San Francisco Decorator Showcase 2011

Claudia Juestel
2 June 2011

Take an insider tour of 2950 Vallejo Street, the site of the 35th annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase, with design expert Claudia Juestel.


Living room by Navarra Design (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Managing any remodel, big or small, requires a generous amount of patience, finely tuned people skills and much diplomacy, as well as incredible organization.  Now imagine juggling four homeowners, a prominent charity, an overloaded contractor, countless sub-contractors and over thirty interior designers, architects, landscape designers and artists, all within an incredibly tight deadline.  That is what the Executive Director of the San Francisco Decorator Showcase is in charge of.

This year Leal Buck stepped into the shoes of beloved veteran Delanie Borden; and once again, for the 35th year to be precise, a dated Pacific Heights mansion has been transformed into a gem.  They say, ‘too many cooks spoil the soup’, but thanks to the dedication of all involved egos were put aside, extravagant expectations were abbreviated and limitations were conquered with creativity.

View from the top floor

Katie Traina and Todd Traina

Margo Tarantino, Jack Lesinski, James Tarantino, Tom Lesinski

“I always love to see the surprise elements the designers tuck into their rooms at the Decorator Showcase—Grant Gibson’s faux-burled wood table, Brian Dittmar’s tucked-away Julia Child moment in his cookbook nook, and the double-vision of Green Couch’s bedrooms on the top floor.  The entire Showcase is based on fantasy, so that seems like what it should be about.” – Sarah Lynch, marketing director

The 6,224 square foot Italian-style villa on 2950 Vallejo Street was originally constructed in 1927 by Gottschalk and Rist, the acclaimed architects who also designed the historic Villa Montalvo in Saratoga.  Located on the desirable block bordering the Presidio, which was also home to previous showcases, it has exceptional views of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate bridge and the Bay.  But the views inside equally captivating, as each room has gone through a metamorphosis that can only be truly appreciated if one has seen the home in its original state.  Congratulations to all my colleagues for their vision and hard work!

Debbie Reynolds and Roxanne Fleming

Monica Pauli and Jenna Hunt

The patron preview event and grand opening party are always wonderful events where we can mingle with supporters and fellow designers, some of whose work we can view first hand in the home and from whom we can get feedback from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  But I would recommend to anyone who has attended a crowded party to always come back and see the showcase during a quiet day, as the design can be appreciated so much more when not blocked by countless people.

Allison Speer and Alison Pincus

Samantha Duvall, Ian Stallings, Carolyn Chandler

First impressions count very much in a classic mansion, and as soon as you enter this gracious home it exudes a welcoming elegance.  The grand entrance hall was designed by artist Willem Racké in collaboration with interior designer Leigh Edwards who selected the furnishings and the art.  Willem painstakingly painted the walls in layers and layers of a rich butterscotch lacquer and glazed the elaborate coffered ceiling in a deep rusty red with bronzed accents.

Entrance hall with view towards dining room (Photo: Rebecca Kmiec)

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Staircase in entrance hall before (Photo: Willem Racké)

Racke 2

Staircase in entrance hall (Photo: Rebecca Kmiec)

Terry Gross, Willem Racké, Lisa Erickson

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Kerry Devine and Steven Miller

Sayareh Farsio and Ali Mozaffari

To the right and towards the stunning views is the living room, whose commission was won by Kathleen Navarra.  She aimed for balancing the captivating drama awaiting beyond the arched windows with a bold and layered design that grew out of the reproduction of an enormous 17thcentury portrait of the Marchesa Balbi by Flemish Baroque painter Anthony van Dyck.

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Kathleen Navarra

Kathleen told me that she has been dying to use this piece, and that the scale of this room was perfect to accommodate it.  The painting appears dark and moody, but upon close inspection it reveals a variety of rich colors on which Kathleen based the room’s palette brightened with shades of cream and hot fuchsia.

Living room before (Photo: Navarra Design)

Living room after (Photo: Matthew Millman)

“The living room felt magical in the evening as dusk fell over San Francisco.  The decor of the room is such a compliment to the beautiful skyline that you peer at through the large windows.”  - Jenna Liddell Hunt

Distinctly modern elements harmoniously blend with traditional antiques, exotic elements and early 20th century pieces that highlight the large-scale fireplace, carved arched doors and high-reaching windows.  Jonathan Browning’s organic branch chandelier and contemporary upholstered sconces feel surprisingly appropriate set against the Flemish Baroque painting.  Interesting details capture the eye all around the room.

