Kevin Landwehr is a husband, father and designer living in San Francisco, CA with his wife and two children, Violet and Owen — but he is more than just a dad and one-noted creative type: he is a storyteller. His array of architectural, interior and graphic design chops give his work a broader context and better informed approach to every project he gets his hands on, and his work on Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing in Dogpatch, San Francisco is no exception.
“I make relatable and communicative objects and spaces,” Kevin says, a goal he strives to achieve in every project he and his partner undertake through their design studio NOTHING SOMETHING. Started in 2001 with his college roommate, best friend and longtime collaborator Devin Becker, their services may be varied — an offering which includes interiors, custom furniture, lighting, and full-service branding and custom content — but their passion for layering, asymmetric detail, craftsmanship, big palettes and an elegant, 20th-century influence defines their work. This edgy and unique perspective is only met by their hunger for a challenge.
When they were first presented with the opportunity to invest in Magnolia Brewing Co. to build their dream bar / restaurant, they didn’t hesitate, despite the obvious long road ahead and the fact that, at the time, they were still living and based in Brooklyn, NY. Built in 1915 and gutted in 1985, the historical space was originally a factory owned by the American Can Company, the corporation that manufactured the world’s first beer can. The space had long-ago been robbed of its character, but its potential was something Kevin and Devin saw as a great opportunity. At the time (in 2010), San Francisco’s energy was building, so Kevin uprooted his entire family and they relocated to SF at the apex of the reconstruction, saying: “San Francisco’s got some kind of magic right now and I want to spend more time with it. I feel like I have something worthwhile to contribute to this city.”
“We didn’t want to restore the space as it was,” Kevin describes of their approach, “we wanted to use the space to share the larger tale of the 1930s San Francisco waterfront as it applied to food, drink and culture.” In their imagination, the story of this space was going to become that of a waterfront bar, neighboring a butchery, a brewery and a can factory that froze in time. “Our concept [was] that, years after these imagined businesses all closed and boarded up, we discovered this place untouched and decrepit, knocked down the walls, chainsawed the ceilings, brought it all together and opened for business.” With this vision in mind, designing the space involved a lot of discovery and research, something they hoped would be apparent and appreciated by future customers.
The process took nearly three years, which was longer than Kevin anticipated, and they ran into many snags along the way. “A project like ours doesn’t fit a clear mold and the city almost pulled the plug several times,” Kevin explains. “But we pushed through, and, as we came out of the last big storm, it became clearer and clearer that our project was actually manifesting [better than] I’d imagined it.” Their can-do attitude and DIY abilities got them through failing to find furniture that fit, and even running out of floor stain: “I went to the coffee shop next door and asked for their spent grinds, which Devin and I covered the wooden floorboards with,” Kevin laughs, “they looked at us like we were crazy!” The coffee quick-fix ended up creating a beautiful, antique-looking patina, and this scrappy approach to every aspect of the project combined to result in an impressive and absolutely stunning 6,000-square-foot communal barbecue, brewery and cocktail bar — all made using the same authentic processes that would have been used had it been built in the early 1900s.
The build was nothing if not a huge adventure, not just for Kevin and Devin, but for their families as well. After living in a huge Victorian in San Fransisco during the process, “Devin eventually returned to his fiance in New York to plan their wedding,” Kevin explains, “…and my family and I decided to remain in San Francisco,” where, you guessed it, they are regulars at Smokestack.