Step Inside a Parisian-Inspired San Francisco Home
It was a nondescript Edwardian stucco building that brought interior designer Lauren Nelson and architect Stephen Sutro together for their first design collaboration. The project began with a circa 1925 building in such disrepair that it was ultimately brought down to the studs. Working closely with the clients, Nelson and Sutro brought a Parisian sensibility to the space, showcasing its soaring ceilings and delicate moldings, and playing with juxtapositions of era, texture and color. “From the onset, the vision for this project was influenced by contemporary French interior design; there is an innate sense of style, effortless elegance, and a mastery of blending classic and more modern pieces,” notes Nelson. “We went for feminine details mixed with a high contrast palette and touches of glamour. But as the project evolved, we all sought to balance that formality with a casual California sensibility.”
Starting with a north/south orientation and maximizing the window openings at both ends to allow for light to penetrate deep into the center of the house, the main living level was transformed into a nexus for family life that now includes casual and formal rooms that can flow together seamlessly or be separated by pocket doors. A magnificent sculptural staircase, inspired by an image of an English Victorian newel post (provided by the client), serves to connect all four floors, as well as adding a “traditional yet slightly whimsical touch,” says Sutro. Stained oak floors, windows with an industrial-chic sensibility, and large slabs of Negro Marquina stone enhance the serenity of the space.
True to Parisian sensibility, the interiors are a mix of classic and contemporary, where crown accents, wall paneling and vintage light fixtures meet a mostly monochromatic palette and carefully curated furnishings. The entry sets the stage: A spare foyer features a cool, dark gray Pietra marble floor, a custom chevron-paneled door, and a selection of the owners’ graphic prints and illustrations.
From here, the stairway curves upward to the dining room, where a stunning table—handcarved of solid blackened maple—is surrounded by custom brass chairs in a Pierre Frey black mohair-velvet and an Osborne & Little stripe. An enormous black-and white photograph of a Scottish Highland cow (“a humorous image that appealed to the owner and me instantly,” says Nelson) adds an unexpected, cheeky touch.
The sensibility is slightly more formal in the living room, which is a study in neutral tones with crisp, high-contrast blues and greens that are also found throughout the home. Again taking design cues from contemporary French interiors, the room boasts sleek finishes: Walls in Benjamin Moore’s Boothbay Gray set the stage for a Schumacher teal velvet-swathed sofa, while a custom Lindstrom rug (Nimbus, in custom hues) complements brass chairs covered in a tonal, geometric Mary McDonald for Schumacher print. Above the bespoke marble mantel hangs a luminous seascape, a commission by painter Louise LeBourgeois.
Upstairs, the master bedroom features subtle silk Weitzner wallcovering, Cowtan & Tout silk-embroidered drapes and a greige, velvet-wrapped headboard that contrasts with a custom walnut faceted bedside table. A dressing table devoid of clutter adorns one corner of the room and is paired with a streamlined Jonathan Adler chair.
In a masterful transformation, Sutro turned a two-story San Francisco residence into a space that now measures just over 5,500 square feet and spans four airy, light-filled floors, while Nelson created an environment that is modern, not overly decorated and layered with California ease. The result is a warm, vibrant house that accommodates casual family gatherings and formal entertaining in high style. Concludes Nelson, “I think this home speaks to the clients, their personalities and their sense of place.”
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Vive La France!