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Rising Woodworker Aleksandra Zee Carves Out an Earthy Oasis in the Bay Area

Rising Woodworker Aleksandra Zee Carves Out an Earthy Oasis in the Bay Area

We pay a visit to the Oakland, California, home and studio of rising artist Aleksandra Zee, who shares how warm, natural hues and pieces by local makers spark her own creative process.

Just as art is an extension of the self, so is the home and workspace. For a creative, one’s environment is critical—just take Oakland, California–based woodworking maven Aleksandra Zee as an example.

Watch the home and studio tour below:

Zee describes her craft in terms of flow and meditation, so it’s unsurprising that this sense of locomotion goes beyond her art and into her overall aesthetic. Artists’ tools are within arm’s reach, and integrated into an intentional design, so there seems to be no differentiation between a functional piece and something selected for visual pleasure. 

 Much of the furniture in Zee's Oakland abode—including her coffee table, dining table, and large bench—was made by herself along with fellow woodworker Katie Gong. The pendant lamps are by San Francisco–based illustrator and ceramicist Sam Lee; a Saffron + Poe chair sits in the corner backed by a minimalist Küdd:krig Home tapestry. The neon art on the wall is by local artist Meryl Pataky, and the ceramic knots are by New York City–based MQuan Studio.

Much of the furniture in Zee's Oakland abode—including her coffee table, dining table, and large bench—was made by herself along with fellow woodworker Katie Gong. The pendant lamps are by San Francisco–based illustrator and ceramicist Sam Lee; a Saffron + Poe chair sits in the corner backed by a minimalist Küdd:krig Home tapestry. The neon art on the wall is by local artist Meryl Pataky, and the ceramic knots are by New York City–based MQuan Studio.

Change, too, plays a vital role, which Zee has experienced plenty of in the past year, leading to shake-ups in her art, home, and studio. After living in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District for nearly seven years, she left the home and neighborhood where she’d worked part-time in a restaurant, feverishly hustling on her craft in her free time until it became her full-time profession. In June 2016, she made the jump to a new life across the bridge, settling in an apartment built in the '40s. 

She had first visited the flat when it belonged to a friend of a friend, and had already envisioned how she would style and decorate it—something she tends to do when she is drawn to a space. 

 One of Zee's favorite nooks in the apartment, this alcove holds many of her treasured pieces, including the eye wall hanging by Heather Levine Ceramics.

One of Zee's favorite nooks in the apartment, this alcove holds many of her treasured pieces, including the eye wall hanging by Heather Levine Ceramics.

"I zoned out during conversation, scheming how I would decorate this beautiful space, and I snapped out of my trance to hear her say she was moving out," Zee says. "I immediately called their landlord and asked for the space."

 Zee loves to entertain on her reclaimed wood table—charcuterie boards are her favorite.

Zee loves to entertain on her reclaimed wood table—charcuterie boards are her favorite.

The neighborhood was constructed by the same architect with exteriors that Zee says could be found in the streets of Florence. Brimming with ornate details including Moroccan-inspired arches, painted wooden beams, and amber glass windows that fill the halls with fawn hues, the building was a case of love at first sight. These same tones make their way into Zee’s own color palette: a quick peek at her Instagram feed reveals her obsession with everything beige.

 The credenza was handmade by San Francisco furniture maker Four / Quarter, while Katie Gong's wood squiggle rests above a Samsung Frame TV to add balance to the space.

The credenza was handmade by San Francisco furniture maker Four / Quarter, while Katie Gong's wood squiggle rests above a Samsung Frame TV to add balance to the space.

"Wood tones and warm tones are what I create with," says Zee. "Warm and neutral colors calm my spirit and awaken my creativity, so surrounding myself with them keeps me hungry to create. From my clothing, to the objects and textures that fill my home, and to my artwork where it all began, [I live] in the hue of golden beige."

In her home and studio decor, Zee recreates feelings of being in the desert and the tint of the rising sun, summoning faraway adventures—she says that her home does, in fact, feel like being on vacation. With a multitude of windows and an abundance of plants, the apartment resembles a greenhouse that fills with warm, pink light when the sun sets in the summer. 

