Kathryn Duryea, the CEO and Founder of Year & Day, established a homeware company by happenchance. After moving back home to San Francisco, she unpacked her belongings to find broken dishes. A search for new tableware came next, but she discovered limited quality options that were stylish—not to mention sustainable.
Whitewall spoke with Duryea about her early career paths that led to Year & Day, why she works with artisans in Italy and Portugal to ensure craft quality, and what she’s up to today in San Francisco.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about your background before Year & Day?
KATHRYN DURYEA: Before founding Year & Day, I spent a decade working for luxury and lifestyle brands, including Tiffany & Co. after graduating from business school at Stanford. My focus was on marketing and ecommerce, and I was particularly focused on digital marketing and luxury goods in Asia. While at Tiffany, I learned about how craftsmanship, beautiful design, and quality materials come together to make excellent, lasting products. Skilled artisans hand-finish each Tiffany piece—an artisanship that I sought out while finding our manufacturing partners at Year & Day.
I began my career in politics, and spent one year in my 20s working in The White House, where I was exposed to entertaining at its most formal and elaborate. The Social Secretary’s office designs and produces events of magnificent scale, bringing together people from various industries, geographies, and cultures. My aspiration to inspire a new generation to build community around the table at home was one element I took away from that experience.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about what led you to starting Year & Day?
KD: I had just moved back to my hometown, San Francisco, from New York and was hosting a small dinner party and realized some of my hand-me-down plates had broken in the move. I was excited to invest in my first full set, but found the options in my price range lacking in style and quality. I was also overwhelmed by the number of uninspiring choices! Asking around, I realized many of my friends were experiencing similar frustration and most ended up buying housewares they weren’t really excited about. That seemed like a big opportunity to me. We all want to love our table settings, and we also want the process of finding them to be pleasurable and easy.
WW: Tell us a bit about the local communities you work with in Italy and Portugal to achieve the level of craft you’re looking for.
KD: To develop our assortment, I met with vendors around the world, looking for partners who understood my vision for products that were top quality in material and craft, beautiful enough for special occasions, yet durable enough for every day. I also wanted to ensure they were affordable, so that our customers could use them every day with ease.
I was excited to find a team of artists, chemists, and ceramicists in Portugal, who have been crafting fine stoneware for centuries. We spent a year developing our signature glaze colors in a semi-matte finish that turned out so elegant (even beyond my expectations). I also found a family-owned factory to make our flatware with the attention to detail that delivers a superior product—hand finished fork tines and forged knives were features I felt were critical to deliver on our promise of affordable luxury.
I was also drawn to our partners’ commitment to sustainability through practices that reduce emissions and waste.
The legacy of craftsmanship in Italy and with the family-owned business we partner with there was appealing, as was their commitment to innovation in materials to produce a high-clarity glass with elegant designs.
WW: What was it that you found in Italy that was special that you wanted to harness for your designs?
KD: Italy represents for me the best of food, wine, and hospitality alongside a legacy of artisanship in Glass making. Our wine glass design was made in collaboration with Italian oenologists as a universal shape that compliments all varietals.
WW: What was it in Portugal?
KD: Like California, Portugal has a long and stunning coastline with landscapes and and features that remind me of my home. Although I enjoyed my familiar associations found in Portugal’s coast, it was the legacy of craftsmanship in ceramics and tiles, alongside our partners’ commitment to quality that I wanted as part of our designs.
WW: How would you describe your personal style?
KD: When it comes to fashion I’m drawn to clean lines and elegant, feminine shapes. I’ve always been drawn to high-quality, classic basics—an elegant black dress, a classic blazer. I construct my wardrobe around a collection of timeless pieces, and then occasionally mix in statement jewelry, a bold print, or a handbag that sparks conversation.
When it comes to home, I enjoy composing spaces that are refined, relaxed and inviting. I prefer pieces that have a timeless element, and to bring story and personality through art.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about your relationship to the art world and what types of objects or designs you’re attracted to?
KD: With furniture specifically, I seek pieces that combine aesthetics and function. Several years ago, my husband gifted me Finn Juhl’s 45 Chair, which is my favorite chair to sit in for engaged conversation. It suits my posture perfectly, but when I’m not sitting in it, it’s also beautiful to look at.
We are just starting to build out our art collection, and our current collection is a mix of pieces I’ve accumulated over the years from family or antique stores, while my husband is drawn to pieces that play with line and scientific ideas. We recently started to scout for pieces together, and find we’re attracted most to paintings and photography that relate to our values around community, environment, politics and place.
WW: In San Francisco, where do you like to spend your time?
KD: I like to: eat at Cotogna, Che Fico, Spruce, Zuni, and Nopa; drink at Leo’s Oyster Bar and The Big 4; relax by walking in the Presidio, hiking in Marin, treating myself at Auberge du Soleil or Post Ranch Inn; seeing art at MoMA and the DeYoung, and at museums and galleries like Gagosian, Fraenkel, Jessica Silverman, Altman Siegal; and shop at Hero Shop for fashion, Future Perfect and March SF on Sacramento for home, and The Epicurean Trader and D&M for gourmet gifts or wine.