Memories Inspire This Classic San Francisco Family Home


a powder room with wallpaper...

Brunschwig & Fils’ playful Bibliotheque wallpaper envelops the powder room, accented by a Gio Ponti for Gubi mirror and Hector Finch light fixture. A Kallista faucet adorns the vanity’s marble countertop.

a stairway with white walls

By the foyer staircase, an octagonal white oak entry table by designer Leah O’Connell displays a John Derian for Astier de Villatte vase. Prestige Mills’ Templeton runner softens the stair treads, while a Roman shade made with a Décors Barbares fabric adorns the window.

a blue chandelier hangs above...

An entryway looks into the living room.

a sconce and white tile...

A wall of zellige tiles from clé adds textured charm to the sons’ bathroom, complementing a travertine vanity and Waterworks faucet. A Rejuvenation walnut mirror and delicate Solana sconce by Blueprint Lighting complete the space.

an armchair with plaid upholstery...

Farrow & Ball’s Pale Powder softens the bedroom of one of the sons. The bed is upholstered in a Larsen fabric; underfoot is a Stark carpet. A chair from Sonoma Country Antiques, vintage stool and Lumfardo sconce offer a cozy spot to read.

primary bedroom with blue and...

Leah O’Connell Textiles pieces fill the couple’s bedroom, from a Heathcliff rug to drapery and a bench featuring the Lolly motif. A Soane Britain print is used for both the headboard and the Stephen Gerould lamps’ shades. The nightstand is by Chelsea Textiles.

an outdoor space with a...

The outdoor dining area is brightened by flowers.

Blue kitchen cabinets leading to...

Kitchen cabinets painted Farrow & Ball’s Oval Room Blue frame the breakfast room, where a Leah O’Connell Textiles rug grounds a Nickey Kehoe table and Julian Chichester chairs. The armchair is covered in a Radish Moon fabric.

It all started with a leaky roof—unwanted water seeping into the walls of a pre-1906 earthquake Edwardian in Pacific Heights. Not only did the elements imperil the original 1899 millwork, but they also endangered a lifetime of memories for the owner. This abode is her childhood home and the place she and her husband raised their two college-aged sons. Repairs and updates were needed, but any renovation had to remain faithful to decades of family nostalgia.

They entrusted the extensive remodel to designer and long-time family friend Leah O’Connell, who treasured her own youthful memories of the house. “This family and home have forever been in my orbit, so the project was close to my heart,” she shares. Joined by architect Brooks McDonald and general contractor JB Ferrarone, she approached changes with a tender eye to the past. “We had to take this house down to the studs and put it back up exactly as it would have been—but a little better,” the designer adds.

The work included replacing the original box sash windows with faithful reproductions—double-paned models this time for better insulation. The interior baseboard, trim and decorative hand-carved millwork received the same meticulous treatment, with worn and damaged pieces “removed, refurbished and reinstalled,” Ferrarone says. “Anything that needed to be built was an exact replica of the original.” Less-than-authentic features that were added by prior generations, like the dining room’s shutters, were also recreated out of sheer affection. “For the family, those shutters have always been there,” O’Connell shares. “There were many sentimental choices like that because they hold a lot of memories.”

New features accommodate the family’s current lifestyle while remaining sympathetic to the original architecture. “We wanted to keep the story the house was already telling and build on that,” explains McDonald, who specializes in such sensitive rehabilitations of historic San Francisco homes. To enliven dinner parties, a new emerald wet bar was incorporated into the dining room, concealed behind the Edwardian wainscoting. Reconfiguring the damaged roof also reclaimed more usable garret space for a new guest bedroom and lounge. But the angled ceilings were preserved, along with window-lined reading nooks tucked under the eaves. Removing the original servant stair made room for an expanded kitchen and breakfast area. Yet the new cabinetry still hums in architectural harmony, with “custom Shaker-style drawer and door fronts that mimic a British style,” the architect describes. Grayed blue paint completes the space’s vintage-tinged quality.

Overall, the palette “leans into historical colors,” O’Connell notes. Walls feature parchment whites and faded blues and greens. Wallpapers embrace heritage motifs, particularly the dining room’s dramatic hand-painted landscape of redwoods, horses and herds of bison. The unfolding vistas nod to the family’s equestrian passions, especially the wife’s love of Western-style horseback riding.

A medley of past and present also reverberates through the furniture. Family heirlooms are peppered throughout, most notably a beloved dining set and collection of oil paintings inherited from the wife’s grandmother. To this, O’Connell brought traditional English pieces, like the living room’s roll-arm sofa, because “I love how they feel formal yet entirely approachable,” she says. To contrast, more contemporary additions like the breakfast nook’s tapered chairs introduce midcentury modern silhouettes. “It’s all about the mix,” the designer explains. “You have to add something new to create interest.”

Swaths of archival florals, stripes and plaids bring more eclectic layers, each imbued with their own histories—like the 18th-century Indian floral on the upholstered headboard and matching lampshades in the couple’s bedroom. Or the cheerful Swedish star area rug animating the breakfast room floor. Pattern play is a signature for O’Connell, who is also known for her own historically inspired textile line. She incorporated a few of her designs, some with nostalgic origins like the primary bedroom’s delicate floral drapes inspired by her great-grandmother’s baby dress. Her version tweaks the original scale and proportion, but the tender sentiment endures as “Textiles are my love language,” the designer says. 

Indeed, love emanates throughout the home, melding together memories of loved ones lost with new comforts for the present generation. The project also became a memento of the designer’s friendship with the wife and an ode to the city they both adore as proud fifth-generation San Franciscans. “We’ve grown up with these old San Francisco homes our whole lives,” O’Connell says. “For this one, I love that we kept its history and the memories that have happened there while bringing it into a new century.”