 Zee's bedroom is filled with her hat collection as well as a wood knot from Katie Gong, the most represented of artists in her space, and hanging bells from Mudpuppy Ceramic Studio.

Zee's bedroom is filled with her hat collection as well as a wood knot from Katie Gong, the most represented of artists in her space, and hanging bells from Mudpuppy Ceramic Studio.

Beyond the matching chroma, her skills from the shop come into play as well. As a maker, Zee finds herself questioning what she can build versus what she needs to buy. The majority of her furniture is handmade, either by herself and her longtime friend and mentor Katie Gong, or by makers she’s inspired by.

 Zee and Gong made the triangle shelf for West Coast Craft; afterwards, it made its way Zee's kitchen as a display for books, souvenirs, and her ceramics collection.

Zee and Gong made the triangle shelf for West Coast Craft; afterwards, it made its way Zee's kitchen as a display for books, souvenirs, and her ceramics collection.

"Bringing in objects from those that I look up to and am inspired by serves as such a constant and beautiful reminder to keep working and pushing my creative limits towards the new and fresh," says Zee. Notably, none of her own art makes its way into her home. She describes a need for separation—that if she were to have her work there, she’d constantly pick it apart.

 Zee's collection of turquoise jewelry sits on the dresser in her bedroom.

Zee's collection of turquoise jewelry sits on the dresser in her bedroom.

For Zee, her home and studio share a symbiotic relationship. "Changing and evolving as an artist is a fluid movement that brings upon new work that [builds on] what is learned and achieved," she says. "I feel the same about my home. It is a constant evolving sense of self, a reflection of my inspiration and travels. When I am feeling a bit creatively stale, I change something up in my home, that usually sparks creativity within me somewhere."

 Zee's partner, musician Antrom Kury, works at a mini studio by the window.

Zee's partner, musician Antrom Kury, works at a mini studio by the window.

She shares the apartment with her partner, Antrom Kury, who is one half of the band Eyes on the Shore. When they moved in together, the space needed to shift, once again, into one that worked for both of their creative endeavors. Together, they built a music desk that’s both functional and minimalist in the most sun-soaked nook of the house.

Says Zee, "Having instruments in the home has always made me happy. His desk sits beneath the sun-filled windows with hanging plants surrounding where he sits and creates. It flows with the energy of the home, and grounds him and his process, and that energy filling the space keeps my creative energy hungry as well. It's a good partnership of encouraging creative growth."

 A view of the workspace in Zee's studio with saw table on the right.

A view of the workspace in Zee's studio with saw table on the right.

That energy carries over into her studio, where she and Kury recently did a remodel. They cleaned and painted the walls; built new organizational sections; and added eight-foot double doors, benches, lighting, a desk area, and a dedicated lounge to host clients. 

 Zee added a desk—a vintage metal piece that she topped with a wood slab—to a dedicated office space.

Zee added a desk—a vintage metal piece that she topped with a wood slab—to a dedicated office space.

What had been missing in the studio was a showroom. After doing a major clean and purge, she brought in a rug, a camel-hued leather sofa, a coffee table, and two Saffron + Poe chairs to create the sitting area. To top it off, she created a new eight foot-by-eight foot piece of artwork to hang on the wall above her saw table. 

 Zee's new sitting area is the perfect setting to meet with clients, or plop down for lunch.

Zee's new sitting area is the perfect setting to meet with clients, or plop down for lunch.

"Many of my clients come and meet with me to plan out their piece, or to come and pick it up," says Zee. "I want my workspace to feel comfortable to sit and chat in, and also [show] what the artwork can look like in an actual living situation. I wanted my shop to reflect the care and time I put into each piece, and to feel like it has grown with me like my work has."

 Zee proudly stands in front of her new large-scale piece in her Oakland workspace.

Zee proudly stands in front of her new large-scale piece in her Oakland workspace.

See the story on Dwell.

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