Purchasing a historical home comes with some particular challenges, and perhaps the biggest one is finding the balance between respecting the home’s history while still infusing your own personality into it. Such was the case for a San Francisco couple when they purchased one of the city’s grand Victorians. To help them navigate the task, they turned to designer Paige Loczi and architect Stephen Sutro, who is well-known for his work on historical homes.
While many owners of Victorians make the decision to keep the home traditional on the outside while going full-on modern for the interiors, the new owners chose to take a slightly different approach. “The clients wanted to remodel the home in a way that referenced the existing historic components,” says Sutro, who worked with architect Melissa Kim on the project. Freshening up with bright colors and opening up small spaces was important, but so was preserving the parts of the home they found aesthetically valuable. “It was about keeping some components and then adding new ones that are a little more simplified but complementary,” says Sutro.
In the living room and dining room, the team—which also included general contractor Joseph Toboni—carefully edited some of the architectural trim. “We removed a few of the original elements in those rooms,” says Loczi. “But we also allowed some of the really distinctive ones to stay.” For instance, the team kept the burl-wood cabinetry in the dining room and the mantels in both rooms but replaced the fireplace tiles. “These were a few of the areas where we allowed the original interior architecture to really sing,” says the designer. “Then we added a few classical elements that paid homage, even though the materials themselves were modern.”
To this end, Loczi chose a combination of classical and modern furniture, as well as materials that spoke to the same goal. For example, the designer selected wallpaper for the dining room with a quintessential Victorian pattern from a contemporary wallpaper company. “For me, that was a nice way to marry the two and give it a modern twist,” she says. “The same is true of the use of Venetian plaster. We plastered the walls in the two powder rooms, living room and the media room.”
The interior architecture also had to work with the owners’ desired color palette—both inside and out—which was very bold. Loczi remembers: “Their main request was, ‘we really want to use fuchsia, teal and purple—those are our three favorite colors. Can you do that in this very classical home?’ ” The answer was an unqualified yes.
This palette was a major change from the existing one. “The house was very dark and traditional on the two main floors,” observes Sutro. The team worked with the couple to choose a vibrant blue with a fuchsia door for the exterior. “The really bold colors on the outside were absolutely the clients’ idea,” notes Loczi. Then the designer used teal, fuchsia and plum to inform the interior palette.
In another modern interpretation of the home’s history, the team chose to take the dwelling’s lower-level ballroom that once hosted salons and dances and turn it into a contemporary entertainment space, complete with a media room and guest suite formed from the former maid’s quarters that were on the same level. “It had never been touched,” says Sutro. “It had heavenly tall ceilings and this wonderful ballroom space but otherwise was very antiquated and compartmentalized.”
Opening up the spaces better serves today’s entertaining lifestyle, but it is also a nod to the lower level’s past. “It’s fun to think that the media room and bar, which were once the ballroom, are revitalized in a contemporary way so they are intact and serve a social function,” says Sutro. “I think that’s kind of neat.”
To Loczi the home is a perfect reflection of the couple themselves, whom she describes as refined but risk takers. From the color choices to their art and decor suggestions, they brought their own ideas to the project. Case in point is the bespoke Sharon Marston chandelier that hangs from the fourth floor to the first. “The husband had seen a piece of Sharon’s many years ago in Tokyo,” says Loczi. “When we were working on this house, he introduced me to her. And then the ‘ghost chandelier’ that hangs in the stairwell was born.”
The homeowners are art collectors, and it was important to them to promote local artists, such as Laurel Shear whose paintings are showcased in the living room. “The house is joyful and refined,” says Loczi. “It is still classical, but it is more modern—it’s our version of classical.”