At Home with Tastemaker Steven Stolman

Photography credit: Nick Mele

Steven Stolman knows a thing or two about style. The designer, tastemaker, and man-about-town is an expert on the subject. And he has the resume to prove it. From his own sought-after line of resort wear to his tenure as President of the textile house, Scalamandre, he is an observer of good taste, which is why we love having him to speak in the Fall Show Lecture Series. Stolman has been a longtime supporter and speaker at the show. 

Scalamandre Haute Decor by Steven Stolman (Gibbs Smith 2013)

I chatted with Stolman about how he manages to stay stylish with nowhere to go these days, and how the concept of home has changed, starting with where he has been sheltering in place. “My husband Rich and I were at our home in Palm Beach from the start of Florida’s Safer at Home directive in March until our annual migration to our summer home on the east end of Long Island, New York in June.” He said. For a moment of quiet, Stolman looks to the ocean “We’re very fortunate to have a balcony overlooking the Atlantic. There’s a certain calm from simply staring out into that huge expanse of water and sky. Until it got too hot, we would end every workday out there.” Style has taken a back seat to comfort these days, with a few standard rituals put on hold “shaving daily for one,” he shared “and dressing without an awful lot of thought. Even though our condo pool was closed for much of the lockdown, I wore a bathing suit pretty much every day. I also stopped wearing a wristwatch.”

Stolman admits that he and his husband are the opposite of homebodies, so staying home has not been easy. “I suppose there’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re in a safe place.” He says. “There was and still is the constant worry about others-especially those most vulnerable to CoVid19. It’s ever present.” 

As the author of two books on entertaining, Confessions of a Serial Entertainer (Gibbs Smith, 2015) and The Serial Entertainer’s Passion for Parties (Gibbs Smith, 2016), the most difficult part of lockdown for Stolman has been the inability to entertain. “Generosity of spirit and gracious hospitality make a home.” He shared. “The toughest part of lockdown has been not being able to welcome friends into our home the way we usually do. It has been agonizing!” Although parties are on hold for now, work still has to be done, from home.  “Rich has worked remotely or traveled for work for almost 20 years. I’m a bit newer to the game. While Rich can work from anywhere- I like a proper desk. I found a wonderful desk by Jack Cartwright for Founders at a local vintage dealer. It’s in our guest room and serves as my command center.” 

Desk by Jack Cartwright for Founders

Desk by Jack Cartwright for Founders

The things we live with, the treasures we collect make our homes unique and for Stolman, his favorite pieces are the bookcases “oddly, in the dining area of our home,” he says. “They hold a lifetime of memories. If I had to pick one thing, it would be a little ceramic ink pot in the shape of a bear. It belonged to Babe Paley, who kept postage stamps in it on her desk.

With all the extra time saved from not traveling, commuting, or social engagements, Stolman has found that he has more time on his hands, but his free time gives him more time to worry “This pandemic has weighed heavily on us. The way it’s disproportionately affecting communities of color and poverty is a disgrace to our society. How could this possibly happen in the world’s supposedly most advanced nation?” 

With the annual San Francisco Fall Show at Fort Mason Center on hiatus during the 2020 pandemic, I asked Stolman to share a favorite memory of the show. “Seeing so many friends from across the country. I cannot tell you how much I look forward to the opening night every year- and it’s not just because of the caviar. There’s a joie de vivre that I have never experienced at any other similar event.”

Opening Night Gala at the San Francisco Fall Show

Of course, there was always one small painting- usually impressionist- that would bring tears to my eyes. But it was really the joy of seeing so many wonderful friends all in one place at one time for such a great cause. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that Rich’s favorite part of the evening was the eye-popping candy bar at the exit. He’s such a big kid at heart.” 

The ever popular End-of-Evening Candy Bar at the Fall Show Gala

The one thing Stolman misses most these days? “Cocktail parties. And peace of mind. There won’t be any of that until there’s an effective treatment or a vaccine.” Let’s hope that comes soon.

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat

A Conversation with SagreraBrazil Design

For 15 years the design team of Cecilia Sagrera-Hill and George Brazil of SagreraBrazil Design have created unique and unexpected results for their clients, and their Designer Vignette for the 2019 Fall Show did not disappoint. For the Wanderlust theme, they focused on “West” and worked with de Gournay on a custom scenic wallpaper illustrating Venice and its role in the silk trade, its appeal to those on the Grand Tour and its sometimes perilous existence. The result was mesmerizing.

