This Once-Sad San Francisco Home is Now a Wallpaper Wonderland

Phillip Dane

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Name: Katy Polsby and Gertie (Australian Shepherd, age 9)
Location: Western Addition / Alamo Square neighborhood — San Francisco, CA
Size: Approx 1500 square feet
Years Lived In: 5 years, owned

After having lived in a few (very) different apartments in Manhattan during a seven-year stint in New York, and then moving to a brand new building upon moving to San Francisco, what I love most about this home is—in a true Goldilocks sense—it feels just right for me. I love: that it is simultaneously heavy-handed with old-world Victorian details and interlaced with sleek, modern surfaces. That the architecture feels perfectly suited to my lifelong penchant for bright color, paint, and lots and lots of art. And I was lucky enough to have all the possible stars align to be able to buy this 1904 Victorian house together with one of my closest friends from college and her husband. So—that said, one of the things I love the most about my home is that some of the people I love the most live right upstairs! It’s been a dream for all those reasons.

Having friends over for casual Sunday dinners (I brand these as Weekend-Extenders!) or an impromptu backyard glass of wine makes me the happiest. I share my home with my 9-year old Australian Shepherd, Gertie. Entertaining feels like second nature to me, as it is always imbued with a sense of warmth and giving, and our backyard (after many summers of upgrades and work in the garden) has become the hub for our larger group of friends.

I am always looking for an excuse to have friends over, and my entertaining style is very laid-back and casual (usually barefoot). When I remodeled my home before moving in, I knew that the kitchen would be the center of the home, so I designed it with the idea of having enough space to enjoy the company of friends while cooking in mind. Happiness for me is everyone in the kitchen, music on (anywhere from jazz to ’70s Nigerian disco to and everyone in between!), experimenting with new recipes (current favorite cookbook is the one from LA’s insanely delicious Catalonian restaurant, Baco) and opening the Next Bottle of Wine.

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The newest thing I love about my home, though? That it’s become the headquarters for the 115-year old heritage textile brand I own and run, CW Stockwell. We just re-launched the business less than a year ago, and despite its long-running past, we are truly in start-up mode now. We do everything from here—review all our new products, host all the company photo shoots for our website and Instagram, ship all our wallpaper and fabric samples, and we even have the world’s most gigantic printer (we named him Earl) that prints all our color trials as we consider new products to add. Because everything for our company resides here, I truly live with the product—three of my rooms are wallpapered, and nearly every soft surface throughout the home has at least a few decorative pillows made by our company. This is hugely helpful to me as I think about new products and how they will sit with our existing collection.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: At some point several years ago (before moving into this home), I told a friend that I liked the idea of aspiring to a ‘Mid-century meets beach house’ aesthetic.  Some aspects of the space do convey those characteristics in that much of the furniture has clean lines and warm wood tones, the surfaces are sleek but not stern, and overall there is a casual, colorful approach that (hopefully) makes people feel at home as they would in an understated beach house. I think that the way the pieces I’ve introduced combine with the early 20th century Victorian bones of the house is what makes it feel unique.

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Inspiration: Art. Lots and lots of it! My family and friends chide me for lacking any remaining square feet of empty wall space in my home. Travel, flea markets, local artists who have become close friends, and my most treasured place (a true sanctuary!)  in San Francisco, Lost Art Salon, have all contributed to the collected and eclectic aesthetic of my space. I think seeking out art in all of these places near and far has taught me a key tenet—which is that if a piece of art makes you happy, or makes you feel something good, it is good—and belongs in your world in whatever way you can attain it. I apply this same tenet to my decorating style; I do not adhere to rules or sweat the idea that “this might not look good.” I decided long ago that if I liked the way something looked, or if it made me happy, then it must be a good thing. The looseness of art, especially the colorful abstract pieces to which I’m always drawn, and all the places those pieces can be found, are what truly inspire me.

Favorite Element: I love the way my home interacts with the outdoors—mainly the light and the greenery outside. The apartment is a classic long and narrow Victorian layout, which means that throughout the day, and also throughout the calendar year, the way the light hits each room tends to be completely different. This leads to frequent occasions when an unexpected ray of sunshine falls just so on a piece of fabric in my office, or casts an interesting shadow on one of the pieces of art on my living room wall. Also, almost every window throughout my home frames a view of a different tree or plant outside, most of which are changing in appearance every month. A gingko tree outside my bedroom window has the perfect shade of green leaves in the spring and summer, and then presents the perfect mustard yellow during the winter months, while a California Palm outside my office and living room continues to grow bigger every year I’m there and provides endless jungle inspiration.

