In both life and design, rarely is the line from point A to point B perfectly straight. Inevitably, there are twists and turns and zigs and zags. Such was the case for designer Lizette Bruckstein, whose clients initially tapped her to create the interiors of their Napa vacation home. After moving through the design phase, the couple hit pause, but they called again 18 months later. “They said, ‘We bought a new home and we’d love for you work on it,’” Bruckstein recalls. “They’d had a daughter in the meantime, and everything had changed. This was a new chapter of their lives.”
Unlike the Wine Country project, which was to be constructed from scratch, their place in San Francisco was built in 1883 and had been recently renovated. While the update had retained many of the residence’s Victorian details—like the carved newel post at the foot of the entry stairs, ornate wainscoting, original moldings and plaster ceiling rosettes—it also provided a modern kitchen and a new family room with easy access to a terrace. “We loved the period details alongside the modern elements. The juxtaposition—the best of both worlds—was what attracted us to the house,” says the wife. “We wanted to elevate what the previous remodel had started.”
Bruckstein made moves to ensure the house was both approachable and sophisticated. Executing her clients’ idea, the designer reimagined the entry’s banister, adding glass and painting it bright white, then creating a discreet, custom cabinet for stowing shoes. Turning her attention to the classic double parlor, she put a contemporary stamp on things by swapping out the existing mantel, “which didn’t command a presence or set a tone,” with one composed of vertical channels of rough-cut marble bookended by thin sheets of steel. “Your eyes are now drawn to the tall ceilings and that moment of grandeur,” she observes. On one side of the fireplace is another bold moment: a suspended brass bar cabinet. “I had wanted to do one for a while, and here it serves a double function since it also keeps things out of kids’ reach,” says the designer. Its airy profile and materiality also make for a compelling contrast with the heavier feel of the steel shelving for wood storage and the texture of the logs themselves.
In this case, Bruckstein decided against renderings to illustrate her ideas, preferring to reveal all once the project was complete. “That was the biggest challenge—proving that all these things could coexist with the vintage details,” she reports, “But the clients put a lot of trust in me.” Illustrating that point are the sculptural contemporary light fixtures that now hang from the preserved plaster ceiling rosettes. “We loved the use of modern fixtures, which we worked painstakingly to get perfectly flush with the original ceiling moldings,” says the wife. “It took a few tries on some of them, given the older architecture.” Another “trust me” moment revolved around the parlor’s ethereal draperies. “They are so subtle but add softness to the room,” explains the designer. While the wife wasn’t convinced at first, she soon became a convert. “Their use with the high ceilings and moldings is just so elegant,” she says. “I love looking at them every day.”
For the homeowners, assembling an art collection proved to be another revelation. New to the process, “My husband and I caught the ‘art bug,’” says the wife, and they worked closely with Bruckstein and art consultant Stephanie Breitbard. Among the notable pieces acquired is a looping wall sculpture in the entry by Jeremy Holmes. “We liked the idea of texture there against the glass railings,” says Bruckstein. Adds the wife, “When I saw his work, I knew it would be perfect. We iterated on various movements in the wood, sizes and colors.” With its graceful, twisting presence in place, the space becomes less of a pass-through and more of a moment.
Amazingly, Bruckstein delivered the project with the clients in residence during most of the process, but the results are seamless and in keeping with her personal ethos. “The bones of the home and level of contrast are something near and dear to me,” she shares. The house also represents something of a full circle moment. The dining room’s table and chairs, originally designed for the clients’ Napa place, found a home here proving that, despite life’s unpredictable directions, some things are just meant to be.