Cecilia Sagrera-Hill and George Brazil in their Designer Vignette “West” at The San Francisco Fall Show 2019 (Photo – Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography)

I recently chatted with Sagrera-Hill and Brazil about their approach to decorating with antiques. “We love to incorporate antiques into our interiors, as they are pieces that tell a story” they shared. “Most of our projects are contemporary or modern designs and the idea of incorporating antiques seems foreign to most of our clients. Once they see the completed space, they understand how antiques add a warmth and depth that an otherwise contemporary interior might lack,” they explained.

Photo-Christopher Stark Photography

Their favorite periods are Biedermeier and Art Deco. “They are styles that can effortlessly be incorporated into contemporary interiors. Their restrained geometry, fine craftsmanship and rich materials deliver a modern aesthetic.” When shopping for antiques the sculptural quality of an antique is important to them, “we can’t deny that craftsmanship and rich materials are also key components. The uniqueness contributes to the overall story of a project.”

Photo-Christopher Stark Photography
Photo-Christopher Stark Photography

When I asked them each to name a favorite decorative piece in their home, not surprisingly, both turned to their love of travel. Brazil chose an entire wall, “a gallery wall of art in our dining room that we have collected together over the past 20 years. The art reminds me of our travels and shopping at antique fairs and markets, he shared.” Sagrera-Hill named two pieces that make her smile every time she sees them, “an Indian head my husband, Harold and I found on our trip to India to celebrate our 5th anniversary,” was the first. The second one is a large painting titled Frijol Negro by Arturo Monroy, a Guatemalan artist. “As the title describes, it is a painting of a large black bean which I found in a local gallery in San Salvador, El Salvador, where I am from. I fell in love with it, it reminds me of my childhood. The original piece I saw was sold by the time we decided to purchase the piece so the artist commissioned one for us,” she shared.

Indian Head Sculpture

Both have been longtime supporters of the Fall Show and are sad to see 2020 take a hiatus due to the pandemic. “I love the Opening Night Gala” says Brazil, “reconnecting with guests and dealers you don’t see that often. And I love that the show can be a great educational experience if you want it to be. All the dealers are so willing to educate you. I always learn something new.” Sagrera-Hill concurs “the galleries that participate are always willing to provide you with an education, and what better way to learn than from someone who is passionate about what they sell.”

The San Francisco Fall Show Opening Night Preview Gala 2019
(Photo – Andrew Caulfield for Drew Altizer Photography)

Their most memorable purchases at the show? “it was really a series of purchases for a client we made a few years back,” says Brazil. “Being able to preview the show and pre-shop (as members of the exclusive Designers Circle) helped us identify the perfect pieces of art and accessories for our client. Later, we were then able to spend a few hours with our client taking them through the show and finalizing our selections. It worked out so perfectly for them,” he reminisced. Sagrera-Hill added “it was fantastic. We would otherwise have taken multiply trips to various galleries. At the show we were able to see things in person over the course of a few days and create relationships with these galleries that we might not have had an opportunity before.” Sagrera-Hill has also has become a repeat customer of a show dealer, Rainforest Baskets, “the Embera Woven Masks” she shared. “So far we have a hummingbird and an owl. The owl is super special to me because anything that we have associated with owls always reminds me of our daughter, Sofia, which means wisdom.”

Rainforest Baskets Booth at the 2019 Fall Show

For Brazil, the pandemic and isolation has had a silver lining “It has been great being home with my partner Vasili and just slowing down a bit, cooking a lot and spending time with our dogs. Also, I’ve been on the phone a lot more with family and friends catching up – something I normally don’t do.” For Sagrera-Hill, “It has been great being home with my husband and two children.  The challenges outweigh the time we are spending together, which has been joyful. I have found that we create more art projects, build new Legos together and simply hangout with each other.”

SagreraBrazil’s Collecting Do’s and Don’t’s
It is all about a cohesive and orchestrated interior that respects the architecture as well as enhances the design and reflects the client’s personality:

A single piece at the end of a hallway can be that signature piece and becomes a sculptural element, which we would consider a “do” moment.

Don’t choose pieces that scream “Look at me, I’m an antique!” This tends to create a division of the overall aesthetic and feel of the space.

