This week, we’re at home with our favorite coffee entrepreneurs, Keba & Rachel Konte from Red Bay Coffee Roasters in Oakland, CA. Their business is deeply connected to the community, using coffee production as a vehicle for diversity, inclusion, social and economic restoration, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability. They provide leadership opportunities to those who have been historically marginalized within the specialty coffee industry, championing people of color, the formerly incarcerated, women, and those with disabilities.
As admirers of their mission, and frequent visitors to their local cafes, we were thrilled to get an invite to Rachel and Keba’s Oakland home, where we talked design, sustainability, community and coffee. Read on as Rachel shows us around and shares her story.
Thank you so much for sitting down with Coyuchi. What is it that makes your home feel like a home?
Our home is an old Victorian house from 1896. So just the fact that it is historic makes it very cozy and familiar. I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, so old buildings are what I am used to. Living in an older home made me feel grounded from day one. I like the wood floors, the fireplace, the crafted details around the house and the many trees in our garden.
What drew you to the Bay Area?
I moved from Copenhagen to San Francisco in 1993 to continue my work as a designer for Levi Strauss & Co, and lived on Ashbury in the Haight the first 4 years. In 1997, I met my husband, Keba Konte, and moved to Berkeley to start a family with Keba and his daughter, Jessica. Our youngest daughter, Assata Sun-Ra, was born there. In 2000, we moved to Amsterdam for a year to be closer to my family and test out new opportunities. When we returned in 2001, we bought our house in Oakland and moved in January 2002.
Tell us a bit about your space! How long have you lived here?
So we have been in this beautiful house for 20 years. We were young and excited about being able to afford a larger house with a back yard, and hosted a lot of gatherings and birthday parties here. We were lucky the house was in good condition, so we really didn't have to do much but paint some of the rooms back then.
What are your favorite spaces within the home?
I love most of the spaces in the house, and I'm constantly rearranging rooms. But I do love to sit in our living room, at the beginning of the house. We took most of the doors out, which makes it feel open—I love open spaces and beautiful views. We also don’t have any curtains on these large, tall Victorian windows, and because our house is surrounded by trees and greenery, you can't really look in from the street. I love the light that fills each room. I also love our kitchen, which is at the center of the house. After almost 17 years, we could finally afford to upgrade it. We had a carpenter friend do our custom kitchen cabinets and island in a Vintage Modern Scandinavian style. It looks beautiful and functional and makes me feel at home in a cultural sense.
What is special about your neighborhood and community? Any favorite spots?
We live in the Fruitvale area, which is a Latinx neighborhood. It's very diverse—we are surrounded by a Tongan church, Ethiopian church, Catholic church and tons of small Mexican food stores and restaurants.
In our own neighborhood we are super excited that @Bombera opened last year. It is one of our favorite spots to have dinner outside. Excellent, yummy Mexican food and drinks. I used to have my own little clothing store downtown in Old Oakland, @Owlnwood (now only available online www.owlnwood.com). But in Swans Market my favorite restaurant is @thecookandher farmer. Her dishes never fail and she takes pride in serving beautiful California comfort dishes with quality produce.
Tell us about your work! (Owl N Wood too)!
Well ONW (Owl N Wood) was born in 2012, when I finally got the courage to open my own little shop after leaving my big job at Levi’s and testing a pop-up with a friend for 1 ½ years in downtown Oakland. I opened ONW on 45 Grand Ave in August of 2012. My focus was to feature a curated mix of my own designs, vintage gems and other local brands in the store. It was fun back then because there was a huge renaissance in Oakland and first Fridays was jumping off every month. Uptown and downtown were the place to be, and the community came out to support small businesses.
In 2017, I moved to a small storefront in Old Oakland, 471 on 9th street. It was also a positive time for Oakland and I was surrounded by beautiful small stores like Umami Mart, Marion & Rose, Maple Street Denim, and E14 Gallery. It was a great time to have a small business and we all supported each other. At that time I had also introduced my own collection of locally made designs of easy, comfortable apparel and it was fun to produce small batches for my loyal customers. In 2019, business got harder and also my mother passed away in Copenhagen, so I needed to dedicate more time in Denmark. I decided to close down the store and only sell ONW online. It was bittersweet, but I was lucky that right after I closed, Covid came and I had already transitioned to an online store, which was very helpful for me as a small business, not to stress about closing the shop.
Currently ONW is more of a small lifestyle brand that carries some of my favorite brands and my own best selling sweatshirts with positive messages that are dear to my heart. You can find OwlNWood on Instagram, which is where the brand really lives as an extended part of my life and creativity. I am working on a beautiful leather bag project that is in honor of my mom. It will hopefully be ready for the holidays or by early next year, and will be the beginning of a little revamp of my website and what OwlNWood will be going forward.
