Designer Eric Cohler Brings Cinematic Glamour to a Nob Hill Penthouse

Dining Room painted in glossy blackEver since he was captivated in his early teens by Dark Passage, the 1947 Bogart crime drama set in San Francisco, interior designer Eric Cohler has been fascinated by the city’s film noir atmosphere. “It’s such a mysterious place,” says Cohler. “The fog, the thirties storefronts and that sense of a glamorous era when people dressed for dinner.” Now, the designer has brought that sensibility to the penthouse of what has been called San Francisco’s “most desirable” apartment, the Chambord atop Nob Hill.

A longtime East Coast resident, Cohler was working on several Bay Area projects when he happened upon a “for rent” sign on the landmark building and, just out of curiosity, called for an appointment. Once inside, however, he was awestruck by “everything you could want in a San Francisco apartment: panoramic views, French doors with Juliet balconies, an outdoor terrace, three fireplaces, 12-foot ceilings and a library with Julia Morgan period details. All I could think was: ‘oh my god!’” 

Cohler promptly took the space and transformed it into a cosmopolitan apartment where a modern day Nick and Nora Charles would feel utterly home. With the exception of a glamorous living room that he left bright white, he established the atmosphere by enveloping the walls in dark, dramatic hues, painting the fabulous rotunda dining room glossy black, and the cathedral-ceilinged bedroom a deep navy blue. Sartorial elements like flannel drapes and a zebra-patterned rug evoke debonair midcentury style, to achieve a sober mood in an apartment that is flooded with afternoon light, Cohler winnowed through his art collection for pieces with a bit of brooding. 

Striving for an alchemy of old and new, Cohler also tracked down fun vintage and flea-market finds. The black linen sofa and python end table were found online. An Art Deco airplane cigarette lighter was found at the Alameda flea market. A set of 1930’s-era translucent pink and violet Murano lamps were spotted at the San Francisco Antiques Show. 

And as a designer with clients who are among Silicon Valley’s elite, Cohler incorporated a full complement of technology, but kept it hidden. In the library, for example, a secret panel opens to reveal a flat-screen TV ; a gesture, Cohler says, that demonstrates “you can embrace technology, but you don’t have to let it overtake your space. 

“I want to show that you can bring the past with you wherever you go,” he adds. Watching the fog roll in and envelop the spires on Grace Cathedral next door, Cohler can enjoy knowing he achieved visual drama every bit as intriguing as Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which was shot just a few doors down.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2014 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Nob Hill Noir.