There’s something to be said about the power of an unexpected moment: a flash of Technicolor in your favorite black-and-white movie, a phone call from a long-lost friend. What follows is a feeling of wonder born from a sense of discovery, and it’s precisely this sentiment that designer Palmer Weiss wanted to recreate for a San Francisco family. Although their house—an unfalteringly traditional residence with plenty of rich architectural details—was lovely, it was missing the magic necessary to make it a home. So, Weiss quickly made it her mission to craft a family home full of surprises that showcased original and one-of-a-kind pieces. “From the outside, the house reads much older and more conservative,” she says, “but we wanted people to open the door and discover it’s not at all what they thought it would be.”
In fact, stepping into the front hall, with its leopard-print stair runner by Stark Carpet, teal grass-cloth wallcovering and Lucite railings—designed by Weiss and custom-made by builder Justine Sears—is a welcome reminder not to judge a book by its cover. These eye-catching elements lend a much-needed modern edge to the buttoned-up, classic exterior and set the tone for the rest of the home: an aesthetic that Weiss refers to as “eclectic glamour.” The theme prevails in the lounge and adjoining bar area, as well, where vintage brass chairs upholstered in hot pink velvet, sleek, lacquered cabinetry, and a custom island, constructed entirely of different metals, dull the memories of the dark finishes and formal silhouettes that used to define the spaces.
“It was important to the homeowners that nothing feel stuffy,” Weiss says. “They wanted the interiors to be light, fun and young, just like their family.” To accomplish this, Weiss worked with Sears to sand, repaint and re-stain the extensive woodwork throughout the house, giving the interiors a little face- lift before she began the job of furnishing each room. “We were careful not to alter the character of the home,” Sears says. “We just needed to brighten things up. Palmer even had us reuse all the existing trim and molding.”
Architectural integrity preserved, Weiss made a big impact instead by introducing a colorful palette, as well as a variety of playful prints and an impressive contemporary art collection—featuring paintings and photographs by Eric Zener, Richard Misrach, Lawrence Beck and Natasha Law, among many others. In the media room, for example, rusty orange walls (a nod to the Golden Gate Bridge seen through the windows) paired with upholstered aqua chairs look fresh and inviting, while a psychedelic Damien Hirst helps to downplay the seriousness of the original wood-paneled walls in the living room. The hippie-chic Moon Flower wallpaper from Katie Ridder, too, in the master bedroom, is key in tying the space together, providing a grounding influence to the mirrored bed.
For all of the place’s glitz and glam, however, at its heart, it’s still a family home, which is why Weiss was careful to ensure that each room was dog-, child- and party-proof. “Before we brought any fabrics or carpets into the house, we put them through the ringer,” she explains. “We spilled red wine, soy sauce and ketchup—the works really—on everything to see how it would hold up. There’s nothing worse than having a beautiful house but not wanting to share it because you have a white sofa and you’re scared it’ll get ruined. We didn’t want them to have to walk on eggshells.”
The result is a home that’s as tough and durable as it is lovely. It’s exactly the magical setting that the homeowners had envisioned, and for her part, Sears is equally under its spell. “I’ve been in the homes business for over 15 years, and this is probably my favorite house,” she says. “It flows so well, and everything is harmonious.”