You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘San Francisco Design’ category.

I find architects’ web sites to be a great form of escapism. Who wouldn’t appreciate the fabulous images of pristine homes, just ready for the owners to move in and make their mark? But, despite all the soaring ceilings and glossy kitchens, the images are often rather soulless. Just that little bit too perfect, perhaps. That’s why it’s such a delight to explore the portfolio of Feldman Architecture, a San Francisco-based firm which consistently delivers sustainable, beautiful, yet personal homes. Its pages are filled with images of furnished houses that display the interests and styles of their owners. At the moment, I’m particularly captivated by this gorgeous home in the hilly neighborhood of Bernal Heights.

The house was a dark, near-derelict 1860’s cottage. The challenge was to maintain the rustic charm, while opening up the space and injecting it with light.

I love the use of rough stone and wood, with more polished glass and metal – and those enormous sliding doors opening directly onto a deck.

The house is filled with quirky art and furnishings – those chairs are a surprising combination with the modern sofa.

The house seems to have two office spaces. This light-filled area would provide plenty of inspiration for working.

More skillful combinations of materials: rough-hewn wood, slate and lucite.

I love the red, gray and white of the master bedroom. The shelf above the bed is a really simple way to add interest – something I think I might do in our guest room. I must also make it a life mission to track down those lamps!

To my mind, this is the perfect chill-out bathroom.

The nursery is, as you’d expect, a departure from the rest of the house aesthetically-speaking. But it still has a cool vibe and clear sense of personality. Having nurseries on my mind, I’m appreciating the child-friendly storage ideas and the way the brown puts a grown-up twist on baby pink. Shame I’m having a boy, otherwise I’d pinch some of these ideas!

And just to prove this house has everything – a fabulous double-height library!

This home is a wonderful combination of old and new, inside and outside, cool and quirky. You can see more of Feldman Architecture’s work here.


It’s been a while since the first post in my house tour series, so it’s high time for another one. If you recall, my goal with this series was to show how real people live stylishly, and how different homes can really show the personalities of their owners. The home we’re touring today is no exception.

We’re visiting Sarah and Danny’s house in the East Bay, near San Francisco. Sarah and Danny’s story is a familiar one for many young families. Having spent years living in San Francisco itself, the time had come to escape the big smoke. As if having a two-year-old wasn’t enough reason to start looking for more space, the chaotic housing market in San Francisco made buying a first place in the city even more perilous. So Sarah and Danny headed for the hills – literally. They ended up buying a mid-century modern home high up in the El Cerrito hills, near Berkeley, with the most fabulous views over San Francisco Bay. In fact, it was the view that convinced them there was more to life than city-living.

Of course, the house itself played a big role in convincing them too. Sarah says they both instantly felt at home here. It’s easy to see why.

Dining room

Sarah describes their style as ‘global modern’ and I couldn’t agree more. Hardly surprising when you consider what these two do for a living. Danny is a horticulturalist and Sarah works for a global non-profit, a job which requires traveling to Africa and Asia. The house is filled with the couple’s collections of exotic plants, orchids, fossils, stones and statues. Yet, it’s still a welcoming house, suitable for a toddler (and some chaotic, toddler-filled parties!)


At the heart of the home is a huge, open kitchen and dining room. The latter area is a perfect example of the couple’s style. But, although it looks like everything came from some far-flung place, in fact there are several canny local purchases here too. The vintage floor lamp was a gift, but the pendant shade was from Z Gallerie.

Dining room

And this cute little guy was from World Market!


Most San Franciscans would kill for a kitchen like this. Sarah and Danny repainted all the cabinets, but the floor plan was in place when they moved in. I like the huge crystal – citrine quartz, from Living Green in San Francisco – and the way it glows like kryptonite under the lights. The art on the left (just seen) is actually a photo of graffiti in SF (a little reminder of urban life?) The orchids are all by Danny. If, like me, you can’t keep an orchid more than two weeks you’ll appreciate how handy it must be to have a horticulturalist around the place. (Email me if you have inquiries about the orchids).


I expect this kitchen made leaving San Francisco a lot easier. There’s even room for the couple’s little girl to have her own toddler kitchen in the corner.


