San Francisco is one of the most distinctive cities in the world, architecturally speaking. And I don’t think I’m biased just because I live here. The famed ‘Painted Ladies‘ – those pastel-hued gingerbread Victorians – are as much part of San Francisco’s personality as the cable cars and Golden Gate Bridge. But, in terms of interior design, I’ve been wondering if there’s a distinctive San Francisco style that defines this city. There are certainly several recurring themes. In this blog I want to explore each of them and see if it really is possible to define San Francisco by design.
The most obvious place to start is back at those Victorians. When we were real estate hunting in SF, these were the most hotly-contested (and highly priced) homes. Painted every color of the rainbow they look as tempting as an ice-cream shop.
But the interiors varied wildly. Some were dark and gloomy with poorly-converted rooms. Others were bright and spacious. Some owners had tried to honor the period of the house itself with their choice of furnishings, others embraced a range of styles from mid-century to contemporary.
In general, however, these Victorians have fantastic interior architectural details. High ceilings, lots of moldings, fireplaces, bay windows (originally designed to maximize the light in the narrow lots). At the top end of the market, many homes emphasize these details with a refined and elegant style of decor. You’ll find Baroque lines mixed with a little Hollywood Regency, slipper chairs, silks, velvets, trompe l’oeil, formal symmetry, pastel colors to echo the exterior paintwork, mirrors and gilt to reflect all the light from the windows. The homes below, designed by San Francisco designers Angela Free and Palmer Weiss are good examples.
Of course, not all Victorians have this amount of space. But, if you’re a fan of the look, the diminutive proportions of these ladylike pieces of furniture can work well in smaller rooms.
The alternative is to go for altogether more modern interpretations of the style. The Louis ghost chair by Phillippe Starck is a good example.
Or a daybed from Room and Board.
Or, the more expensive version from Williams Sonoma Home.
Or a modern chandelier such as this one from Z Gallerie.
Anthropologie also has some great Baroque-inspired chairs in fresh, modern fabric, such as this ‘Antwerp chair’.
For table lamps that suit this style, I don’t think you can beat Restoration Hardware. It has a range of crystal lamps that span simple to ornate.
There are some San Francisco boutiques that make good sources for furnishing a Victorian home at a more reasonable price. Past Perfect on Union Street is an absolute treasure trove of antique and retro items. You can mix and match design eras to your heart’s content here. McCarney’s Furniture on 9th Street is also great for antique furniture at a decent price. A lot of it is from Europe – specifically England and Scotland. Swallowtail on Polk and Alabaster on Hayes Street also have some quirky accessories – vintage medical equipment, globes, teapots – for that ‘collector’ look which was so popular among the Victorians.
But as I said at the start of this post, San Francisco style is much more than the painted ladies would have you believe. We should consider Marina, Spanish, Mission, Asian, bohemian and dotcom loft styles. I intend to do that in future posts. Meantime, if you have a view on what San Francisco style means to you, let me know. Send me a picture that represents this city’s interior design ethos and I’ll post it here. I don’t know yet what the conclusion of this exercise will be – but it will be an interesting exploration for sure.