What a beautiful tribute to your mother. We look forward to seeing this project come to life. We know your businesses are mission-driven, so we’d love to hear about how you incorporate sustainability into your daily life.
I am a lover of vintage and 2nd-hand everything, so it's part of my lifestyle to collect things. I am also not a big shopper, so I often buy from my many talented friends who are small makers or have locally made products. It feels good to support small makers, and the products you get are more unique than going to big outlets. I don't like fast fashion after all my years in the fashion industry. I prefer functional fashion and comfortable clothes. It doesn’t matter to me the brand name, I just love quality and functionality.
At the moment, Keba and I have become plant nerds and we have built a beautiful Greenhouse in our backyard and garden that we fill with beautiful plants. Plant trading has become a big thing for us, since most of our friends are also into plants and gardening. It’s an integral part of our lifestyle, and it has always been a part of our Red Bay Coffee shops, too: our first cafe had a living wall in the shape of Africa. We have hanging plants from the ceiling at our Coffee factory, the Roastery, and all our Cafes have plants as part of the vibe.
What does a typical morning look like here?
Keba and I have a very, very busy life with Red Bay Coffee, so our mornings start with us making coffee (or actually Keba making me a real latte) at home, and spending some time together on our back porch or in the greenhouse, all bundled up before we start the day. Our dog, Greyson, normally joins us as we talk about the week or days ahead. Sometimes brainstorming on bigger projects or creative solutions, sometimes just hanging out, and sometimes solving issues. Occasionally, we’ll go for a walk in the Oakland Hills with Greyson to get some fresh air. It's a great way to ease into the day. We are early birds, so this is happening between 6-8:30am before our busy days start.
I like my house to be cozy and what we call hyggelig in Danish. So before we do anything, I have candles lit and our bed made and our house straightened up. It's important to me to have a beautiful environment to work in, so we tidy up before we move on with our day. It's second nature, so it doesn't feel extra for us.
How about your nightly routines?
We are homebodies and don't go out too much and we chill out at home most evenings. Maybe going for a walk around the lake with the dog or cooking simple food together. We also do a lot of gardening and greenhouse stuff to relax. And we have a little fireplace in the garden where we sometimes hang out or have friends over for wine or coffee.
How are you intentional with your space?
Like I mentioned, I am an Afro Dane, and in Denmark we have candles everywhere and we are very intentional about our space being comfortable and beautiful. Hygge is a real thing and it means that, at any time, you should make your space the best it can be to relax in. For me, it is having real candles lit, and I have a weakness for incense. I burn a lot of incense for the atmosphere and good vibes in our space.
I work a lot from home so I need my own office space to be cozy and tidy. I would rather take time to clean up my area before I start working than work in a messy space. It's just how my creativity works.
What makes for a soothing atmosphere at home?
I collect a lot of beautiful things that I surround myself with. I am trying to not have too much, but I must admit I have a weakness for small pretty things that live in my space. It has always been like that for me since I was a little girl. Anything small was something I would collect. So I have Japanese Kokeshi wood dolls, small elephant sculptures I have collected on my many travels for Levi’s, wooden vessels and graphic inspirations like postcards and books and beautiful magazines. I surround myself with things that inspire me at all times.
We also love art and have a lot of Keba’s in the house, as well as paintings from local artist friends. My own dad was a painter, so we also have some of his art as well.
Where do you pull design inspiration from?
Like I mentioned, I collect things all the time that inspire me. These days I take pictures on my phone so I can always pull up pictures. I don't really like to read magazines or follow too much fashion or people, but I do always look at interior designs, interesting artists, and designers online. And since I worked almost 18 years in the fashion industry for big corporate brands, I have my own second sense of collecting inspiration. It's hard to explain, it's more like a constant collection of impressions of what is going on, how people are wearing their clothes or what colors are trending in the world. It's not one thing, it's just being aware of what is going on from a creative point of view in the world that surrounds me.
For my work now, I am trained to work for big brands. Execute the brand vision and keep the brand identity in line with the brand look and feel. At Red Bay Coffee, I am the Chief of Brand and I work with a fantastic team of creative people. I like to work from the platform of the brand and be creative in that space. For me to see and create a strong brand presence is inspiring and fun.
How do you refresh your space for new seasons?
As I mentioned before, I have a strong need to re-arrange my space to create new energy. Luckily, my family has accepted that they can come home and the rooms may be completely different than when they left. But for me, it is not about buying new stuff, it’s actually more about using what I have and rearranging it for a new perspective. I am not changing based on the season, even though the fall and winter are my favorite times of the year—maybe because of my cultural upbringing in Denmark, where we have a lot of long dark months. But I do enjoy and embrace the holidays and fall with cozy decorations, starting with Halloween and moving into the real holiday season. I don’t like crazy decorations, but I do love candles and branches and pumpkins and outdoor string lights to make the house cozy.