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San Francisco’s SoMa District Welcomes a New Kind of Cultural Hub

Four One Nine is an adaptive, community-minded studio and creative agency where culture and content meet — and ideas evolve

Words by GEMMA PRICE

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

Creative center Four One Nine founder Sonya Yu, in partnership with multidisciplinary architecture, interiors and landscaping firm Síol Studios, has created something rare within San Francisco’s urban fabric: a stylish, socially minded space where community stakeholders can collaborate to keep the city’s vivacious, exploratory spirit alive.

“Over time we’ve seen S.F. become culturally myopic and we really wanted to create a space where people — creatives, artists, local businesses — could strengthen the ecosystem, and have their ideas come to life,” explains Yu, who has lived in the city for 18 years and whose diverse background spans real estate development and investment, business coaching and freelance photography. “I want to minimize the distance between someone’s ideas and actuating them: to create a space where we provide infrastructure for creativity.”

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

Affordable, spacious real estate is an oxymoron in S.F., but Yu secured a warehouse built in the early 1900s which had been used to store Chinese antiques. Yu had previously tapped Síol Studios for residential development projects and trusted the team to realize her design aesthetic for Four One Nine, named for its address along 10th Street.

On the lower floor, a 3,300-square-foot studio with 13-foot ceilings incorporates gallery space for art exhibitions, product development and events. Amenities include an elegant modular kitchen which can be rearranged as needed for video and photography shoots, and comprehensive digital content production equipment.

Sound dampening in the space excludes noise from the street and nearby freeway, while retaining the ability to showcase art on the walls. A central structural beam that ran the length of a room was encased in stainless steel and a truss system installed to create a large, column-less gallery, opening up the space and maximizing usage while creating minimal sightlines.

 

“I want to minimize the distance between someone’s ideas and actuating them”

Sonya Yu

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

A dramatic staircase, developed in collaboration with steel fabricator Henry DeFauw and concrete fabricator Concrete Works, leads upward to a smaller, more secluded upper floor office, where built-in bookcases, a desk and floor-to-ceiling cabinets optimize the floorplan and create a sense of permanence. From here, you can step out onto the roof deck where a thriving beehive and green wall designed by Habitat Horticulture, the firm behind SFMOMA’s lush greenery, connect interiors to the outside world without fully surrendering the location’s sense of tranquil refuge.

While Four One Nine began as a shared creative production space, hosting a handful of events at the end of 2019 and early 2020, it spawned a multidisciplinary creative agency once the pandemic prevented in-person gatherings.

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

It developed the brand identity for Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco — the city’s first non-collecting museum with the handle “against the expected” — creating its visual identity, logo and typography alongside the museum’s inaugural artist, Christopher Martin, before collaborating on its launch.

 

“Not only are we able to create these very atypical experiences and activations, but we’re able to execute them in our very own space”

Sonya Yu

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

Once restrictions were relaxed, the Four One Nine team began to host events again, handling creative direction and planning for Big Bad Queens with chef Haejin Chun, a cannabis-infused fine-dining meal celebrating strong women for 60 guests. Chun has hosted dinner pop-us with an interactive arts component under the moniker Big Bad Wolf since 2015, three years before recreational marijuana was legalized.

“Our greatest asset is this event space. Not only are we able to create these very atypical experiences and activations, leading through design and creative direction, but we’re able to execute them in our very own space,” Yu says.

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

Four One Nine has a network of regular collaborators for events, including restaurant The Morris and cocktail bar Trick Dog, which Yu says were selected for their willingness to explore ideas and concepts through their respective media. But under its mandate to foster the vivacious newness traditionally synonymous with San Francisco, Yu says the team is always listening, seeking collaborators out of their regular wheelhouse to put out the best work possible.

“A part of attuning to the present means that we will, in some way, happily never find our footing. I spend much of my time pounding the pavement looking for community stakeholders, leaders, people, and have them come into the space and dream with me.”

 

Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

419 Tenth St., S.F., 415-320-7728.

 

Feature image: Photo by Joe Fletcher.

 

February 15, 2022

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