.Spotlight on San Rafael: Tree House and Cafe

Fox & Kit elevates child’s play


For parents of toddlers, everyday reality can sometimes seem stripped of aesthetic pleasures. Bluntly colorful playgrounds and strikingly color-blocked Gymborees are the norm, while upscale coffee shops and other adult zones contain little to entertain easily bored offspring. Leave it to a Scandinavian-Japanese husband-and-wife duo to break the mold with a new space that singlehandedly pleases the design-loving mom, the carbs-craving dad and the adventure-seeking child.

Fox & Kit, the new coffee-shop-meets-playground in downtown San Rafael, opened last month and has quickly become a local favorite. The space greets the visitor with a plush green sofa, brass accents and white marble. The neatly arranged fashion magazines on the communal tables disclose nothing of the cafe’s second goal, which is to provide a plush play space for kids. But behind glass doors, another universe reveals itself: fake grass meadows, soft mountains, felt rocks, wood fortresses and endless nooks and hills for rolling, jumping and safely tumbling await young children.

On a recent visit, six-year-olds dressed in princess gowns provided by the cafe, injected the carefully planned space with happy chaos. As they were watched by a team of teenage aids, parents sipped lattes and nibbled on buttery kouign-amann pastries.

“When our son, who is now eight, was little, we wanted a place that he was happy going to and that we were equally happy going to,” says Devin Westberg, co-owner of Fox & Kit with his wife, Kyoko. “Since great coffee shops and coffeehouses are some of our favorite places to go, it only made sense to create a coffeehouse with a playground.”

Before opening Fox & Kit, the duo operated a small interior-design firm, specializing in renovations, vacation homes and real estate staging. Devin Westberg is of Swedish and Norwegian descent and grew up in Healdsburg. Kyoko grew up in Japan and Canada. The two brought their tastes and design sensibilities to the table to create the business.

Westberg has divided the large play area into three spaces. “The fox den was inspired by a Verner Panton, a Danish architect from the ’60s,” he says, referring to the low, mysteriously lit cave carved into a hill. “He created otherworldly spaces and, in particular, large furniture pieces that slide together to create funky psychedelic cavelike structures to lounge in.”

Westberg says the tree-house tower and “maze wall,” complete with costume room and reading nook, were inspired by “nature, different art museums around the world, growing up building forts and tree houses, as well as heavy influences from Japanese and Scandinavian modern design, which reflects both of our heritages.”

The couple used natural materials and traditional carpentry throughout. “The fox den was the most intense,” Westberg says, “as it required a huge CNC machine to cut out over 60 wooden ribs and splitting them, to make up a giant wooden puzzle that had to be carefully organized, routed and sanded, and fit together in a precise order.”

Chances are, the kids who’ll excitedly roam the space and slide down the hills and ropes won’t care about the details. The playtime fee is $15 for two-and-a-half hours. The parents, busy documenting the welcoming cafe on social media and catching up on adult news, might not dwell on them either. But nevertheless, Fox & Kit is destined to be a magnet for Marin County families.

Fox and Kit, 1031 C St., San Rafael. 415.991.5061.

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