Our Story

Our Story

RareField Design/Build

(Formerly known as Paxton Gate Design/Build)

Since opening 1992 the retail store and the design-build operation of Paxton Gate shared the same name. Over that time, both grew and evolved in quite different and interesting directions.

As ardent supporters of evolution, we decided to acknowledge this fact by changing the name of the design-build division. Hence, the same team responsible for countless, beautifully crafted gardens, decks, accessory structures, residential spaces and such high-profile eateries as Flour + Water and Le Marais Bakery, now operate as RareField Design/Build.

What does this mean to you? Well, on the one hand, nothing; on the other, quite a bit. While we have re-purposed and expanded our vision of what is possible for our firm and our clients, RareField continues our long tradition of embracing all facets of design. From commercial spaces and residential interiors to gardens of all shapes and sizes—as well as new avenues of design and innovation—we remain dedicated to the kind of exemplary craftsmanship that has been our hallmark for nearly three decades.

– Sean Quigley, Founder, Paxton Gate and RareField Design/Build


The Team

SEAN QUIGLEY
FOUNDER/PRINCIPAL

Sean Quigley owns San Francisco’s Paxton Gate which he opened in 1992 alongside the design/build firm which now operates as RareField.

His designs gravitate toward contemporary, simple and clean lines but are far from stark as he often utilizes reclaimed and aged materials. “I’m initially trying to make the space work,” says Quigley “but often stumble upon the beauty that can be found in the simplest of details.”

In 2008 he opened his third business, Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids. Here his somewhat Victorian gentleman/inventor/botanist/biologist demeanor is balanced by a pursuit of simplicity and craftsmanship. Not to mention a quintessentially western practicality. “I don’t use tricks or methods to make things work,” he says. “I start with the functional challenges inherent in a project and then connect the aesthetics that yield the visuals I’m after.”

Sean’s interest in gardening, construction and the natural world was instilled early in life while growing up in the rural Northern California town of Happy Valley where he gardened with his mother and built with his father. Though it sounds like a name dreamt up by an ad man working for McMahon and Tate, it is a place where his family raised its own food and livestock, built barns and where kids were free to roam through woods for fun, literally miles from home. And where a 6th grade Quigley built a fort that by 7th grade had received an upgrade that included a second floor along with an elevated deck supported by surrounding trees.

In his teens and early twenties Quigley worked as a cabinet maker and in general carpentry. Moving to San Francisco in 1989, he pursued a degree in small business management at SF State. After graduating Magna cum Laud he spent the next 10 years working as a bartender. While doing time at a number of Mission nightlife destinations including Dr. Bombay’s, Casa Nova and Kilowatt, his resolute nature allowed him to focus on starting Paxton Gate at its original site in 1992. Both the store and the design/build business were relocated to their current and more spacious Valencia Street digs in 1999.

Having designed several retail spaces over the years and dabbled in interiors, in 2009 Quigley and team branched out into restaurant design when they designed and helped to build one of San Francisco’s most popular and critically acclaimed restaurants, Flour + Water. Since then they’re portfolio has grown to include Central Kitchen, Les Marais Bakery, The Third Rail as well as numerous other exciting projects.

Sean lives in the Mission District of San Francisco with his wife, daughter, cat, and an unkempt garden overflowing with all manner of bromeliads, succulents and other plants that he collects. “The cobbler’s children go without shoes,” says Quigley. “I’ll get to my garden someday!”

MICHAEL SANTI
PROJECT MANAGER

Michael Santi grew up in suburban Philadelphia spending as much time as possible outdoors, playing in the snow, the woods, building with dirt and following stream courses as far as he could before dinner. Growing older, an all-encompassing love of skateboarding pulled him into the city, exposing him to art, culture, design, and community. From 1994 to 1998 he felt completely secure in his place and purpose. As Santi’s awareness broadened, he began to feel a need to shed his provincial identity. It was a difficult time, but in the end his love of art and expression culminated in a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emerson College in Boston. Then, yearning for real and raw experience, he hit the road.

“I reached a point where staying put was no longer an option. I felt I could continue writing songs and short stories angrily or else become the hero of my own story.”

He headed west, eventually settling in San Francisco where he found friendly people and the freedom to do and be anything amid stunning surroundings. For three years he sailed almost daily, maintaining the fleet and running the sailing school at Spinnaker Sailing. He volunteered in the Presidio Native Plant Nursery helping to collect and breed local species of Carex by watershed. He worked a harvest at White Rock Vineyards in Napa as a crush and cellar hand. In 2008, he pursued an opportunity with Sacred Space Gardens as a construction laborer. “A career in Landscape Design and Construction was the perfect synthesis of my need to be outside and my goal to become a respected craftsman in a storied, mindful pursuit.” After four years with Sacred Space, where he rose to the level of Construction Lead, Santi was ready for the next phase of his career.

“I’d been aware of the work RareField was doing for a while. I was frankly in awe of the thoughtfulness of their designs, of the skill of their team, and of the combined thrust of their efforts as both modernists and craftspeople.” Now, as a member of the team since 2012, Santi feels it is a great honor to work toward collective goals and to push the boundaries of essentially ancient materials together. “It is a humbling experience to be accepted by your superiors and treated as a one of a team of equals, and a great privilege to be asked to do your work well.”

