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Joanne Furio | Photo: Bruce Damonte | October 8, 2013
Bespoke materials and a less-is-more aesthetic transform the formerly fussy interiors of a San Francisco traditional into something simply sublime.
During his frequent visits to Asia for work, a San Francisco financial investor found himself spending much of his time in the region’s upscale, high-design hotels. The more he stayed in them, the more he became enthralled by their streamlined interiors, cutting-edge features and, most of all, their spa-like bathrooms and use of precious materials like marble that created an atmosphere of luxury and relaxation. And the more enthralled he became, the more he began to think that his own residence back home did not measure up.
Located in the exclusive Sea Cliff neighborhood, his four-bedroom, Spanish colonial revival was spacious at 5,000 square feet, with postcard-perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the interiors in the 70-year-old house were anything but au courant. The white plaster columns, dark granite tile floors, elaborate brass chandelier and so-called “Juliet balcony” in the entry conveyed a sense of formality that felt dated and overdone. He knew he wanted to make changes, but didn’t even have the time to figure out where to start.
Then, the businessman happened to come into contact with the architect Mark Horton, who had been hired to redesign a conference room at the San Francisco offices he was leasing. As one of the city’s most avowed minimalists, Horton’s 26-year-old firm is known for a restrained approach that nevertheless can create some jaw-dropping spaces. In addition to commercial and institutional projects—from a jaunty trampoline facility, House of Air, in San Francisco’s Presidio, to the first dorms for the Oakland campus of the California College of the Arts—Horton is admired for his residential work, too.
After briefly perusing Horton’s portfolio, the businessman decided to hire him, beginning what would become a very unusual relationship, indeed. As a client, he gave his architect little direction. “He spends a lot of his time in hotels, so he wants his house to look like one,” was the simple instruction his assistant relayed. At first, Horton wasn’t sure if this meant the modernity of a W or the ornateness of The Ritz-Carlton. Luckily, it turned out that the businessman preferred the simplicity of the former—a style more in sync with Horton’s—because its calming effect would allow him to unwind after his long trips overseas. The homeowner was so busy, he didn’t check out the partially completed renovations until four months into the 18-month production.
This was an interiors-only project, since a redo of the exteriors would require a more extensive review process. The floor plan remained virtually intact, save for the removal of a kitchen wall that opened up the cooking area to the vistas of the Pacific and the reconfiguration of the entry, bringing in more light and simplicity. Because Horton was given virtually carte blanche, “we ended up designing in a way that we were interested in,” he explains. This meant interior architecture that was “contemporary and clean.”
As to finishes, Horton replaced the dated with stone, pale woods and glass that create a luminous and elegant feeling. Carrara marble, in particular, was used to great effect. It appears as a landing in the double-height entry and an impossibly long, 18-foot kitchen island. Carrara also surrounds the living room’s narrow gas fireplace, which is flush with the wall, devoid of other detail that would detract from the sheer beauty of the material. In the bathrooms, the stone’s graphic gray veins appear like spidery murals across the walls, recreating the sybaritic environment of a spa.
Those dark tile floors were replaced with riff-sawn white oak, a few shades lighter than blond. In the entry, the oak was also used to create a dramatic cantilevered stairway, which is surrounded by a rippled glass panel that acts as a handrail, while allowing light to filter through. Figured white anigre,an African hardwood that is also pale and subtly patterned, was used to panel the main public rooms. The paneling also contributes to the sleekness of these spaces—concealing china in the dining room, the television in the living room and doors to a bedroom and powder room that had previously broken up the hallway wall on the main floor. Meanwhile, an etched mirrored glass lines walls in the bathrooms and serves as a backsplash in the kitchen, adding a subtle glow.
Given his tendency to simplify, Horton used lighting and furniture sparingly, carefully choosing iconic pieces of classic modern and contemporary design. “I wanted them to simultaneously complement the spaces and also act as objects,” he says of his selects. “When the background is quiet, these objects appear as strong alter-elements.”
In terms of the lighting, Horton took his cue directly from the hospitality industry. “Every hotel has cove lighting,” he observes. Tucked in seams along walls, such soft, indirect illumination does away with the need for ambient pieces. The additional fixtures are works of art in their own right, including two pieces in the kitchen by renowned lighting designer Ingo Maurer: Ya Ya Ho, innovative in the early ’80s for its use of low-voltage cables, and Zettel’z 5, in which handwritten notes in various languages surround the light source, acting as a lampshade.
Given the sleek backdrop, the furniture continues the theme “with a limited and muted palette,” says Horton. In the living room a Cassina leather bench combines with a David Weeks sectional and chair with stainless steel bases, all of which are low-lying, allowing the beautiful paneled walls to be seen. In the dining room, a pale wood table is surrounded by white leather chairs, both from B&B Italia. Tom Vac’s rounded stacking chairs by Vitra soften the angularity of the kitchen cabinetry.
Everywhere is a calming, dialed-down vibe with space to breathe that, at the end of the day, requires no reservation. “In the end, it all worked out,” Horton says. “Everything we did throughout the process, he loved.”