Kendall Wilkinson has mastered the art of balance. The designer, whose eponymous San Francisco-based firm celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, has become renowned for her ability to marry classic and contemporary elements with unmistakable aplomb. So, when she discovered a residence originally designed by famed architect Alfred Henry Jacobs, she immediately began imagining its rebirth as her family’s new abode. “The home had not been updated in some time, and it needed a refresh,” says Kendall. “But I could see it had really good bones.”
Jacobs built the house for himself in 1915 and had fashioned it with such integrity that the structure was able to withstand all the earthquakes of the last century. Though the mahogany-toned millwork throughout the residence felt too dark for Kendall’s taste, the designer saw the artistry of the home’s unique form and decided to honor its history. “I wanted to let the original structure inspire the remodel,” explains the designer, and so she set out to create a thoughtful balance of old and new.
Though she stained the floors a dark walnut hue and painted the intricate woodwork white before moving in, Kendall waited three years before embarking on a larger redesign. “I lived in the house with my two boys first so I could get an understanding of how we’d use it,” she says. When she did begin the transformation, she worked with her former husband, architect Rob Wilkinson, and general contractor Kevin Brunner to maintain the dwelling’s original charm. “We made the conscious decision to minimize exterior changes and turn the focus inward,” Rob says. “Inside, we kept the detailing consistent with the original character.” For instance, when the team “lifted the door heights between rooms to create a more open flow, we painstakingly matched the new moldings to the old ones,” Kendall explains. Other details, such as the home’s original leaded windows and ornate fireplaces, remain as they were built 107 years ago.
To better meet her family’s needs, Kendall updated the footprint of the main living spaces, incorporating a dining area into the formal living room. She and Rob then removed a wall and opened the remodeled kitchen into what was formerly the dining room, creating a light and airy “family zone” where the designer and her sons eat most of their meals, entertain friends and relax. “The openness makes the space feel nearly doubled,” notes Kendall. Though the upstairs layout stayed the same, the designer transformed the bathrooms to deliver a timeless elegance, and she reimagined a top-floor room as her cozy sanctuary and home office.
While Kendall’s firm is a favorite of the tech industry elite—a client roster that often favors modern abodes—this house gave her permission to showcase her personal aesthetic, which skews more layered and romantic. “I love the tension between old things and new—the juxtaposition of a classical backdrop with modern art and contemporary furnishings,” she says. “There’s something interesting to me about the way pieces from different periods dialogue together within the same space.” In the living room, a reupholstered chair designed by Jacobs, and original to the house, sits alongside a 1970s chrome-and-Lucite chair, while a vintage Sputnik-style chandelier hangs near circa 1900 crystal sconces. In the grand entryway, an antique rug grounds the space while a 19th-century entry table from France presides beneath a vintage 1930s mirror that once adorned a Las Vegas casino.
Though the palette on the ground floor tends toward quiet blues and grays, borrowed from the surrounding landscape of ocean and fog, the designer allowed more color upstairs in the private spaces. “My bedroom is a serene lavender, and the guest bedroom features beautiful shades of green inspired by the Arboretum wallpaper I designed,” she says. “In my sanctuary space on the top floor, I went with a deep blue to create a cozy spot to sit by the fire and watch a movie at the end of the day.”
In the end, Kendall fashioned a dwelling that honors its history while reflecting an aesthetic she has cultivated over a lifetime of traveling, collecting and practicing design. “Sometimes, I walk around the house and try to find something I would change,” she says. “But I haven’t come up with anything yet—except maybe a bigger closet.”