"For some people the big dream is to have a baby; for others, it is to have a career. My dream was to own a house," says Windy Chien. For Chien, a product designer and fine artist, that dream came true five years ago, when she purchased a Victorian in the Mission District.
Chien's home is both a creative expression and a creative home base. She purchased it at a fortuitous moment for potential home owners. "It was during the downturn, and it was a great time to buy," she explains.
Shortly after, she quit her corporate job at Apple in order to focus on herself.
"I was working on the editorial team, and we were responsible for what's on the front page of the iTunes app store," says Chien. "At some point, I decided that I wanted to create things myself. I liked my job, but it was all about nurturing other people's work."
Chien wasn't sure what she wanted to do, so she decided to test the waters. "I took every class I could find and that interested me," she says. "I took classes in ceramics, jewelry, electronics, printing, and weaving. The only thing that stuck were wood and macrame."
At this moment, Chien is best known for two products: beautiful wooden spoons and light fixtures with long macrame-clad cords. She makes both products here—one of the reasons she was attracted to the house was that it has a shed out back, perfect for woodworking.
In the living room, you can see her Helix light fixtures looping in front of a bay window.
"I call it the Helix, because the knot pattern loops around like a strand of DNA," she says. "I've always loved lighting. It's such a wonderful decorative element."
The fact that several stringed instruments hang on the wall attest to the power of music in Chien's life. For more than a decade, she owned and operated Aquarius Records on Valencia Street (which closed in 2016), before she made the seemingly unlikely jump from wax to digital.
Today, her goal is to support herself completely with her art. While she still takes technology consulting gigs, she says: "I'm very close to living on my art alone.”
The living room also displays her handwork practice. Every day she teaches herself to tie a new knot, using directions she finds in her sizable collection of knot books and manuals. When she's done, she tapes her effort to a wall in her living room (and posts a photo on Instagram).
When Chien moved in seven years ago, she says that very little needed to be done to the structure of the house.
"The previous owner was a hippie who had taken good care of it. She had already moved the kitchen to the back of the house, but had left most of the it untouched," she says.
The look the previous owner had loosely established—a 1970s-era vibe in a vintage Victorian shell—works for Chien.
"I grew up in the 70s, and I really respond to that aesthetic," she says. In the guest bedroom, she displays one of her many vintage sheet sets. "I love how they have these crazy landscapes, with sunsets and ocean scenes," she says.
The wall hanging is her modern work that jives perfectly with the aesthetic.
A wide passageway in the house doubles as an home office. One panel of the wall remains as it was when Chien had the wallpaper removed.
"A section of the paper came off in a big sheet, and there was the original plaster. I love the way it looks, so I just left it," she says. Her late dog, Tin Lizzie, is memorialized here in a taxidermy plaque.
Chien has a large collection of her grandmother's needlepoint. As the older woman's eyesight failed, her handwork became abstract. All photos by
The entryway is mainly decorated with her late grandmother's needlepoint. "As she got older, she couldn't see very well, but she still kept it up," Chien says. "She could only see blobs of color, so her work became wonderfully abstract."
When Chien was house hunting, her dream requirements included a garden and an attic. There's a garden shed in the low-maintenance outdoor space. Chien removed the doors for better ventilation.
"Woodworking generates a lot of sawdust," she explains.
Chien carves all of her spoons by hand, and she designs many of them with a square edge on the bowl. "I love to cook, and I find this useful for scraping browned bits off the pans."
The entrance to the master suite is Chien's closet. "It used to be a bedroom," she says. She installed a circular staircase that leads up to the master bedroom suite (a space that was once the home's attic).
Since childhood, Chien has romanticized the idea of an attic. "They are so cozy and romantic," she says.
"When we finished the attic space, it was all beige, I found it depressing," she says. "My contractor came up with the idea of adding reclaimed wood along one wall to warm up the space."
A half bath is separated by a macrame curtain. "Remember how, in the 1970s, people had open or semi-open bathrooms? I loved that idea," she says.
Chien enhanced the view from the bed by hanging angular mirrors on a wall (all thrift store finds, of course) to mimic the pattern created by the skylights.
Since she's spent two decades in the Mission, Chien has been witness to massive changes.
"There are times my boyfriend [Gary L. Baker] and I fantasize about moving somewhere like Atlanta where I could more easily make a living as an artist," she says. "But this is my place, my neighborhood. This is still the neighborhood where most of the artists and musicians live, even if they are hanging on by their fingernails."