John Charles H Stewart

John Charles H. Stewart founded his eponymous firm John Stewart Designs in 1980.   The New York native came to San Francisco to attend college at the California College of Arts and Crafts studying interior, architectural and furniture design.  After graduating he was hired by interior design legend Michael Taylor, pioneer of the “California Look”.
Stewart reflected on his experience with Taylor, “Michael was brilliant, he had incredible clients and I was exposed to many of the most architecturally significant residences in the Bay Area”.  Following his tenure with the designer, Randolph & Hein recruited him.  Echoing the careers of John Dickinson and John Hutton, he designed and developed new furniture lines for the esteemed manufacturer.
While at Randolph & Hein, Stewart also cultivated residential projects.   It was a natural transition for him to open his own design firm.  For the last thirty years his company has provided clients with unique environments that reference the past while acknowledging the future and mix traditionalism with a modern sensibility.  

The Summing Up:
An Interview with John Charles H Stewart

By Kendra Boutell

KB: After growing up in England and Germany you attended Manhattan’s prestigious High School of Art & Design where you studied Theatre Design.  Following graduation, you ventured to the West Coast where you enrolled in another cultural landmark, California College of the Arts.  How did your innovative education and youthful travels shape your interior design career?

JCHS: I have to say that my parents always made sure we traveled, visited museums, the theater, and stayed active in our surroundings.  I’m sure this colored who I became.  It may be why I have a greater appreciation for styles and cultures.   It’s still a large part of my life.  You must always keep your mind open and your eyes watching.

KB:  You began your career in San Francisco during the early 1970’s at the height of the city’s influence on the international design community.   Randy Arczynski described the time, “Our city had Michael Taylor, John Dickinson, Tony Hail, Billy Gaylord, and Val Arnold–far more than the population or economic base of our city should have had based on the demographics.”  How did this influence your work?

JCHS: It was a great time for discovery, creativity and magic.   It was as if all the elements came together.  The openness of design, the willingness of clients who were hungry to be introduced to a bigger world, and the economy, was what gave us the needed push.

KB: Going on to design furniture for Randolph & Hein during the late 1970’s you were surrounded by San Francisco’s most talented artisans and workrooms.  Who were some of your favorites?

JCHS: As happens often, and is happening now, when there is a need you find that creativity thrives.   Back in the 1970’s, there were old world craftsmen: upholsterers, carvers, woodworkers, and lighting workrooms.  You also saw the introduction of faux finishers, wall upholsterers, great floor finishers, and drapery workrooms, here and in LA and New York.  I had my favorites of course.

KB:  How did you see design change in San Francisco during the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first?

JCHS: Design is a business, and like any business, there are cycles.  Will it ever be like it was in the 70’s?  No, it can’t.   The expectations of clients have changed; the way you do business has changed.   But I have faith that as designers grow and mature they will be able to guide and educate their clients into the whole World out there and not just what the see on their computers.  The next steps are up to them.

KB: You and your wife Susan travel frequently.  What are some of your favorite destinations.

JCHS: We always love Ireland, Scotland, Italy, France and Mexico.  

KB:  What do you see as the future of interior design?  What advice would you give the interior design students of today? 

JS: Dont’s sit back and wait for it to happen… make it happen!  Don’t be afraid of history, color, texture and scale.  If you don’t see it, create it!  Open doors for the craftsmen around you.  And most of all, enjoy and be passionate.