Bay Area design firm adds a personal touch to unexpected and clever design

Conner Wishard got a sense of the wild design challenges that awaited him with his very first project for Lundberg Design, in 2013.

Task? Create a wall of honey. Sure no problem.

“We encapsulated hundreds of gallons of different types of honey from different farms and sucked the air out of them and put them in these big plexiglass bricks and backlit them and used them to build a whole interior wall,” said the El Molino graduate, a bit breathless as he remembered just one mission that a more conventional mind would dismiss as deranged.

“Honey is not bad. It always changes. So you have these crystallized patterns that grow and shift over the years,” he said. “It was like my first week. I was hooked.

As Director of Manufacturing for one of the Bay Area’s most innovative architectural firms, Wishard aims to turn ideas into three-dimensional design elements and reimagine found objects and eerie memories into something a la both cool and useful.

Swedish-American modernist architect Olle Lundberg, who founded the San Francisco-based firm, loves composition and problem-solving that goes into architecture. He is always looking for “new ways to express form”, he said. This includes using new materials and techniques and reusing intriguing old objects.

For clients, this often results in a “signature piece”, a feature of each project that is completely unexpected and unique.

These unique pieces often take the form of architectural sculptures, as Lundberg puts it, objects that are given new life with new use, appealing both because of their history and “the patina of age.”

Iconic pieces in many forms

As part of the three-person team in Lundberg Design’s in-house fabrication shop, Wishard, who studied engineering and drafting at Santa Rosa Junior College and industrial design at the Academy of Art University, turns these sometimes crazy ideas into a beautiful reality.

Take the honey walls. The way honey changes color and shape over the years makes the walls constantly changing. A few of the panels are incorporated into the design of Blue Stem Brasserie in San Francisco, where they adorn a section showcasing local artisan food products.

“In a way, Olle and the team view them as a gift, not necessarily monetary, but a very personal, one-of-a-kind item that can be anything from a doorknob to a staircase that is being eaten away from the street,” said firm architect Emily Pony. “The world is our oyster when it comes to thinking about what we can create for our clients.”

The architects are located in a design studio above the vast workshop, and ideas flow freely between the boutique and the studio. Everything is housed in an almost century-old building that was once a mattress factory. With its raw concrete walls and exposed wooden trusses, the studio is truly an exciting play space for someone like Wishard, who was set on the path to his unusual vocation by his high school art teacher, Hal Roa.

“He was a character,” said Wishard, who lives on a sailboat in Richmond and plans to eventually build himself a cabin in Marshall.

“Above all, he taught us how to think, how things are done and how to document them. He taught the class like a professional. It was a great process. We had to design a house when we were in second grade.

A Lundberg Design signature piece can be a solution to a design problem.

But Lundberg, who once bought and lived on an old Icelandic car ferry, is constantly dredging up old items that may end up in projects as iconic pieces. While renovating a dilapidated fisherman’s cabin in Bodega Bay into a seaside retreat, Lundberg spotted a pair of abandoned buoys stuck in the mud. He did not see any marine debris. He saw the potential.

“They were immersed in mud,” Wishard said. “We had to hook them up to an old car and a group of four-by-fours and get them out of the mud.”

The buoys were in fairly poor condition; pieces had eroded away. Most people, said Lundberg architect Emily Pearl, would consider the second, most damaged, a lost cause. But the fabrication shop found a way to counterbalance that and turned the bowl-shaped object into a pendant light. The least damaged they made in a hearth.

“Olle will come back from a weekend with something on the truck, a big table from Indonesia or a canoe from eBay,” Pearl said. “And he’ll be like, ‘That’s a good thing. We should put it in a project for a client. And we’ll talk to the client and inevitably he’ll make his way.

Buoys are so popular as design elements that Wishard often searches via satellite imagery to spot old ones in a shipyard that may be disused.

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