Living room after (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Lewis Butler, Debbia Kay and Scott Kay

“Majesty reigns, but lets her hair down, in Kathleen Navarra’s regal yet hip living room, watched over by a large renaissance portrait.  Lighting by Jonathan Browning adds just the right touch of Elizabethan edge and mystery.  A true “Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  And not many royal residences have a view like this!”
Andrew Horn, furniture designer

None of us designers could create magic without our most talented artisans and skilled workrooms.  Grant K. Gibson’s dining room is a perfect example.  Katherine Jacobus created an eye-fooling burl finish on the grand dining table, so wide that it accommodates two chairs at each end, a dramatic black and white stenciled floor in a design reminiscent of David Hicks, and a moody gray cloud finish on the ceiling.  Madina Aryeh, a couturier amongst workrooms, fashioned the understated drapery from a deep blue heathered wool fabric by Henry Calvin with a pleated detail accented by grosgrain ribbon along the lead edges.

Dining room before (Photo: Grant K. Gibson)

Dining room after (Photo: Kathryn MacDonald)

These elements set the stage for a design that pairs polish with playfulness, as Grant added an acid yellow booster chair to the formal neoclassical dining chairs upholstered in Kelly green leather.  Floating above it all is an asymmetrical multi-arm chandelier by Lindsey Adelman.

Dining room after (Photo: Kathryn MacDonald)

grant gibson

Grant K. Gibson

Madina Aryeh and Suzanna Allen

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Palmer Weiss and Katherine Jacobus

The kitchen is often one of the most challenging spaces at the showcase, and this year Tish Key had to incorporate a brick arch over the range.  Instead of painting it she left the rustic finish and offset it with a variety of materials and colors.  The sidewalls and countertop of the cooking niche are lined with a gorgeous white-veined black marble slab, and the backsplash is covered in white marble mosaic tile accented by a functional clock with Roman numerals integrated into the stone.  White cabinetry, a rich pecan floor and a shiny white bead board on the ceiling freshen up the previously gloomy ‘70s look.  On the window side the countertops are made from a combination of white Calacatta marble and blue enameled Lava Stone, adding a splash of color.

Kitchen and breakfast room before (Photo: Tish Key)

Kitchen and breakfast room (Photo: Rusty Reniers)

The breakfast nook is accented with deep brown grass cloth wall covering and blue and white patterned Roman shades.  A round pedestal table is surrounded by reproductions of a T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbins oak and rush chairs.  Tish has turned an incredibly dated and most uninviting kitchen into a modern, functional and welcoming living space, highlighting how diverse materials and finishes can live together most harmoniously.


Cooking alcove before (Photo: Tish Key)

Cooking alcove after (Photo: Rusty Reniers)

Sink area after (Photo: Rusty Reniers)

Tish Key

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Mary Jo Kovacevich & Laura Hunt

“Everyone needs a cookbook nook.  It is the ultimate luxury!”
Guest at the patron party

Brian Dittmar took a nondescript space many of us designers barely noticed during the walk-through due to its transitional and blah appearance and turned it into a room all of us wanted to spend time in, proven by the crowds during opening night.  He was intrigued by the leaded glass bay windows and dreamed of a welcoming and useful extension to the kitchen.  An avid cook Brian imagined himself relaxing in this cozy alcove while reading cookbooks or watching the Food Network, and the idea of the “Cookbook Nook” was born.

Nook before 1

Cookbook nook before (Photo: Brian Dittmar)


Cookbook nook after (Photo: David Livingston)


It really is a genius use of the space, which now boasts a mouthwatering color palette influenced by French macaroons and sumptuous furnishings that invite lingering.  A Swedish Deco pedestal table and secretary from Björk Antikt & Studio are paired with a comfortable lounge chair upholstered in luxurious mohair by Lee Jofa who also supplied the fabrics for the desk chair, portiere drapery and pillows.  Wouldn’t we all love a cookbook nook, especially one as charming as Brian’s?


