It’s hard to put a definitive label on the chic transformation of a 1910 Edwardian home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, though it is clear that the home’s original architecture asserts itself as a frame for the new and eclectic combination of color and genres that lie within. “The thread here is creating something that didn’t feel brand new or imposed,” says designer John K. Anderson. “It was all about letting the character of the house come through.”
The homeowners, parents of two teenage boys, asked Anderson and architect Emily Huang to preserve the home’s most interesting traits, yet revitalize it for comfort and practicality. “I want every room to be used every day,” the wife recalls saying to Anderson. A self-described “magpie,” she also wanted the designer to incorporate her wide range of vintage and antique furnishings, as well as an assortment of artwork and modern wallpaper she’d already hung in the dining room. “She was our muse for the whole project,” Anderson says, noting that he sought to weave the family’s existing items within a coherent whole.
The first phase of the three-year endeavor took place where it was most needed–on the top floor where the boys’ turreted bedrooms flanked a dark common area with sharply sloping walls. Huang flooded light into the central space with new dormer windows and a skylight, while Anderson added crisp white paneling and built-ins to set a breezy tone. A huge Oriental rug channels the home’s patina. “The rooms became a mix of things that have age and history with some newer elements,” Anderson says, “with nothing being precious or unapproachable.”
The design team continued to play to what the house has to offer. “The inspiration, more or less, is a London-style house. In Pacific Heights, you get a similar feel as the residential areas in London,” Huang says. But rather than exercising the American tendency to gut an old house and start over, she followed an additive approach that’s more common in Britain. She says, “It’s important not to get stuck on any particular style, and let the existing conditions add to the character of the place.” Anderson went on to blend many eras of the interior design with the home’s old bones, unified by a palette of the wife’s favorite dusty pinks and corals, pale blues and bright yellows. “There are shades of those colors throughout the house–but nothing too bright or too primary,” he says.
In the master suite, Anderson upholstered the walls with a hand-painted fabric whose sweet pattern would have fit comfortably in an early 20th-century setting. “When I first saw it installed, I gasped–it so exceeded my expectations of how it was going to look and feel,” he says. “There’s this lightness and softness that it added, and a scale that’s not overwhelming.” Against that backdrop, he added his client’s modern artwork over a Deco-style custom headboard flanked by a pair of 1970s vintage burl wood nightstands–an arrangement that’s pleasing in its contrast.
Similar counterpoints are at play in the dining room with an existing wallpaper that resembles a modern cross-stich pattern. For this room, Anderson designed a sturdy oak table on a slim steel base to rest atop an antique rug; he then paired sculptural velvet host chairs with disarmingly casual, caned side seating “I love the cane-back chairs,” he says. “They are a little bit simple and a little bit humble.” The mix, he says, “creates a relaxed, easygoing space for daily dining, children’s homework, games and weekend projects.” Because the family spends so much time here, it was important to improve the view outside the tall windows, which overlook a sidewalk leading to the backyard. Landscape architect Katharine Webster topped the new cedar fence along that sidewalk with planters containing flowers and foliage. “We really wanted to create this connection back to nature,” Webster says. “The wife didn’t want it to look like an old-fashioned home. She wanted it to feel fresh.”
Other fresh takes on history include the millwork–with builder Mike Kennedy replicating the existing patterns across new elements–and the layout. While Huang kept most of the original layout intact, she expanded the third level to make way for the new master suite, noting: “We tried to be as respectful as possible, but making the house new and adaptable to current life is a really great thing to do.”
When it came time to furnish the living room, Anderson selected new streamlined furniture to anchor the owners’ vintage pieces and modern art. He covered a pair of swivel chairs in the clients’ favorite pale-blue shade, for example, and used linen-covered sofas to frame their vintage rug, making its colorful Moroccan pattern a focal point. An antique chest gets new pride of place underneath a large-scale photograph, while a sculptural black accent table that once blended in with busy upholstery gets fresh attention between the light-colored swivel chairs.
“Using the stuff that’s important to us and that we could keep makes a big difference in how the house feels,” the wife says. And that’s the point of the project, according to Anderson. “The dialogue between old and new is what makes any home or any space sing,” he says. “There’s nothing more boring than a home that’s all one note or all one style.”