I must admit that I'd burned out on designer showcase houses a couple of years ago, having attended too many in too brief a period. The over-the-top decorating on view, in room after room, overloaded my circuits and made me long for empty spaces.
However, the annual San Francisco Designer Showcase was one I'd never seen before, and this year's location, the former Commandant's House in the Presidio, was enticing. (I wish it were still open, but it closed last weekend.)
The house, probably once one of the most sought after lodgings in the U.S. Army, was occupied by 22 families between 1949 and 1994 - it's a wonder it's still standing after that kind of wear and tear. Located in a storybook neighborhood with absolutely quiet streets, rolling green lawns and huge old trees, it is now used for official entertaining by The Presidio Trust.
More than 50 hard-working interior designers, most from San Francisco, used common sense and restraint to create a diverse and interesting showcase. Here are a few of the things that most impressed me:
The kitchen was nothing less than revolutionary in its design by Will Jameson of San Francisco, U.S. director for the Johnny Gray company of England. Beautifully crafted wood cabinets of walnut, eucalyptus and oak were designed specifically for the room, creating a sitting room atmosphere a million times removed from the usual institutional-feeling modern kitchen. Jameson installed the dishwasher 14 inches above the floor, a simple and brilliant means to avoid the usual bending and reaching routine. Above the dishwasher, the microwave oven was at eye level, again ergonomically correct.
The cast concrete double sink was separated in half by an S-shaped divider, maximizing the space available for rinsing and washing very large pots. And Jameson also installed an open-grid stainless steel tray that could slide over the sink, useful for rinsing vegetables or drying glasses. The plastered walls were a shade of periwinkle blue/lavender, and glazed deep green Provencal pottery was arranged on top of cabinets - a smashing color combination.
The home's two living rooms, back-to-back, with matching marble hearths, were united by a taupe linen wall covering, matched with Belgian linen drapery fabric. A gorgeous faded antique Samarkand rug provided the inspiration for the taupe, accented with a deep brown velvet Empire-style sofa topped with a three-foot-long, very slim, bright magenta velvet pillow - for me, a fresh and unforgettable color scheme. This low-key but very elegant design was the creation of the team of Martha Angus, Susan Wicks and Phillip Parton of San Francisco. These two rooms, and many others in the showcase, featured woven jute rugs edged with handsome bindings over hardwood floors.
In the master bath by Kathleen Navarra of San Francisco, a mix of brick-shaped marble tiles and ceramic tiles in pale green shades gave these classic materials new pizzazz. "I wanted to show you could use the same size tiles which were original to the house - 3 in. x 6 in. - in different patterns," Navarra told me. The varied textures and tile sizes created subtle stripes within the same color range, and the walls were waxed and glazed in a harmonizing pale green - lovely. Tiles were by Waterworks of San Francisco.
Green is certainly the color of the year. My favorite room in the house was a very small guest bedroom/sitting room by Michael Merrill of San Francisco. "I wanted to create a room devoid of color and pattern, that wouldn't seem full until someone entered," Merrill told me. "We begin and end every day in the bedroom, and it should be peaceful."
Merrill used a soft celery/army green everywhere in the 11 ft. x 11 ft. room: on the walls, in a cashmere bedcover, and on the leather-wrapped built-in desk under the eaves. Other quietly rich elements included a Biedermeier chest of drawers, a silver-plated side table (I've never seen one before) and framed antique black-and-white photographs.
Carolyn Barnes covers home and garden stories for the Town Crier.