Do choose pieces that provide a function as well as provide beauty and authenticity. There’s nothing worse than an antique chair or table and the client has to tell someone not to sit on it or use it.

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat

At Home with Designer Allison Caccoma

Walking into Allison Caccoma’s boutique, Decoration, in San Francisco’s chic Presidio Heights neighborhood is like entering an impeccably curated home that still feels inviting and relaxed. You just want to sit down in the middle of the shop and open a good book. She has an intuitive sense for mixing colors and patterns together and an eye for stunning objets d’Art to bring a sense of whimsy to a room.

Allison Caccoma Decoration storefront on Sacramento Street in San Francisco

Allison Caccoma Decoration

In 2015 when the show introduced a curated revival of the Designer Vignettes, Caccoma was a natural choice. In keeping with the theme that year, “Time After Time”, each designer picked a period on which to focus their vignette and Caccoma chose “Lounging in the Reflection of the 18th Century” and masterfully mixed old and new, with the walls wrapped in a stunning custom de Gournay wallpaper, a bold version of an 18th century British textile design, and a high gloss graphic painted floor with a mix of mid-century and 18th century furniture. She took the theme to heart.

Allison Caccoma, sitting in her vignette, “Lounging in the Reflection of the 18th Century,
at the 2015 Fall Show

With such an affinity for mixing beautiful things, I asked her to confess one favorite piece she owns. “it is of sentimental value,” she shared. “I ‘inherited’ a small slipper chair that was Albert Hadley’s and was left by him at our workroom when he passed away. I don’t know its provenance, but it has a beautiful gilded base with carved fluted legs and stretcher. Every time I look at it, I think of him and am grateful for all that he taught us.”

Slipper chair from Albert Hadley’s workroom

For Caccoma, history makes a home. “By history, I mean unique pieces of furniture, objects, books, or art that have a story of who you are or where you have traveled”, she says.  “Even if the house is new, it instantly becomes a home when filled with interesting items and collections. You can have a beautiful room with pretty decorating but if it doesn’t have a story, it doesn’t have soul.  Soul makes a house a home.”  

Travel is an important part of Caccoma’s life and work. “I typically travel once a month” she shares, “so I finally have the opportunity to truly enjoy my home during this shelter-in-place time. I have loved being home during the day as I can appreciate how beautiful the natural light is. I wake up each morning and open the windows the gentle breeze is amazing. I’ve made it a point to have fresh flowers everywhere as well.  Flowers seem to be bringing us all joy. Maybe because it’s spring too.”

With so much time spent at home these days, workspace has become something new. “The most beautiful room in my home is the dining room—which is why it has become my temporary office. It is a corner room with two stunning original arched windows overlooking a street intersection in Presidio Heights. The architecture is 100+ years old with beautiful plaster mouldings. There is a fireplace in the room—we believe this room was once the parlour.” 

Dining Room

Separating work life from personal is not an issue for Caccoma. “I don’t think I have separate lives!” she confesses. “My work is truly my life but that is largely because decorating is so much about lifestyle. My creative space for drawings, finish samples, schemes, etc. and other desk work remains in one space, but I spend hours in my living room perusing my design books and magazines or on my laptop sourcing, listening to podcasts or webinars, etc.  It’s really all one space for me.

The lack of social engagements or commuting time has not slowed Caccoma down. “Even without my normal busy schedule, I have no free time now.” She says. “I have the interior design business, and my shop to run, plus I’m President of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA) NoCal Chapter – all of which have had to pivot and adapt to our new world.  It has honestly been an inspiring challenge as we are all in it together!”

Living Room

With the recent announcement that the San Francisco Fall Show would take a hiatus for 2020 due to the pandemic, and return in 2021, I asked Caccoma what draws her to the show each year, and if she has a favorite “find”. “I love everything about the SF Fall Show, she replied. “Not only is it a visual feast but it is truly an iconic San Francisco design community event that we all cherish.  I’m passionate about antiques and am always delighted to see dealers travel from all over the world to join us.  I so look forward to shopping the show with my clients. One of my favorite finds is a rare set of four unusually large early 19th century antique Chinese framed wallpaper panels from Daniel Stein Antiques this past year.  EVERYONE wanted them and my client purchased them!  They now adorn her living room absolutely perfectly!”  

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat