Giants and Rising Talent Kicks Off With a Talk by Tom Kundig

Interior Design‘s Giants and Rising Talent event is going strong in Encinitas, California, bringing together established and early career designers alike in a picturesque setting. The three-day event, hosted for the second year in a row at the Alila Marea Beach Resort, kicked off with a warm welcome by Editor-in-Chief Cindy Allen Sunday, March 3, followed by a discussion between Tom Kundig, principal and founder of Olson Kundig, and Douglas Keane, owner and chef of Cyrus Restaurant, which the firm designed.

“It matters that we’re together; it really matters, more so than ever,” shared Allen. “We have such an amazing group because we have our Giants, who are big. Big, big, big! Also in this group, we’re mixing it up and we’ve asked [design leaders] to select somebody who they think should be here.” With that, she thanked event partners and introduced Kundig, calling him one of her career heroes. “You’re such an interesting example of being able to see the world through a lens and make it happen,” Allen said. But Kundig stressed that it wasn’t always that way. “It took me a while to find the right place,” he shared, recounting his journey to the firm then helmed by Jim Olson, founding partner of Olson Kundig. For young designers, this is an especially important step, he added. “That’s what you should be looking for very quickly, find out where you fit and shoulder your way in and make a commitment to that place and personality. Jim was that for me, that personality that fit my DNA.”

Kundig likened his professional dynamic with Olson to his experience climbing mountains in his youth, stating that the higher one climbs, the more support and confidence is needed in a partner—on the mountain, it’s truly a lifesaving arrangement. The immense trust built between Kundig and Olson enabled the firm to create a model that offers unparalleled support to their clients. With a foundation in residential design, Olson Kundig developed a keen sensibility for what makes people tick. “Residential work is the root of being a human—food, water, shelter,” Kundig said. “Shelter is the most important thing for us, so everything you learn in a residential project goes to a larger project.” Now the firm works on a range of spaces from museums and educational institutions to hospitality locales, like Cyrus, a restaurant with a cutting-edge philosophy.

Tom Kundig Shares Insights into Experiential Restaurant Design, and More

cindy allen on stage with tom kundig and the owner of cyrus restaurant
Cindy Allen talks with Tom Kundig and Douglas Keane Sunday night at Giants and Rising Talent held at the Alila Marea Beach Resort. Photography by Fotility Photography & Videography.

Inviting Keane to the stage, Allen shifted the conversation to the inner workings of Cyrus and how the team at Olson Kundig brought the chef’s dining vision to life. “Tell us about this new model,” Allen coaxed. Keane, who has worked in restaurants for two decades, explained that he sought to create a locale in Napa Valley that made diners feel as if they were moving through rooms at a dinner party. “In wine country, people want to spend time at a long dinner but they’re sick of sitting at the same table,” he said. He also wanted the space to feel comfortable for the staff, putting into place a model that reduced turnover and improved working conditions simultaneously—longtime industry pain points. Creating such a dynamic space, required an open-minded design team.

“We were listening to Douglas’s DNA, his ideas; not coming in with preconceived ideas,” said Kundig of taking on the project, noting that his team carefully considered Keane’s vision as well as the structure of the existing building and the vineyard locale. “If you’re sensitive to those things and you’re not just thinking in a silo, you’re going to come up with something that’s extraordinary because of the client,” he continued. The resulting space, situated in a 1930s warehouse, is what Keane called “a dream come true.” Importantly, the restaurant functions in a way that prioritizes connection, removing barriers between the chefs and guests indulging in the food. “People love the experience,” Keane added, pointing out one step of the journey invites guests into the kitchen. “It’s the connection that makes the experience magical.”

As for creating designs that enable magic to happen, Kundig advised young designers to carve their own path. “Don’t follow me, don’t become a mountain climber; follow your own soul,” he shared. “Work for what’s soulful inside of you.” To that, Allen said Kundig and Keane continue to lift her spirits. “The way you think about the world and architecture and humanity—that’s really what we’re encouraging the next couple of days,” she said.

Stay tuned for more highlights from Giants and Rising Talent, including event snaps, industry trends, and insights into the event’s most pressing topics.

Explore Event Highlights from Interior Design’s Giants and Rising Talent Event in California

A very special thank you to our 2024 Giants and Rising Talent event partners: Mannington, Shaw Contract, Lutron, Turf, Cosentino North America, Andreu World America, Bernhardt Design, Craftmade, Material Bank, which offset the estimated carbon footprint for the event, Williams-Sonoma Business to Business, which provided event centerpieces as well as cozy throws for attendees, THE MART, ASID, Stylex, Janus et Cie, Mohawk Group, which sponsored the beach clean-up along with the Rob Machado Foundation, Haworth, Tuuci, HBF Textiles, Juniper, and Tarkett.

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