ Voice Farm‘ (Charly Brown and Myke Riley).




Who would you like to sit down to drinks with?
This is like a wish and if we’re having drinks then we’re having a conversation, so i would pick some one far out, to speak with, like the sufi shams or william blake. blake said that god touched his forehead. i would like to hear more about that over some good drinks.



What is your biggest interior design nightmare?



Did you attend art or design school?




Who are some of your favorite artists?
Fra Angelico, brancusi, herbert bayer, andy warhol, caravaggio, cindy sherman, gaudi, damien hirst, stanley kubrick, de chirico, william blake, antonioni, robert hawkins, carlo scarpa, chris johanson, raymond pettibone, marcel duchamp, the fluxus, gerrit rietveld, ed ruscha, tadanori yokoo, and kurt schwitters.



What’s your favorite feature in your home?
Now that it’s spring, the backyard. I also like the bathtub.




If you could photograph anyone in the world, who might that be?
I still use my polaroid when i can. it’s great for faces. i would like to have polaroids of kate moss, marianne faithful, the kings of leon, jim morrison (if i could time travel).




38 responses to “unexpected guests: tom bonauro.”

  1. I could look at photos of this apt./house ALL day long. So much great stuff, so well put together. Thanks for sharing your home, Tom! Thanks for blogging, Victoria!

  2. Modern design is getting more and more popular nowadays, and a lot of modern design draws upon the “zen” style. But designers sometimes oversimplify their designs, and the look just becomes blend.

    These rooms, on the other hand, features bright colors, and interesting patterns in a simplistic design. Great looking design


  3. Congrats Tom. and Victoria!
    Wow what a week… Three of my most favorite people in the world. Lauren, Derek and now Tom! I have many pieces of Tom’s work and they make me smile everyday.
    I love the gray walls. I would not normally say that, but they work so wonderfully in Tom’s space.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. thank you for this interview! i love tom’s work – he’s probably my favorite designer. what a beauty-full home! i was lucky enough to interview him when i was in art skoo. i just got done listening to voice farm’s first record (which is how i found out about his work in the ay-tees) – what a cool coincidence!

  5. i love your unexpected guests posts. Absolutely my ideal way of spending time, seeing what creative people have done with their interiors. Thank you for posting!

  6. My gosh, I love his place! Thanks for including so many pictures! I need to come back later and read more (at work right now), it’s so fascinating. Great art. And hooray for vinyl!

  7. Lovely. He has my favorite Smiths vinyl cover ever so his whole house could look like a rat’s nest and I’d still love Tom. :) But it’s a wonderful space, such a pretty place with tons of little things to look at and wonder about. Fun!

  8. Thanks, it’s a great post and I love all of his graphic wall art. I wasn’t familiar with his work so it’s been a real eye-opener. I also like the way the saturated colors of your photos enhance the decor.

  9. Oh my! What a beautiful space he has. I remember that photo with the tea pot as a little tease you put up some time ago. I have waited and waited to see who’s world this was a glimpse into. Does not disappoint.

  10. this is a favorite!

    i love the aqua against the calming grey, and the shelving…interesting combo of wood, screening material, and applied design (embossed, inlaid, printed?).

  11. my first thought was…wowsa…that’s a lot of photos in this post but then I found myself studying each of them for a long while. I can see why you captured so many images…he not only makes beautiful things but he is surrounded by them in his home. I would have been going bananas with my camera to record all of the details that you captured here. amazing. this is a post that I bookmark and come back to again and again…thanks for sharing!

  12. Amazing amazing photos and post. I will re-read over and over… so many fun photos to look at! I can’t believe the one with the little 45 record of the Beatles!!! I had that! Where is it now???? I had so many, oh memories!
    Q: Who would we photo?

    A: I would photo Sean Connery in one of his amazing hats, Frieda Kahlo (time traveling of course and she looks so great in Polaroids) and crazy off the wall, Uma Thurman.

  13. Incredible interior — everything so precise and well-placed!

    and inspiring interview — thank you! will come back to check out the links to his sources of inpsiration….

  14. I simply loved this post. I have to tell you that Tom was indirectly an inspiration to the founding of Velocity. In my basement office at home, I am actually sitting under a framed print he did for an old store that used to be in the cannery in SF called Aerial. I always hang that print near my home desk for inspiration. I used to visit that store when I could get to the city, intrigued by the space and the objects that they showed. Tom did some designs for them, and I thought that at some point, I would have my own store as well. We picked up some of his sushi sets back in 2000 as one of our first items. His designs have always spoken to me, and I will always have fond memories of Aerial, walking in while they played the Cocteau Twins Blue Bell Knoll for the first time etc. Thank you for such a beautiful and in depth interview and photo set of one of the most talented designers around. What a treat this evening.

  15. i have to say, i am so touched by how much you all seem to be enjoying this post.

    tom and i loved doing the interview, and there were so many photos, i had a hard time editing down. and there’s still a ton. i had hoped to launch the new site with this post, but due to the font issues, we held off.

    i’m so happy to have shared this with you all, regardless of the site issues (which we are now working on). maybe there’s room to post more photos later. and look for the post on tom’s new book on thursday!

    thanks everyone for such inspiring comments!

    and thank you John, for such nice memories!

  16. Victoria, Thank you for this post. Takes me back to my life in SF. I remember Tom’s work from M.A.C., Diana Slavin, and Aerial. I was always so inspired by his work. Did he also do graphics for that pet store George and Todd Oldham? I love reading about graphic designers lives and homes. Why don’t more bloggers feature them? They are as a group some of the most talented and inspiring people I know of.

  17. tara – i’m checking to see if we can fix that! :)

    cheese – the book post will be up tomorrow!

    heather – hi! yes, tom did the work for all the George stores, and has collaborated with Todd Oldham many times!

  18. Such a wonderful unexpected guest!! I really enjoyed seeing the beautifully curated spaces and nooks. I think my favorite was David pointing at his favorite leaf in the painting :)

  19. Any way to click on photos and make them bigger? Your old website would allow that. The pics are so lovely, I want a detailed view up close and personal!!

  20. What an excellent interview. I really enjoy it when artists share what their inspirations are. And I agree that album covers can be works of art, but unfortunately it’s not appreciated as much as it should be today. This is somewhat embarrassing, but I didn’t have a real appreciation for The Beatles until I went to a tribute band concert performed by the group, “Rain.” There is something about hearing their music live that made me understand why their music had such an impact. I really wish I had the opportunity to go back and hear all of these great bands live.

    Again, thanks for such a great interview and for such an excellent blog.

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