The living room is very mid-century with those vast windows (overlooking the Bay). It’s truly a place to chill out and enjoy the view. Sarah says they often feel like they’re on vacation when relaxing in here. Like the dining room, this space uses a clever combination of finds and buys. The green glass lamp base was actually salvaged from a street corner.

Living room

The gray brick fireplace is original to the house. The orange dogs are from Pier One.

Living room fireplace

And the 50-year-old Buddha was a gift from a friend who bought it in Vietnam.


Here’s a closer look at the orange Staffordshire dog. Quite the cheeky pup, this one!


And here, posing for the camera, is the reason for the big move! Sarah and Danny’s daughter proudly shows off her bedroom, which is a treasure trove for little girls. I love those little suitcases – they’re from Noodle Soup in Corte Madera, just north of SF.


Sarah and Danny chose deep greens and oranges for their walls. The effect is restful in the master bedroom.


And welcoming in the entryway.


Outside, there’s a patio for BBQ-ing and a lawn for playing. Plus, there’s another benefit of moving out of the city: sunshine!


And so, back to that view. Quite apart from the space the new house provides – perfect for hide and seek, apparently – it’s easy to see why Sarah and Danny were able to move away from San Francisco. They may have left the city behind, but the view meant it was never out of sight.


It looks like it’s going to be a lovely sunny day in San Francisco (is the August fog over??). So we’re going to try and get out and about to the park, the beach maybe. In making our plans, I was reminded of this lovely photo, spotted on Flickr a while back, of a window in the Marina District.


The Marina, with its views of the Bay, beach and space to run or walk, is a great place to spend a sunny weekend in SF. The extremely grand houses overlooking the Marina all have these fabulous picture windows. I’d love to explore some of these houses one day and look through those windows from the other direction. I like the way this photo captures the reflected sky and picks up the yellows in the flowers and the exterior paint. Tranquil yet happy – just right for a sunny Saturday morning.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Since I started blogging, I’ve gained an appreciation for the importance of personal style in interior design. Even the most flawlessly-executed design is incomplete without the owner’s unique mark. There has to be a sense of history, a character, a feeling that life is lived within those four walls.

So today I’m starting a new series that peeks into the real life homes of our friends and family and appreciates not only some wonderful design choices, but also their highly individual styles. When you ask people about their homes, you find that there are stories behind almost every item. It makes you realize just how valuable our homes are to us – and not only in financial terms. Something worth remembering, especially in times like these…and especially for those of us obsessed with interior design and all the materialism that goes with it.

Anyway, enough of the philosophy and onto the houses. In this first post, I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos of a fabulous San Francisco house that combines great taste with a highly personal twist.

Living room

The house belongs to friends of ours, Alison and Eric and their two kids. It is an Edwardian home built in 1917, not dissimilar to ours in layout. It survived the 1989 earthquake intact so has nearly all its original moldings and rooms. This is the living room. The bookshelves were installed a few years back, replacing some very 90s granite, to cope with the family’s growing collection of books, games, art supplies etc. A wood fireplace surround was removed at the same time and the simple stucco one put in its place. This is pretty much the only significant remodeling that was done – and although it’s clean-lined and modern, it works because it still keys with the style of the house.

Living room

You can tell this is a creative, sociable family that loves art, music and travel (if you’re on their holiday card list you’re left in no doubt about the creative part!) The print above the fireplace is from a Louise Nevelson show that Alison’s father curated about 35 years ago – and it’s signed by the artist. I love it because it echoes the bookshelves perfectly.


The chairs either side of the fireplace are a stroke of genius. The red one is from IKEA. But the yellow one is actually a piece of art acquired in Germany over a generation ago. It’s made of an industrial spring and apparently is wonderful for lulling babies to sleep (as several babies in the family have discovered over the years). All I know is that these chairs are not good for the later stages of a party: after a few drinks the red one is impossible to get out of and the yellow one is impossible to stay in!


The painting over the sofa was another one from a show curated by Alison’s father more than three decades ago.

Living room

Here’s the dining room. This is a real lesson in color. The walls are a beautiful, vibrant green. The color has been continued onto the ceiling to show off the moldings, wainscoting and coved ceiling. You find these in a lot of the Edwardian houses in the area, although this is a particularly good example. The two Asian posters were from a flea market in San Francisco and are reproductions of pre-Mao Chinese advertisements, while the Air France one is from Paris. I asked about the tablecloth too and apparently it’s from Cost Plus!

