Textile designer Lena Corwin lives with her husband and two boys in the Outer Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco. “I love the foghorns and harsh salty air,” she says. Her home is simple yet stunning and feels like a deep breath. Take a peek inside…
What did you think when you first saw this home?
We rented for a year when we first moved to California, and then on a visit back to New York the listing popped up on my phone. I was lying in my brother-in-law’s bed in Chelsea. I knew right away — I got chills. Josh wanted an older house. I wanted a renovation project. I looked at a map, and the house seemed to be sitting on the edge of the world, a block from the Pacific Ocean.
What do you enjoy about living in the outer sunset?
Living a block from the ocean has added so much to our lives. The beach in San Francisco is pretty rugged — windy and cool most days, with occasional heat waves. When it’s hot, it’s glorious. But I also love the foghorns and harsh salty air.
What white paint did you use throughout your home?
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace. It’s a warm white.
You have a lot of blank space on your walls. Can you talk about this?
I love open space. It’s very calming for me. Some people come into our kitchen and suggest ways to fill the long wall by our dining tables, but I like it empty. It leaves room for transitory artwork. We’re always hanging the kids’ drawings and handmade signs for celebrations.
What do you like to cook at home?
I make a big pot of soup almost every week. My mom taught me the basic formula for making a soup from whatever is on hand, without a recipe, and it’s a skill I’m glad to have.
Ooh, can you share the formula?
Sauté onion, garlic, mushrooms, maybe celery. Add an assortment of veggies in the order of most cooking time needed to least. Add one or two starches: rice, pasta, lentils, beans, chickpeas. Add broth, boil and then simmer. Build flavor with a couple splashes of the following: tomato sauce, soy sauce, salsa, lemon juice or hot sauce. Add greens like cabbage, swiss chard or kale. Mix in a lot of fresh herbs, plus salt and pepper. Done!
Do you have any advice for people starting a renovation?
I would suggest focusing on the bones of the house — opening up walls and making the space itself feel really good. We saved money by choosing modest and utilitarian finishes, knowing it would get a lot of wear and tear with young kids. I really like humble finishes over fancier options.
What are three words you’d use to describe how you wanted your home to feel?
Peaceful, open, warm.
Can you tell us about this cool word art?
When my son Eli was learning words and handwriting, he started making these large letters on single sheets of construction paper. I took my favorites and tiled them in a huge Plexiglas frame I bought off Craigslist.
And what about this gorgeous artwork?
This Johanna St. Clair piece is the first of a new project I launched at the end of 2019 — large scale artist collaborations called Earth Art. I plan to work with one or two artists every year. I love oversized artwork and merging that with my love of textiles was really appealing. Each frame is made with raw (usually salvaged) wood by artist Jonathan Anzalone. This project is really close to my heart and the idea took shape two years ago during a bus ride alone through Iceland.
Who creates these little collections?
We all enjoy finding things when we’re out in nature — rocks, driftwood, shells. I like to cluster them in piles on our windowsills.
Why did you choose to have carpet in boys’ bedrooms? (I love a carpeted bedroom!)
The roof is pitched in the kids’ rooms and we knew we’d spend a lot of time on the floor. So, carpet seemed appealing. I found a 100% unbleached wool carpet that felt like a good fit for us.
Would you be up for talking about your struggles with infertility?
I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was having trouble getting pregnant. It made so much sense; I experienced all the symptoms since starting my period but never heard the word until then. I had laparoscopic surgery, but still wasn’t able to get pregnant. So we went through a long process of trying IUI and then IVF. I’m so grateful it worked. But it was a really grueling and difficult thing to go through. The experience did prepare me for motherhood in many ways — I learned to ease my tight grip on wanting to be in control.
What are Eli and Abe into these days?
Eli loves woodworking and running in the sand dunes. Abe is into sparkly jewelry and Legos. Both enjoy hiking and I’m thrilled.
How did you want your bedroom to feel?
Serene and light-filled. We haven’t put curtains up in our bedroom, but the height of the windows gives us privacy. If i’m walking around naked, our neighbors can’t see!
Towel: Peace Cloth.
Tell us about your beautiful peace towels.
Peace Cloth is another expression of my love of textiles. I’ve always wanted to work with jacquard weaving (one side is the woven inverse of the other). The peace symbol is such a part of my childhood, growing up near Haight Street in San Francisco. When I launched the first towels in 2014, I was wanting to do a side project that donated a portion to a longstanding peace organization.
Towel: Peace Cloth.
I’ve always thought a shower window is one of life’s simple pleasures.
Yes, it feels like an outdoor shower! We never close the window — it stays open and feels really fresh. We just see treetops.
How did this outdoor bathtub come about?
That was my husband Josh’s idea. We had set up a hot water hook outside in case we wanted to do an outdoor shower. Then he found this bathtub on Craigslist. The kids mostly do it, and it feels great in this climate where it gets really chilly in the evenings. It feels like a hot tub.
What are you growing in your garden?
Lettuce, kale, swiss chard, strawberries, summer squash, cucumbers and herbs.
How have you been getting through quarantine?
I go for an evening walk or run, which has been my sanity savor. And we’re all watching Kids Baking Championship — there are eight seasons, so we’re working our way through!
(Photographs by Lena Corwin for Cup of Jo.)