With nearly three decades of experience, Martin Kobus and founding partner Chris Bergin exploded onto the interior design scene with a rare momentum. We sat down with the celebrated pair to learn more about their singular point of view, fueled by a reverence for art, history and collaboration.
For more interior design inspiration, check out our last spotlight here.
How did your firm get its start?
MK: We started over 20 years ago in an atelier making window coverings.
CB: It became obvious about 5 years ago that people really wanted what Martin was doing so I told him, “Go. Hire your team. Become a full-on interior design firm, and I’ll handle the window covering business.” And that’s where we are now. It was a natural evolution of being in the design industry for over 25 years.
MK: A big turning point was when we did the San Francisco Decorator Showcase House in 2016. That’s when we came out, basically.
CB: The positive response to our work was overwhelming. We got so many new clients, and even expanded our team from four people to 12. We did the Showcase this year, too, and the house we did happened to be on the market. A buyer came through and bought the whole thing; every little item. That was a big success.
Why do you think you were so successful at the Decorator Showcase?
CB: The response that we got from the 2016 Showcase was that our rooms were warm, comfortable and relatable — to everybody. Young, old, everyone.
MK: We took classical elements and did them in a very contemporary way.
CB: And people just understood it. A lot of Showcases tend to be a bit off-putting and overly showy, so we did real rooms people could live in. And it worked. People want that comfortable living, but luxurious at the same time.
MK: With unique pieces, that have a story.
What trends are you seeing emerge lately?
MK: French and Italian furnishings from the 50s and 60s. I also see that trend extending to even the 70s and 80s. Another one is toward more open spaces; dining room, living and kitchen all as one. That’s what we’re doing in all our projects, barring the more traditional mansions. The last trend I’m seeing is in technology — what’s out there now with textured wallpaper and what can be done with fabrics.
CB: The technology in fabrics is beyond — not as in computers, but in the evolution of products and what artisans can produce. A company we work with does wallpaper that is all hand-painted; not printed, not screened, painted by hand. We give them the size of the walls and a pattern and they paint each section so that, when it’s done, it fits like a puzzle on the wall.
Would you say that fine art and working with other artisans is a focal point of your work?
MK: I do like to collaborate with new artists. I like to see what’s out there, to collaborate. Other artists can relate to what I’m doing, and that gives me a creative push. We can inspire each other.
CB: In the Showcase this year, we contacted the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. They have a Rembrandt that Martin wanted to use in the library we were designing, so we contacted them to inquire if we could get permission to use it. This particular piece was actually one of the 13 pieces that were stolen from the museum in 1990 — the largest art theft in history —and never recovered. They sent us a PDF of the painting, and Martin transformed it into a 48” by 55” lightbox. So, that’s an example of how we use art in our work. We showed a stolen Rembrandt, using new technology.
If you could encompass the future of design in just three words, what would they be?
MK: Comfort. Technology. Scale.
What’s your favorite, timeless trend?
MK: Mixing the old with the new. Taking antiques or midcentury furniture and bringing them into a new interior.
And what trend would you be happy to see permanently retired?
MK: I’m not crazy about arts and crafts.
CB: I’d be happy to see that style go away. That’s the polar opposite of what we’re about.
Finally, what’s your dream project?
MK: I would love to do a spa resort. It could be anywhere in the world. A spa resort with revolving art; a combination of wellbeing and a changing collection.
CB: A gallery spa.
MK: Yes! A gallery spa. I’ve got some ideas already.
Learn more about Martin Kobus at martinkobushome.com.