Martha Angus' Artful Interiors Enliven an Atherton Residence

An Ellsworth Kelly print echoes the curve of the pendant chandelier and Kelly Wearstler carved marble stools.Interior designer Martha Angus is also a painter, so she instinctively wears two hats whenever she incorporates artwork into her furniture plans: In a recent project for a family of five, for instance, her impulse was to place pieces from the client’s collection of contemporary art where they would be the hero of each room. At the same time, she and her firm’s senior designer, Ericka Catanzaro, wanted to give equal measure to sculptural lighting and furniture with superb silhouettes. The result? The newly built home feels dynamically integrated. “It sounds paradoxical,” says Angus, “but when you’re here, it feels edgy and timeless, rich and spare, serene and energetic, formal and very relaxed all at the same time.”

The stylistic mix of the architecture adds another layer of character. Timothy Chappelle, principal at Arcanum Architecture, sheathed the exterior walls of the main and pool houses in cement plaster and surfaced their roofs with terra cotta tiles to articulate the clients’ fondness for the Mediterranean. By contrast, the house’s interior bones are detail-lean and, thanks to huge windows and several sets of full-height French doors, most of the rooms are repositories for light. From certain angles, exposed ceiling beams might appear traditional if they weren’t balanced by slim, dark metal stair railings and window frames that project the simplicity of line drawings.

Angus credits the architecture for driving many of her decisions. For example, she had no need to focus on freestanding storage because the clients asked Chappelle for built-in millwork. “That simplified things for me,” she explains, “and it gave the rooms a symmetry I could work from.” None more so than the study where wall-mounted cabinetry and furniture—such as a pair of barrel-back chairs from the 1960s, two sawhorses supporting a glass table top—mirror each other and dramatize the presence of Ellsworth Kelly’s Dark Green Panel. And while angular chrome hardware and furniture bases unify the décor, a figurative gilt and bronze sculpture by Claude Lalanne enhances its equilibrium.

Walker Zanger tile backsplash is complemented by custom cabinets by CalCase. A Jonathan Adler bar cart provides extra shelving at the end of the island. Ironies white plaster vase is through Kneedler | Fauchère.As a counterpoint, the furniture configuration in the adjoining living room is pleasingly asymmetrical. In an exploration of form, a monolithic, six-foot-long coffee table Angus designed from Haisa stone, a graciously curved sofa and a pair of Azadeh Shladovsky’s eccentric Diva stools gather around a centrally hung, abstract painting by Caio Fonseca. The formal dining room epitomizes Angus’ skillful symbiosis of art and furnishings. Against flax-colored linen walls, an oversized C-print from Candida Höfer’s series of photographs of the Louvre adds dimension and provides a portal into another domain. Lindsey Adelman’s brass-and-blown glass chandelier doubles as floating sculpture, and lavender leather seats bring just the right touch of whimsy to Michael Taylor’s manly Cosmos chairs.

The atmospheric vitality and emotion supplied by the art is matched by Angus’s deft use of wall color, which is sourced from Farrow & Ball. The entry hall, living, family, breakfast and dining rooms are all painted with warm white Skimming Stone, and as floors extend the light tonality either in stone, wood or carpet the furniture in those areas appears to float. Angus interspersed this tranquil neutrality with a series of rooms enveloped in saturated monochromes: An office sports Blue Ground, a sunny aqua; a study wears Down Pipe, a leaden blue gray; the Butler’s pantry, with a site-specific floor treatment by decorative painter Katherine Jacobus, is all purply Pitch Blue.

In Angus’s work, even children’s rooms are enlivened by art and iconic furnishings. Here, an Eero Saarinen Womb chair and stools are upholstered in primary colors, alongside a wall-mounted row of polka-dot skateboard decks by Damien Hirst. “He’s a serious artist,” says Angus, “but we installed the piece in a playful, unpretentious context—just how I like it.”

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Focal Point.