The firm celebrates its silver anniversary and diverse California portfolio
While garages are a well-documented birthplace for some notable Northern California startups, for four friends and colleagues—Pamela Babey, Michael Booth, Gerry Jue and David Moulton—it all began in a kitchen. With two phone lines and two fax machines, the room in Babey’s home served as a temporary office for the group’s fledgling business. It was 1991, and the entrepreneurial spirit had taken hold after their previous employer, Pfister Partnership, shuttered.
Flash-forward a little more than 25 years and BAMO, the San Francisco-based design practice established by the quartet, has notched more than 500 projects and grown to a staff of 40-plus. Moulton has since retired, and Steve Henry and Dorothy Greene have joined the remaining founders as principals. “We have this diverse portfolio,” says Babey, “but basically it’s fresh, it’s clean. It’s not dark, it’s not sinister. There are no stuffed animals. To me, it’s California; it’s airy.”
According to Babey, working with the late legendary designer Charles Pfister “introduced us to one big idea: the idea of light,” she says. “California has incredible light, and it’s made every one of us totally sensitive to natural light and artificial light, and how you handle it. It’s one of the most important factors in an interior.”
BAMO is primarily divided among residential and hotel works. Its first two clients were late philanthropist and olive oil mogul Nan McEvoy (her sprawling 550-acre ranch in West Marin) and hotelier Robert Burns (a luxury property that is now the Four Seasons Hotel Milano). In addition to having designed the Four Seasons in Bora Bora and Dubai, the firm is currently conceiving the company’s new hotels in Madrid and São Paulo and renovating its Chicago, Hualalai and Boston locations. In Menlo Park, BAMO conceived the Rosewood Sand Hill, which exudes casual elegance, channeling its lush landscape. (Case in point: the claro walnut wood slabs comprising a wall of the bar.)
Not far from the Rosewood is BAMO’s most sustainable project: a Portola Valley residence dubbed Tah Mah Lah. “It was a major commitment on the client’s part to explore every last avenue of green technology and sustainability,” says Booth. The design of the 5,600-square-foot abode emphasizes its bucolic hillside setting. “You’re able to open up the entire house with the sliding window system,” he continues, “which instantly makes the house an outdoor experience.”
The indoor/outdoor connection often takes center stage in California—and that was certainly true for a modern dwelling on the 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links. “It’s pretty spectacular,” says Booth, calling attention to the home’s expanses of glass. “The idea was that it just looks like a big opening. The whole window frame is on the outside, so you can stand there and think there’s nothing there.” To give the 14,000-square-foot habitat a sense of intimacy, Booth and his team relied on a warm Utah limestone for the interior and exterior, as well as installing pickled teak ceilings.
Despite its robust project load—homes throughout the state, from Petaluma to West Hollywood, are in progress—BAMO has also contributed its talents to community-oriented endeavors like the recent expansion of the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, which provides accommodations and support for the families of children with life-threatening illnesses. Jue spearheaded the firm’s efforts on the new entry lobby and adjacent great rooms.
With more than 160 years in the industry between the five principals, Babey notes that “experience does pay off. The way that we approach projects today, we can settle on a concept or direction faster. In a short period of time, we can accomplish more than what we used to be able to.” As for the end result, the goal is surprisingly uncomplicated: “Charlie [Pfister] used to always say, ‘Well, is it pretty?’” recounts Babey. “And it’s a really good way to judge a space. It sounds simple and cutesy, but it is to the point. When you walk into one of our rooms, I want you to smile, to feel comfortable and relaxed. But know that there’s been a plan for the space that you’re walking into.” bamo.com.
Written by ANH-MINH LE.