Dining room

The stunning lamp was made by Alison’s step mother, Dez Ryan. You can see more of her lighting designs here. There are some real stand-out pieces – check out the Mint Condition collection. I like the way this particular one looks so perfect alongside the Nelson Saucer Bubble Lamp over the table. Here’s a closer look.

Dining room

Like our place, this home has a sunroom at the back of the house. Here the space has been painted this glorious sky blue. My photography really doesn’t do it justice (I’ve said before that these rooms are impossible to photograph). But you can get a hint of the architectural detail in these pictures below. There’s beautiful wainscoting all round the room. Often, homes in the area have this left as dark gumwood, but I think the white is much nicer.


Many of the photographs here were taken by Alison’s sister during her travels in India.


The stove and cabinets have all been left as they were when the family moved in. But the cabinet doors were all refaced by KitchenWorks. I love all the pots hanging down – I’ve only ever seen this done in enormous country kitchens with a central island but it works here.


From the kitchen you get a good view of the stained glass above the door. Again, this is original to the house. You can’t see it all but it depicts a windmill and hillsides. Apparently there are very few in the city that had this type of bucolic scene.


Lots of the houses around here have these carved details in the stair railings. Ours has heart shaped cut-outs (Pennsylvanian apparently)! I’m guessing they’re influenced by the Arts and Crafts style that was popular at the time, even for Edwardian style homes.


So, that’s the end of the tour. Hope you enjoyed it. I think this house just has so much personality. You can see how it would work for kids as well as entertaining (and, having experienced both, simultaneously, here, I can vouch for that!) This is not a place to tiptoe about and whisper in shushed tones. It’s a place to yell for more gravy on the table, thump out a few tunes on the piano (visitors that is, I believe this family is actually quite talented in the music department) or to help yourselves to cocktails. And here’s to that kind of interior design!

And, speaking of entertaining, I’m off to Julia‘s blog party again to see what everyone else has been up to this week.

That’s it. Stop the clock. Call off the search. I’ve found my dream home.

We’ve long-harbored a dream to live in Sonoma. Fantastic views, delicious food, great wine, warm weather – what’s not to love? And now I’ve found this house, there’s nothing stopping us. (Apart from a few million bucks of course…)

The house was completely remodeled by Dowling Kimm Studios. Apparently it’s located on 32 acres of vineyards overlooking Dry Creek Valley (which happens to be my favorite part of the area) and also has a pool. Sigh…










There’s only one week left of the San Francisco Decorator Showcase. So, before it’s over, I thought I’d share a few more reasons to go and visit it. Here’s a clue: they’re all very small, but very important reasons…

The great thing about the Decorator Showcase is that every single spare inch of the place is decorated – which means every closet and every corner has a treat in store. It is in some of the tiniest spaces that you can discover the grandest ideas.

Check out this amazing wine cellar, for instance. Only the size of a deep walk-in closet, it is an absolute treat for the eyes. I can actually imagine sitting down and checking off my wines on that leather wing chair. The best feature, however, is the wall – a commissioned mural. It really opens up the space.

Vintner's Vault

Vintner’s Vault, designed by Zumaooh, picture via access.decorati.

Then there’s the Powder Room. A tiny sliver of a space, it is so simple yet so very stylish. There’s a  mosaic tile design with an ‘S’-shaped curve which continues up the wall in a single tendril. The same shape is echoed in the colored glass window. It’s fanciful but very subtle.

Powder Room

Powder Room Revisited, by Marsh & Clark. Picture again via access.decorati.

For even more tiny spaces, how about this windowless closet on the second floor landing? It’s been converted into a sweet wrap room by Gale Melton. Much as I can’t imagine ever having the space for a wrap room, I have to admit to coveting the custom shelving, a perfect fit for rolls and rolls of ribbon, sheets of luxurious wrapping paper and various other finishing touches.

Wrap room

Wrap Room by Gale Melton, photo via Anh-Minh.