Cookbook nook after (Photo: David Livingston)


Cookbook nook after (Photo: David Livingston)

“I never thought I’d meet Julia Child’s neighbor or learn to cook an omelet at the Showcase, but I found the opportunity to do both in the Cookbook Nook!” – Paul Benson, furniture designer

San Francisco Decorator Showcase

Brian Dittmar

Holly Baxter and Scott Heldfond

“Brian Dittmar started with Harry Potter’s room below the stairs, but turned it into a room fit for a queen, the lettuce queen.” – Matthew MacCaul Turner, interior designer

The second floor library apparently was the owner’s favorite room, not hard to imagine even prior to the renovation, as it boasted detailed wood paneling, an elaborate plaster ceiling and breathtaking vistas.  Heather Hillard was persuaded by the view of the Presidio forest to leave the slightly greenish/brown stain on the wood paneling in its original condition.  She based the rest of her monochromatic palette on the shades of the underside of Eucalyptus leaves, redwood trees and Japanese maples.

Library with fireplace (Photo: Michele Lee Willson)

Hilliard Bay View

Library facing the bay view (Photo: Michele Lee Willson)

Heather also channeled Frances Elkins’ design for a home in Lake Forest, IL and placed an emphasis on luxury and comfort by creating three different seating areas, each with multiple upholstered pieces in neutral textiles consisting of linen, wool, silk velvet and leather, mostly from Holland & Sherry.

Bookcase in library (Photo: Michele Lee Willson)

Heather Hilliard and Cecilie Starin

Claudia Juestel

Claudia Juestel  and Michael Friedes

I thought Heather Hilliard created a quiet, natural-feeling retreat.  I’m a huge Kim Frohsin fan, so I especially loved her art. – Melanie Coddington, interior designer

Matt Murphy who made his showcase debut this year designed the master bedroom.  A close friend of Donald Cameron, longtime partner of Tommi Parzinger, he paid tribute to the mid-century furniture designer by incorporating a whole collection of his work, pairing it with a Biedermeier secretary and blending it with Matt’s own designs inspired by Parzinger.  Aiming for New York Fifth Avenue vibe from the ‘50s and ‘60s he chose luxurious materials like lacquer, exotic woods, glazed leather, alpaca, silk moiré and linen.  A predominantly black and white palette is accented with bursts of color that draw the eye to unique pieces.


Master bedroom

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Dressing table in master bedroom

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Dresser in master bedroom

Thomas Hutson-Wiley, Tinsley Hutson-Wiley, Matt Murphy

Perhaps a first this year, one of the homeowners also was given a room to design.  Fashion designer James Tarantino was the family’s representative during the renovations and very actively involved in the process.  When the showcase representatives asked him if he would like to take over the master bedroom closet he was honored.  Very much a minimalist he covered the walls in black fabric and displayed three mannequins in pared down silver satin gowns of his own design, which in an homage to his parents James made from the fabric of the old drapery in the living room.

San Francisco Decorator Showcase

James Tarantino

James told me that he lived in the home back in the ‘70s and then moved away to pursue his career in fashion.  When his father got ill he decided to come back to reconnect and spend time with him, a time he most treasures and something he said he will never regret.  Homes truly are all about family!

Barbara Chambers and Nancy Hammonds

“It has been a magical transformation and I am really proud of all the designers involved in this.
James Tarantino, one of the home’s owners

Anyone who has seen the master bathroom before has to appreciate what Petaluma designer Val Fiscalini achieved.  She converted the long, cold and awkward space into a spa-like retreat.  Not being able to move the plumbing she angled the striking tub, custom-made by Sonoma Cast Stone in Metalcrete, a concrete material that is “plated” with a genuine metal finish.

Master bathroom, before (Photo: Val Fiscalini)


Master bathroom, after (Photo: Christopher Stark)


Master bathroom (Photo: Christopher Stark)

Val shortened the main space and centered the door into the shower and toilet area, which allowed her to place matching storage cabinets with display shelves on either side of the opening.  She also offset the shower for a more comfortable scale, which provided a space for cleverly placed back-lit mother-of-pearl-lined niches.  As a result the overall proportions of the master bath are considerably more appealing.


Master bathroom (Photo: Christopher Stark)

San Francisco Decorator Showcase

Val Fiscalini

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Melissa Martin and Josephine Fisher

“It is quintessential Decorator Showcase in its display of creativity and elegance.  But the elegance is contemporary and livable – perhaps more inspirational, less aspirational than in previous years.”
Lisa Boquiren, marketing strategist

The attic of this grand home includes a generously sized room perfect for an adult party space, as envisioned by Marion Philpotts, Jonathan Staub and Lowell Tom of Philpotts & Associates.  Known for their penchant toward the exotic they took inspiration from the large scale and colorful portraits of New Guinea tribesmen by Santa Barbara photographer Brian Hodges.

