hen designer Alison Pickart spied a glass-and-metal fire screen by French artisan Christophe Come, she knew she had found the design inspiration for this San Francisco condo remodel. Her clients–parents of three grown sons who were starting life anew in the city after years spent living in the suburbs–were equally enamored with the roundel-studded piece, and it set the bar for all that followed. “We couldn’t just pick any dining room table or sofa,” says Pickart. “Every piece had to be the most special version of what it needed to do.”
But first the designer and architect Stephen Sutro needed to reshape the Pacific Heights penthouse into something worthy of that ideal while preserving and enhancing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Save for the scenery, the residence had little to recommend it. The space was plagued by narrow hallways and low thresholds, so Sutro consolidated all the utilities in one space, allowing for more gracious 9-foot-high doorways and wider passageways. “You couldn’t see many of the north-facing windows because there were walls in the way,” says the architect, who collaborated with project architect Karen Moy. “We introduced a more open, contemporary layout that allows you to see through the entire space.”
And while those refreshed interiors embraced openness, the spaces outside the front door still had smaller, 1920s-era proportions. The task of negotiating furnishings and materials through narrow spaces fell to builder Andrew McHale. “The service elevator was five feet by three feet, so most items had to be picked up by crane and brought in through the windows,” says McHale. “The delivery of everything had to be timed to perfection.”
For the owners, who started married life in a New York City apartment before moving to a traditional Mill Valley home, returning to the city was a full circle moment. “For our next chapter, we wanted a grown-up space that was fun and with a strong urban feel,” says the wife who, along with her husband, is a patron of several local arts organizations. “But I was concerned that contemporary could feel cold,” she adds.
She needn’t have worried. “I took my cues from her aesthetic,” says Pickart, who was determined to create a modern interior with elegant finishes that didn’t feel austere or untouchable. Raw ivory silk on the walls in the majority of the common spaces and a butter-colored faux suede in the master suite handily set a welcoming stage. Vertical grain fumed oak cabinets provide another layer of warmth along with visual consistency in the revised open floor plan. “The cabinet design is modern but the wood itself is a soft natural element,” says Pickart who, in collaboration with the architect, also placed the artwork as they were developing the interiors. Flanking the spare marble fireplace wall, for example, the architect-designed recessed bronze mirrored walls allow paintings by Russian artist Ilya Zomb to pop. Similarly, the intentionally blank fireplace surround allows the CÃ´me fire screen to be the star.
Ever mindful of keeping the bar high when it came to furnishings, Pickart led with serpentine Vladimir Kagan sofas, a bronze mirrored coffee table and a live-edge dining room table perched on four bangles of polished brass. “Metals became part of the program,” she says, pointing to the zinc stove hood, recessed bronze cabinet pulls and the bronze door in the bar area.
The sheen continues in the console composed of three shades of goatskin parchment lacquered to a high shine and set with polished brass accents. The element is more than pretty; it delineates the living and dining room spaces while concealing a television. As Sutro explains, “The television lifts up and rotates so if can be seen from the four swivel chairs or the eating area.” That same level of craftsmanship continues in the breakfast nook where a circular, brass and glass light fixture by John Liston illuminates the table without impeding the view. Likewise, all the pieces in the main living area are scaled low to emphasize the vistas.
The wife professes a love for dresses and flowers, and the master bedroom with its patterned drapes and pink and white linens is a fitting homage to her tastes. “It is feminine, but not in an off-putting way,” says Pickart, noting the room bridges the gap between their former suburban home and the new modern apartment. “The drapes are actually a blown-out abstract of a traditional pattern and the waterfall skirt on the contemporary Gregorious Pineo chairs gives them a traditional silhouette.”
This mindful merger made for happy homeowners who thoroughly enjoy their adult city digs and never lose sight of what is out those windows. “It’s a quiet, elegant, magical space,” enthuses the wife. “We start every morning in our gym and end every day looking at the Golden Gate Bridge and watching the sunset.”
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