And it’s not just the little rooms, it’s also the little details. There are lots of (almost) hidden tips and tricks to spot. Silk drapes backed with coarse linen, for example, were a surprising twist in the living room. A glorious bar filled with silver and crystal, was tucked away inside a gentleman’s closet (!). I also really liked the use of black task lights against dark chocolate (almost black) walls in the study, by John Wheatman & Associates. The lamp almost disappears and all that’s left is the little pool of light underneath.


The study, by John Wheatman & Associates, photo via Inside SF Real Estate.

So even if you’ve been once, maybe it’s worth going back for a closer look…

I’ve just come back from the 2009 San Francisco Decorator Showcase. It’s in a stunning four-storey mansion on Pacific Avenue. Since I used to live on the same street (several blocks away, in a far less posh area, I might add!) I’ve passed the house many times and often wanted to look inside.

It certainly lived up to expectations. The house has beautiful high ceilings, wide stairways, moldings and lots and lots of natural light. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever living there – but then that’s kind of the point, it’s supposed to be slightly dream-like.

You can’t take pictures in the house so I found some on other sites. In particular, Anh-Minh has a great sneak preview. I hope they make more photos available after the event though.

This is the family room, designed by Michael Leverone. This was probably my favorite room in the house. It somehow manages to be extremely special, while also being comfortable and eminently livable. I think that’s because of the proportions of the furniture. The coffee table, for example, is enormous. It’s made of teak – apparently the trunk of six trees that fused together. I can’t imagine how heavy it must be. Then there’s the sofa which is about twice the length of a normal sofa. Because Leverone has chosen fewer pieces, but on a larger scale, the result is a much more simple space. The other thing I loved about this room is all the texture – again it makes you want to actually sit down and stay for a while. The stools are covered in fluffy mohair, the teak table is smooth as silk, and the sideboard by the window is covered in linen with a pattern in brass studs. Oh, and those little glass ornaments under the wall light are old fashioned electric bulbs!

Family room

Photo via Anh-Minh.

Leverone also did the breakfast room. I could definitely enjoy a morning coffee here…

Breakfast nook

Also via Anh-Minh.

The kitchen is by Jennifer Weiss. I learned in this room that stainless steel countertops don’t have to feel cold and industrial. [UPDATE: I’ve just had an email from Jennifer and they are actually zinc, which explains why they seemed much lighter and warmer than steel]. I also love the white tiles with oval reliefs on them. I’m going to think about that for our kitchen (if we ever get it done). Photo via Apartment Therapy.


This is the dining room, by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy. I forgot to count how many you can seat at this table, but it has to be about 14. I’m really into white ceramics at the moment so this was a fun room to browse in. Photo via Anh-Minh again.

Dining room

Here is one of the bedrooms, by Cecilie Starin. I like the gray and lilac. The Louis sofa and the screen behind the bed are both really pretty. It looks a lot more serene here than when I was there, though. Probably because there weren’t 15 people all crammed in when this pic was taken! Photo via Apartment Therapy again.


Palmer Weiss did the teenage daughter’s bedroom. This was one of the brightest rooms in the house. I would have loved this as a teenager. She really hit the nail on the head with this. You can’t see it, but there’s a black (I think) leather Louis chair in this room too!


On the top floor is the penthouse, by Heather Hilliard (photo from her web site). This is a much smaller space, but I really liked it. It felt much more like home. The views, though, are incredible – right across the bay. Heather has done a wonderful job: those peacock blue chairs against the orange flowers are great.


In the basement there’s a silent auction. If you want to buy the shooting script from Milk, signed by Sean Penn, this is the place to get it. Last bid is $1250 though…

I’ll post some more on the Showcase later. Meanwhile, enjoy!

I read on Apartment Therapy today that San Francisco is hosting the National Convention of the American Institute of Architects this month. As a result, Architectural Record magazine has created a video series with local architects talking about their favorite buildings in the city. Check it out here.

What surprised me was that I had never even noticed some of these buildings before. Take, for example, the Modernist building at 675 California – so easily missed and yet, as Don Rudy, president of the SF chapter of the AIA, says, it’s a feat of simplicity and elegance. Then there’s the Swedenborgian Church, which I had never even heard of but will definitely be checking out. Picture via AT.

Swedenborgian Church

One of my personal favorites is the Ferry Building. I’ve been there lots of times and always thought it has a really great atmosphere (which I had put down to the dozens of retail outlets selling delicious cheeses, fish, chocolates…yum…). But I had never really looked up at the structure before and it’s quite stunning.