Rumpus room, before (Photo: Philpotts & Associates)

Rumpus room, after, with bay view (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Jonathan told me that they wanted to keep the room very open for large-group-entertaining, for which they planned only to major seating groups, one taking in the splendid views and consisting of four black De La Espada enveloping “Nest” chairs, reminiscent of 18th century French “Porter’s” chairs, surrounding an organic custom bronze table by Blue Barn Arts Foundry, and the other one with a generously scaled custom day-bed placed on Brent Comber’s “shattered” Douglas Fir base.  I can see a great party with Salsa dancing on the expansive floor lit with ring-shaped light projections by Beachside Lighting, or perhaps something more tribal given the inspiration of the room.

Rumpus room, before (Photo: Philpotts & Associates)

Rumpus room, after (Photo: Matthew Millman)


“Satala Swing” by Aqua Creations

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Performer and light projections on floor

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Lowell Tom, Jonathan Staub, Marion Philpotts, Brian Hodges

Frank Eddy  and Matthew MacCaul Turner

“Showcase design is always best when designers are un-bound – by budgets, convention, owner restrictions and/or drapery tie-backs!” – Steven Miller, interior designer

I mentioned that a brick arch in the kitchen might have been challenging, but how about a wall going half-way across a room?  It was strictly specified that it the partial wall in the attic front bedroom had to remain.  Jeff Schlarb and Lisa Bakamis of Green Couch were not intimidated, but instead used it as the inspiration for their overall design.  They extended the wall almost touching the front windows and placed a framed window, giving the appearance of a see-through mirror, in between the now apparent two rooms, each of which they furnished with pieces from Bungalow 5 in identical designs, but in two distinctively different color schemes.  One is pale, neutral and quiet, the other rich and fiery.  What the designers called “Two Sides to Every Story” is a perfect study of the impact of color.

Right side of guest bedroom (Photo: Peter Medelik)

Left side of guest bedroom (Photo: Peter Medelik)


Desk area at right side of guest bedroom (Photo: Peter Medelik)



Desk area at left side of guest bedroom (Photo: Peter Medelik)

Lisa Bakamis and Jeff Schlarb





“I am not often wowed by a total design concept, but Green Couch’s room impressed me with their clever vision and way of thinking outside the box.  Their use of the same fabrics and pieces as polar opposites to project different personalities of an awkward space won me over.  I walked away from that room saying; I never would have thought of that, which is something I love to see.” - Michael Friedes, interior designer


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Third floor corridor with a collection of works by Jennings Tofel from Lost Art Salon

San Francisco Decorator Showcase

Gaétan Caron and Rob Delamater

“Huge style, tiny hallways!” Rob Delamater, art dealer

Cathleen Gouveia is not afraid to take on a challenge.  At last year’s Marin Designer Showcase she added a third floor deck with Nana doors to the attic bedroom suite.  So suspending a heavy bed from the ceiling with nautical ropes seems easy by comparison.  Influenced by the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which can be seen from the windows, it apparently was quite a feat of engineering.

Cathleen Gouveia

But according to Cathleen it can now ‘hold nine men with cocktails’, all clearly enjoying views all the way to Sausalito, whose docks and Otis Redding’s song about them “Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay”, provided the basis for a design that combines rustic inspiration with urban finesse.

Penthouse bedroom before (Photo: Cathleen Gouveia)

Penthouse bedroom (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Earthy tones and materials are set against walls in polished Venetian plaster by Todd Merrill of Venetian Walls.  The boldness of the bed is balanced by the practicality of the niche whose built-in dresser by Mitchel Berman not only provides much needed storage, but also creates an excellent display space that is lit with a pair of pendants.


