Steph Kienle-Gonzalez: A Chronicle Of Life, Love, Family, and Design
Her new book, ‘Embracing Natural Design: Inspired Living’, is an encouraging plea, an invitation, and a story of a life unfolding, its roots and its future
When I tell friends and family that I am about to interview Stephanie Kienle-Gonzalez, many ask: “Isn’t she too perfect?” or “Is there anything she can’t do?” And I can’t really think of a quick answer, because it is astonishing just how accomplished and amazing she is, and she does it all while being perfectly poised and polished. She helms Philux, a family business that has stood for four decades and, with her sister Jessica, and they updated, reinvented, and expanded the business. She is also a wife to shipping executive Christian Gonzalez and mother to three lovely little ladies, Andrea, Arielle, and Anouk. She is constantly on magazine covers and lifestyle sections of newspapers, celebrated for her élan and grace.
In 2020, she was included in a fashion portfolio of stylish women chosen by Louis Vuitton to encapsulate the look and spirit of the Capucines bag, and when asked what her lockdown lessons were, Steph replied: “As a Type A personality, I was really all about being productive, whether it was at work or here at home. Always a long list of things to do, things to accomplish. And I learned that you need time for yourself and that it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to take an afternoon off. And, as you take that time for yourself, and be more introspective, you emerge a lot stronger. I really took the time to meditate. Connection now is so much more meaningful.”
That story came out in November of 2020, and now, two years after, it is clear that these were not empty words. Since that interview, Steph has given birth to her third daughter, Anouk; unveiled a major coup for Philux Spaces, the interior design arm of their family furniture firm Philux, the new Louis Vuitton shop in Greenbelt 3, done in tandem with her sister Jessica; and now, she has launched with eminent publishing house, Rizzoli, a new book entitled Embracing Natural Design: Inspired Living, complete with an introduction by India Hicks, herself a design luminary and the poster woman for barefoot island glamour and style. Just as the caterpillar needs that time nestled in its cocoon to fly, Steph’s inward journey has certainly made her soar.
NESTING AND NURTURING
On a Zoom call from South Africa, a day before she was set to launch her book in one of Cape Town’s premier lifestyle stores, Steph laughs along with us when we tell her how incredulous we are at her version of “slowing down.” When asked what are the parallels between creating a book and having a baby, she says right away, “It’s the nurturing! I don’t know about other mothers, but every pregnancy, it’s a whole new experience. And of course, doing a book is not just interesting, it’s very, very, very interesting. I came down by myself here to Lapalala (where her home in South Africa is) and I wrote and wrote and wrote. As you yourself must know, after the writing, comes the editing. And that was so hard for me, because I felt that it was all part of my story. But, it is still a design book, so my editor, to whom I am so grateful, Sandra (Gilbert Friedus); she was just the best editor anyone could have. She would let me know which parts of the book that I would have to cut. I spent so much time on the book that when it was almost done, I had become very protective of it! There was this part of me that didn’t want to let it go out into the world!” She then smiles, and asks rhetorically, “But we can’t do that, right?”
Delving deeper into the creative journey, Steph names her high and low points. “High, of course, is shooting. I 100% love that collaboration that comes with shooting. Locally, I worked with Paola Aseron and Francisco Guerrero and in South Africa, I worked with Elsa Young, who has worked with Elle Decoration and so many other publications. And the writing, I got such a high from that. Low, well, not really low, but taking out parts of what I had written; because I had poured so much of myself into the book. Cutting it felt so personal.”
Speaking of personal, Steph had initially conceived the book as a personal project that she would self-publish. “I am really so grateful to Chris Lopez (of the Metro Group); she was really one of the first people I told about the book because of her experience in publishing. I showed her my first deck and she really encouraged me.” While Steph was calling friends to be featured in the book, she was serendipitously told that a friend knew an editor at Rizzoli. Even my husband told me, ‘don’t you think you might be reaching too high?’ But what was the worst that could happen, right? So I worked really, really hard on my deck, and sent it to them. And they got back to me and let me know that they were interested!”
With a gleaming smile, she reveals: “Now my husband says, ‘from now on, I’ll never doubt you!’”
Steph is hoping that she can also do a book launch in Manila. When asked about her dream book tour, in an instant she admits: “It has to be the Rizzoli in New York! They’ve got a new location, but it feels very erudite there, you feel that you become a more intelligent person just by entering there. And Galignani (on the Rue de Rivoli ) in Paris. I was told that my book is now being stocked there and I was very happy to hear that."
FORM, FUNCTION, AND SENTIMENT
Steph’s design mantra is: “Form, function, and sentiment.” She says, “When I was younger, it was all about how a place looked. But now, I see the home as the place where we make memories. Everything, everything, from the pen marks on the tables, to the crumbs in between the pillows on the sofa, that’s what makes my house beautiful. It is love.”
The book’s title is Embracing Natural Design: Inspired Living; it is an active title, an encouraging plea, an invitation, rather than a declaration. “My style is ever evolving, and my home must reflect that.” So more than just a big book of pretty pictures, the book is truly the story of a life unfolding, its roots, and its future.
Steph introduces us to her family and how they shaped her as a person and as a creative soul. She shares family photos and recipes and table settings and entertaining secrets.
Her home in Lapalala is part of a huge natural reserve, and the home was made from rocks and stones made from the site, to cut the carbon footprint. She writes: “This project has brought much joy and purpose to our family. We are grateful to be part of this slice of wilderness… The pleasure of being in a pristine environment—away from the plastic, pollution, and clamor—has become a real luxury to me… stripping away the unessential and finding deep fulfillment in an elementary state.”
But the wonder is that she hasn’t lost sight of the big picture. She writes: “You must learn to accept and love that life leaves its marks upon your home. Though it took me a while to accept this, I now relish remembering moments that have gone by—and my home feels more soulful as a result."
Click through the gallery below to see some photographs from inside Embracing Natural Design: Inspired Living.