Ferry Building

The videos also include one on the Federal Building completed in 2007. I watched this building being built, always wondering quite what to make of it. It really is the most extraordinary structure. But, close up, as in this video, it’s actually rather appealing.

Federal Building

Nothing on the de Young Museum though. Or the new Jewish Contemporary Museum (below) – both of which I think are pretty spectacular.

Jewish Contemporary Museum

San Francisco is one of the most distinctive cities in the world, architecturally speaking. And I don’t think I’m biased just because I live here. The famed ‘Painted Ladies‘ – those pastel-hued gingerbread Victorians – are as much part of  San Francisco’s personality as the cable cars and Golden Gate Bridge. But, in terms of interior design, I’ve been wondering if there’s a distinctive San Francisco style that defines this city. There are certainly several recurring themes. In this blog I want to explore each of them and see if it really is possible to define San Francisco by design.

The most obvious place to start is back at those Victorians. When we were real estate hunting in SF, these were the most hotly-contested (and highly priced) homes. Painted every color of the rainbow they look as tempting as an ice-cream shop.

SF Victorian

SF Victorian 2

SF Victorian 3

But the interiors varied wildly. Some were dark and gloomy with poorly-converted rooms. Others were bright and spacious. Some owners had tried to honor the period of the house itself with their choice of furnishings, others embraced a range of styles from mid-century to contemporary.

In general, however, these Victorians have fantastic interior architectural details. High ceilings, lots of moldings, fireplaces, bay windows (originally designed to maximize the light in the narrow lots). At the top end of the market, many homes emphasize these details with a refined and elegant style of decor. You’ll find Baroque lines mixed with a little Hollywood Regency, slipper chairs, silks, velvets, trompe l’oeil, formal symmetry, pastel colors to echo the exterior paintwork, mirrors and gilt to reflect all the light from the windows. The homes below, designed by San Francisco designers Angela Free and Palmer Weiss are good examples.

Angela Free

Angela Free 2

Palmer Weiss

Palmer Weiss 2

Of course, not all Victorians have this amount of space. But, if you’re a fan of the look, the diminutive proportions of these ladylike pieces of furniture can work well in smaller rooms.

The alternative is to go for altogether more modern interpretations of the style. The Louis ghost chair by Phillippe Starck is a good example.

Louise ghost chair

Or a daybed from Room and Board.

R&B daybed

Or, the more expensive version from Williams Sonoma Home.

Williams Sonoma Home

Or a modern chandelier such as this one from Z Gallerie.

Z Gallerie chandelier

Anthropologie also has some great Baroque-inspired chairs in fresh, modern fabric, such as this ‘Antwerp chair’.

Anthropologie chair

For table lamps that suit this style, I don’t think you can beat Restoration Hardware. It has a range of crystal lamps that span simple to ornate.

RH lamp

RH lamp 2

There are some San Francisco boutiques that make good sources for furnishing a Victorian home at a more reasonable price. Past Perfect on Union Street is an absolute treasure trove of antique and retro items. You can mix and match design eras to your heart’s content here. McCarney’s Furniture on 9th Street is also great for antique furniture at a decent price. A lot of it is from Europe – specifically England and Scotland. Swallowtail on Polk and Alabaster on Hayes Street also have some quirky accessories – vintage medical equipment, globes, teapots – for that ‘collector’ look which was so popular among the Victorians.

But as I said at the start of this post, San Francisco style is much more than the painted ladies would have you believe. We should consider Marina, Spanish, Mission, Asian, bohemian and dotcom loft styles. I intend to do that in future posts. Meantime, if you have a view on what San Francisco style means to you, let me know. Send me a picture that represents this city’s interior design ethos and I’ll post it here. I don’t know yet what the conclusion of this exercise will be – but it will be an interesting exploration for sure.

To some, a home is just four walls and a roof. To others, it’s a showcase for a lifetime’s achievements. To a few, it’s a canvas for artistic expression. To me, it’s a refuge and a source of comfort. It’s also a lab for design experiments, some of which go well, many of which don’t.

That’s the real reason I started this blog: to record the changes in our home, capture the things that inspire those changes; and document the disasters so I never repeat them!