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Biggest Challenge: This sounds cliche, but the remodel was a big challenge. I had lived through a much smaller-scale remodel in a previous home, but the age of this building (built in 1904!) and the (ever-expanding) scope of this project meant that it went on significantly longer than I had planned (and, of course, significantly longer than my contractor’s “worst-case scenario” timeline of five weeks). The project took almost five months, and I had made housing arrangements for Gertie and me for only two of those. They say that with every challenge comes great opportunity, and the time we spent moving from place to place—on amazing friends’ couches, taking advantage of friends’ business trips—was actually hilarious and unexpectedly very fun. I also made the decision to move in even when there was no kitchen floor or working shower—these are ways I “tried” to overcome it.

Proudest DIY: After I got my keys when we closed on the building, I went straight to the house and started to really dig into the space. I was SO anxious to get started on the remodel and to figure out what the true scope of the work was going to be. I had a screwdriver with me, and discovered that the previous owner had left a paint scraper in the garage, and with those two tools was able to remove the wall-to-wall carpeting as well as the carpet tacking in the rooms that are now my master and guest bedrooms. I rolled back the carpet—and this revealed the most perfectly-maintained oak hardwood floors—and shrieked with delight, so in the next two hours finished the job (even though my plan for that day was simply to measure for blinds in the bedroom!).

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Biggest Indulgence: During the remodel we ripped out several walls in the space that was formerly two pantries and the kitchen—so the floor in what is now the kitchen and office needed to be completely replaced. The rest of the home has beautiful original oak hardwood floors that were in pristine condition, so I made the choice to complement them with new herringbone oak floors. This was one of the few decorating choices I made that extended a few notches beyond the otherwise simple building materials that I chose for the rest of the remodel.

Best Advice: I guess it would be double the timeline given to you by your contractor, especially when you’re working with an old building—we had a lot of unexpected ‘gifts’ arise, such as asbestos ducts where we thought a simple wall was, all of which added time.

What’s your best home secret? If you’re remodeling, even just one room—find every inset space that exists when you demo it. We used every niche, nook and cranny we could find and turned them into inset shelving, a surprise broom closet, a crafty cupboard under the stairs, and a small ledge in the master bathroom.

Resources

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PAINT & COLORS

  • Farrow & Ball “Green Blue” in dining room, “Off Black” in master bathroom, “Hague Blue” on kitchen cabinets and in Living Room, and “Teresa’s Green” in the Kitchen.
  • Benjamin Moore “Gray Owl” in hallway and “Super White” for all trim and in Master Bedroom.

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ENTRY/READING NOOK

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LIVING ROOM

  • Spruce Street Sectional – Serena & Lily
  • Chairs – Wegner CH22 Lounge Chairs, Vintage, previously owned by third generation CW Stockwell owner / president Remy Chatain, Jr.
  • Pillows – CW Stockwell – Remy in Indigo, Cabana in Black, Kismet in Navy
  • Rug – vintage, from Jamal’s House of Rugs 
  • Wine rack – vintage, from San Francisco’s Past Perfect
  • Artwork – vintage wood blocks by Rikio Takahashi, previously owned by third generation CW Stockwell owner / president Remy Chatain, Jr.
  • Fireplace tile by Heath Ceramics
  • Nesting tables – vintage, from San Francisco’s Past Perfect

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DINING ROOM

  • Vintage Danish Teak Dining Table + Teak/Woven Rush Chairs – purchased at the Alameda, CA Flea Market
  • Fireplace tile by Heath Ceramics
  • Painting above fireplace – vintage, purchased at Alameda Flea Market
  • Prints on adjacent wall – by Rob Delamater, available through Lost Art Salon
  • Braided Abaca rug by Serena & Lily
  • Hand-woven dhurrie by Madiline Weinrib
  • Vintage Dresser – purchased at San Francisco’s best vintage shop, Stuff

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KITCHEN

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BEDROOM (MASTER)

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BEDROOM (GUEST)

  • Million Flowers Wallpaper in Mint by CW Stockwell
  • Stairway Shelving units by CB2
  • Pillows – assorted, by CW Stockwell
  • Beaded steamer trunk, vintage, Nigerian from Alameda Flea Market

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BATHROOM (POWDER ROOM)

  • Martnique® Wallpaper in Green by CW Stockwell
  • Isaac Sconce by Schoolhouse Electric
  • Mirror, vintage, from the collection of Remy Chatain, Jr., third generation CW Stockwell owner + President

HOME OFFICE

Thanks Katy!

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