Santi lives with his young family in Glen Park where they enjoy hiking, swimming and making art and music together.

ALFONSO KELLENBERGER
PROJECT LEAD

Alfonso grew up in San Diego where he began dabbling in carpentry while working with his uncle and taking on the occasional odd job. Drawn to the thriving art scene in mid-90s San Francisco, he made his way north where he continued his gig-work as well as forays into painting and drawing.

In 2014 Alfonso found himself working in an almost gig fashion at RareField where he excelled with his astute attention to detail. Yet he wasn’t wholly ready to make the full-time leap to construction. On one hand, the flexible schedule of the artist beckoned him whereas consistent work and the realization that he liked building things that bring joy to people’s lives also brought him pride and happiness. About a year later, he could no longer ignore his calling and signed on as a full-time builder with the firm. Alfonso has found his niche at RareField and in addition to leading crews and projects he’s also our go-to builder for projects requiring a singular focus and special touch. He’s an expert of interpreting designer intent and in finding ways to execute it in real space.

Alfonso lives in San Francisco’s Mission district and as much as possible spends his time off camping, traveling, cooking, gardening, and endlessly tinkering.

BENJAMIN MCDOWELL
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT

Ben grew up 26 miles off the coast of Southern California on Catalina Island. The town of Avalon is one square mile, and the remaining 65 square miles of island is a nature preserve. His dad would let him tag along on long nature rides, as he would guide tourists throughout the interior of the island, identifying flora and fauna. With these ideal conditions, it seems only natural to gravitate towards a career in the outdoors.

After graduating from high school, Ben headed to Tempe, Arizona to pursue a bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture. He’s still unsure why he decided to leave the ocean for the desert. His time in Arizona proved invaluable though, providing him a breadth of experience in low-water and climate-adapted plant species. His senior year, he would win two national design competitions in ecology and restoration. More importantly that’s where he met his wife, and their collective love for the ocean would bring them to the Bay Area.

Ben has been practicing landscape design/architecture for 13 years. He holds a Landscape Architecture License in Arizona and California, is a ReScape Qualified Design Professional and Certified Bay-Friendly Rater.

Ben and his wife currently live in Alameda. He loves camping, playing the banjo, singing to his cat, and eating everything in sight. His parents still live on Catalina Island, where he visits often.

ALEX PIRKS
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER

Alex grew up in suburban southeast England where he discovered his interest in getting muddy, messy, and making artwork. From a young age, it was clear that Alex would have a future in design. However, it was only later when watching his older brother at architecture school producing sleek models and sophisticated renders did he decide he wanted to become a landscape architect.

When Alex moved to Edinburgh, he spent the next six years studying landscape architecture at Edinburgh College of Art. Alex encountered a new compelling approach to design, that prioritized artistic interpretation, graphic presentation, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Alex made a lasting impression during his time at Edinburgh College of Art and was awarded a first-class degree and invited to join the teaching faculty in 2017. Whilst teaching, Alex established a successful collective in Edinburgh called GRAFT. Before and during his time at GRAFT, Alex worked on projects in Chile, Scotland, Norway, England, and the Middle-east.

Alex followed his wife to San Francisco in 2019 and established himself in the Mission District. He has since taken a keen interest in conservation efforts in and around the Bay learning how to propagate rare and endangered species. When Alex has a spare moment, he likes to indulge in the best that the Bay has to offer, enjoying its fresh produce, mid-morning sun, and trips to Ocean Beach.

CORY BENNETT
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT

Joining the RareField team in 2015 as a Designer and Project Manager, Cory embraced and excelled in his role. After several years working at large, design-only firms, working in design-build has been a breath of fresh air. “Working at RareField has several distinct advantages: a talented build crew, fantastic clients, and a strong design philosophy, all which set the foundation for great projects to arise. We try to remove the obstacles that can derail a good design, and support each other to create the best spaces we can.”

Having lived in San Francisco since 2005, Cory still finds inspiration in the City. “Being able to look forward while still embracing the past, not being afraid to stand apart, and a strong link to the beauty of nature define San Francisco for me. I’m not sure that there is a more appropriate description of what I’m aiming for when I design.”

Before coming to San Francisco to study Landscape Architecture at the UC Berkeley Extension program, Cory lived in Santa Cruz where he received his BA from UC Santa Cruz. Additionally, Cory is a Licensed Landscape Architect, LEED AP, and a Bay Friendly Qualified Professional. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado and was on skis seemingly right after he could walk. These days Cory enjoys backpacking with his lively terrier, and watching the Giants with his cat at his home in the Mission District.

TASH DE VALOIS
ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT

Tash was Born and raised in Los Angeles. After highschool, she decided to give San Francisco a try. In 2016, she graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Apart from her studies and interest in the social sciences, she developed a passion for film photography and playing music. Tash is most excited when she is surrounded by a creative environment, which is why she loves managing the office for the designers and builders of Rarefield!

OUR CREW
CONSTRUCTION TEAM

Since 1992, RF has always been about elevating the trade and the craft. At the heart of that mission, is our fantastic crew. At RareField, our elegant designs are seen through by craftspeople who understand not only design intent, but also the power of just the right detail, down to a level that simply can’t be drawn on paper. They give our designs life and the hand-hewn, affecting, and deeply personal quality that sets great work of any genre apart and makes it memorable.