To some people, I suppose our home looks finished. Or maybe it looks like we’ve barely started. But to me, it’s a work in progress. So here are the first photos of our home – finished or otherwise.

Living room

We live in a San Francisco Edwardian. There are three stories, including the basement garage. The living room is at the front and is open to the hallway via a double-width arch. We’re lucky to have tons of natural light, with windows on two sides – although that does make it chilly on winter evenings. The sofas are from IKEA (when we moved to the US seven years ago, we had to furnish an entire apartment in a weekend so most of our basic items are from IKEA – and still going strong, I might add). The ottoman is from Pottery Barn and has been absolutely invaluable – there’s nothing better than kicking back in front of a movie with this as a footrest. Good for extra seating too when we entertain. The shades are raw silk from the Shade Store (excellent for reasonably-priced custom shades). The mirror and lamp are from Pier 1 and the apothecary chest is from Gingko, a little store in Soma that makes items to order for a great price – mostly from reclaimed wood. I also have a beautiful Louis chair (out of shot) covered in cream velvet, with silver gilt arms. It’s rather ornate but balances out the two boxy IKEA sofas. The challenge here is keeping the effect modern while indulging my preference for vintage, gilt and shiny things. Seems I’m constantly teetering between the two.

Living room / hallway

Ok, this shot is taken from the sofa under the bay window, looking through to the hallway and then dining room. Here’s the Louis chair. The painting is by Chris Hankey. We asked for contributions to an art gallery for our wedding gifts, and this was one of the pieces we eventually purchased. If there’s one thing in our home that helps me relax, it’s this.

Dining room

Dining room

The dining room wall color was a major change for us – it’s quite a cool blue/green/gray. It’s Iced Marble by Benjamin Moore and seems to change color depending on what you put next to it. But it looks great as a backdrop to the wave painting. The table is (of course) IKEA, but the chairs are from a, now closed, store on Fillmore Street. I loved the leather but couldn’t justify buying six of them so two are in a charcoal fabric instead. The sideboard, just seen, is from Gingko again. I had trouble deciding what to do with the front door, which is glass. I didn’t want to block out the light completely, but also didn’t want passersby peering in while we ate our dinner in the evening. The laser-cut paper screen by Tord Boontje seemed to be a good solution – and, somehow, we’ve managed to prevent our toddler from tearing it to shreds.

Just off the dining room is a tiny sitting area, which we use as a playroom. I’ve already shared my excitement about the West Elm zigzag rug in an earlier post: I’m loving how it contrasts with the more somber dining room.

Master bedroom

This is the master bedroom. It’s above the living room so we get the same great light. But we had to invest in extremely well-lined drapes and shades to keep the warmth in in winter. The bed is IKEA again, as are the lamps. I feel like we should replace the lamps with something more visible against the light-colored drapes. But the light they give is so warm it’s perfect for a bedroom so I can’t bear to part with them. The pomegranate painting was another wedding gift and was the inspiration for the colors in this room.

Bedroom dresser

Ok, I’m no stylist. But I like to see this little collection of things on our dresser in the mornings. The photos are of my father as a child, the handheld silver mirror (lying flat) was an 18th birthday present, the mother-of-pearl inlaid mirror is from Wisteria and was a source of much soul-searching (should we really spend the money?) but it was the best price I’d found for this type of mirror and I absolutely love it. The domino box is also from Wisteria and was a present from my sister (with some strong hints…). The large paper flower was made by my two-year-old at his daycare and is, quite frankly, the best thing about this collection (in my humble, doting-parent, opinion!)

Guest room

Last but not least, the guest room. The photograph isn’t great, but the room itself is really relaxing to be in. The wall color is Morning Dew by Benjamin Moore – a really pale, creamy green. The drapes are white linen and from the Shade Store again. The bedside tables were an absolute find for $140 each in a local antiques store (Past Perfect on Union Street – same place I got the Louis chair). Somehow they work with the IKEA bed and lamps. The rug is from South Africa, a gift from my parents.

In another post, I’ll try to show some pics of the nursery, office and kitchen. The latter is definitely a work in progress – we’re contemplating a renovation.

So, that’s our home. I hope it provides some ideas – even if only what not to do!

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.
houzz - kitchen design, bathroom design, landscaping and more

My Photos