The Eclectic San Francisco Home of Knot Artist Windy Chien
In the bustling Mission District, Windy Chien’s Victorian home bursts with creative energy.
In the textural home of San Francisco–based knot artist Windy Chien, inky ceilings mimic a night sky, her grandmother’s needlepoint is lovingly displayed, and, of course, Windy’s very own helix lights hang in her living room.
You’ve likely seen this piece yourself—Windy’s work has swept across the country, from design studios to restaurants, and homes to offices. Her recent installations include a 30-foot wall piece for Fogo de Chão in Chicago, 10 spinal columns for the College of Marin, and a 90-foot room divider at Nestlé in Arlington, Virginia. Come fall, she’ll be working on three suspended pieces for the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.; projects for two hotels in Southern California; and a residency at Local Language Arts in Oakland.
On top of it all, Windy has just completed the manuscript for a book about her project The Year of Knots, which will be published by Abrams next year. Windy is making waves, redefining our understanding of the capabilities of macramé, bringing an art form that was previously limited to wall hangings into the three-dimensional world.
At the same time, she’s no stranger to tech. For eight years, Windy was an Apple executive, producing the iTunes Essentials series and serving as managing editor of the App Store before seeking a creative outlet. She dabbled in ceramics, jewelry, weaving, printing, and electronics, but what stuck was wood and macrame. While building up her craft, she consulted on the side with tech startups, but knots have now taken over her life as her outlet, career, and discourse.
"I speak the language of knots," says Windy. "Each new knot I learn is like another letter in an alphabet. Letters and alphabets form words, and words communicate. So the knots are my language. With the work I make, I aim to explore the beauty of the line, one of the seven building block elements of art. I take great pleasure in letting my eye follow a line as it moves through a piece. It’s a journey."
Her classic Victorian abode exudes the same sort of energetic movement. Purchased in 2010 because she fell in love with the attic and shed, the home has since undergone a transformation. The completely unfinished attic was turned into a master suite where she added skylights, carpet, a half-bath—Windy also painted her favorite Hudson Bay stripes on the wall. The shed is her woodworking studio. Her love of art permeates the home, as seen in her own pieces, as well as collected finds and tons of 1970s-era accessories.
"Everything I’ve made, including my now-retired line of hand-carved wood spoons, the knotted rope Helix Lights, and the Circuit Boards, all started out as objects I made for myself," says Windy. "I think surrounding yourself with objects you’ve made is key to appreciating every moment."
Windy’s abode mirrors her creative process and her primarily site-specific commissions. Just as she hones in on the space where the work will live and the taste of the client—choosing specific knots to augment the meaning of a project—she carefully curates her home to reflect her eclectic tastes.
Says Windy, "I’m really into subcultures of all types. When I owned the record shop, I loved being part of all kinds of subcultures, from punk to Ethiopian jazz, to Norwegian black metal, and the objects and art that I own, not to mention all the records, reflect this."
Art and antiques abound, including a number of pieces from her grandmother that range from ceramics to furniture. In the guest bedroom, vintage sheet sets with sunsets and ocean scenes, a stack of kilim pillows, antique lighting, and a shag rug make for a cozy stay. Each room is teeming with character, and the sounds of Phyllis Dillon and Alton Ellis flow throughout.
Her passion for music—she plays a little acoustic guitar—is on display via a collection of stringed instruments. A banjo, her grandmother’s gu zheng, and a mandolin pepper the walls. An impressive collection of records takes up a corner in her office, recalling her days as the proud owner of Aquarius Records.
Everywhere, there are works of art and books. Eyes painted by her boyfriend, Gary L. Baker II, grace the living room; a large triptych by Jeremiah Maddock spans the length of the kitchen, while the speckled clusters of Amy Rathbone's "Spitting Rocks" float towards the ceiling. Endless stacks of paperbacks adorn the shelves and surround the bed and attic office upstairs—as to be expected in the home of an artist and a writer. As such, it comes as no surprise that her work’s motto is "elevating the everyday." It’s all about being immersed in inspiration.