Penthouse bedroom (Photo: Matthew Millman)













Tineke Triggs and Julie Metzger













“Cathleen Gouveia’s penthouse bedroom was quite fun and unusual.  The black, grey and gunmetal suspended bed, part nautical part old-fashioned Folsom Street, is just high enough to see the Golden Gate Bridge.  I quizzed the designer on the strength of the ceiling attachments, and it is all properly designed by an appropriate engineer.”  - Stephen Suzman, landscape architect

In the adjacent bathroom Mark Newman was also inspired by the views of the Presidio forest, and he translated nature into an urbane concept that emphasizes texture.  Artistic Tile’s gray limestone tiles, softly carved with a three-dimensional leaf pattern, flow into polished Venetian plaster walls stenciled with matt leaves, created by clearly a very busy Willem Racké.

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En suite bathroom, before (Photo: Mark Newman)

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Vanity area in en suite bathroom (Photo: Christopher Stark)

For the focal point Mark designed an elongated oval vanity whose doors are covered in an unusual textured teak surfacing from Beckman Moore Yaki Studio.  The rich burgundy tones of the vanity and the matt golden sheen of the custom mirror by Applegate Tran contrast harmoniously with the cool walls and floor.  Understated and sophisticated this bathroom now feels masculine and calming at the same time.

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Shower in en suite bathroom, before (Photo: Mark Newman)

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Shower in en suite bathroom (Photo: Christopher Stark)

San Francisco Decorator Showcase

Mark Newman

Many of these grand homes have generous walk-in safes, and Alison Davin of Jute Home turned this one in the basement into a Champagne cellar.  My kind of girl!  Lined with reclaimed wire-brushed wide oak paneling, reminiscent of Champagne barrels, a long buffet and storage bench that span the length of the room and a Moroccan tile floor, Alison made the most of this space, surely inviting plenty of private tastings to come.

Wine cellar, before (Photo: Alison Davin)


Champagne cellar by Jute (Photo: Peter Medilek)

Alison Davin

“The safest wine cellar I have seen!  Loved the rough-hewn wood walls.”
Matthew Schoenwald, landscape designer

Sonya Jacobs-Burkin and Mark Manning

The showcase is such a wonderful confluence of design intelligence, fantasy, and generosity — the tremendous effort of many enables smart, motivated students to attend a top-notch academic high school.  What’s not to love?
Jennifer Raiser, social and fashion columnist


When you really spend time in these rooms you notice how much attention designers pay to the tiniest of details, and this year’s showcase is no exception.  From a wallpapered ceiling to a gilded fireplace screen, oversized cabinet knobs, exquisite embroidery and convertible furniture every surface and element are covered.

Large nailhead trim on grosgrain ribbon along the crown molding and “Scala Baroc” wallcovering by Ulf Moritz on the ceiling in Kathleen Navarra’s living room (Photo: Navarra Design)


Eglomisé hand-gilded glass fireplace screen by Villafranca Studio in Kathleen Navarra’s living room (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Fuchsia lining inside the corner pleat on the custom sofa in Kathleen Navarra’s living room (Photo: Navarra Design)

Polished nickel doorknobs from Baldwin used as cabinet knobs in the kitchen by Tish Key (Photo: Rusty Reniers)

Custom cigarette table in hand-turned and polished aluminum by Paul Benson in Brian Dittmar’s cookbook nook (Photo: Brian Dittmar)

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Silver painting on Venetian plaster by Linda Horning in alcove by Jo Ann Hartley

Racke Window


Silver-leafed mylar panels by Willem Racké covering the dated painted glass window in the staircase (Photo: Rebecca Kmiec)

Mid-century inspired custom embroidery by Villa Savoia in library by Heather Hilliard (Photo: Michele Lee Willson)

Convertible stool/cocktail table with removable horsehair cushion designed by Heather Hilliard for the library (Photos: Michele Lee Willson)

Mother-of-pearl-lined niches at shower in master bathroom by Val Fiscalini (Christopher Stark)

Custom bronze coffee table with built-in flower container in rumpus room by Philpotts & Associates (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Custom metal bracket for rope in penthouse bedroom by Cathleen Gouveia (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Custom glass sleeve over metal bracket for rope in penthouse bedroom by Cathleen Gouveia (Photo: Matthew Millman)

Carved limestone tile by Artistic Tile in shower of Mark Newman’s penthouse bathroom (Photo: Christopher Stark)


Stenciled Venetian plaster walls by Willem Racké and “Daedelus” bronze sculpture by Peter Boiger from Coup d’Etat in Mark Newman’s bathroom (Photo: Rebecca)

Horn door pulls by Ochre on buffet in Champagne cellar by Jute (Photo: Peter Medilek)


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