Known as one of the top interior designers in San Francisco and regularly featured in national design publications, Geoffrey De Sousa brings a mix of tradition, cosmopolitan flair and modernism to his projects. De Sousa Hughes, the 30,000 square foot showroom at the San Francisco Design Center that he co-owns with Erik Hughes, is known for its bespoke collection of furnishings, textiles, lighting and accessories by designers and artists across the United States and Europe. De Sousa served as Designers Circle Chair for the San Francisco Fall Show from 2016-2018 and hosted several fabulous parties in honor of the show’s designer patrons.
Geoffrey De Sousa working from his double parlour
He’s a busy man, but lately, De Sousa, like the rest of us, has been spending a lot more time at home. We chatted by phone, he from his 1874 San Francisco Victorian, with a black facade. “When I renovated it in 2013 it was just me and little dog,” he said. “Then Jose and I got married, he’s an interiors and architecture photographer and has his office downstairs. The pandemic has informed us as to how we are living here, how we use the space. I had been debating turning the second parlour into a dining room; it makes us think about what’s comfortable.” The double parlour is currently a living room and is where De Sousa gravitates to for work, and a moment of quiet and calm. His morning staff meetings happen there. “Because Jose is a photographer, he has lots of tripods. I set up right there and we have staff meetings every morning with the iPhone on tripods.” Right off the bat, I was thinking, how can we get people into our showroom? I called a friend who is a Realtor who recommended the company Matterport. They did a 3D tour of showroom to put on our website, it’s fantastic.
Diana the Warrior, prepared for the pandemic
The most interesting piece in the living room was bought from former San Francisco antiques dealer, Ed Hardy “a 19th century bust of Diana the warrior 3 ½ ft x 2 feet that sits on a pedestal in the bay window in the living room,” shares De Sousa. “I’ve had it forever. People stop in front of the house constantly to talk about it. It is one of the finest pieces I bought from Ed when I moved to San Francisco. About 2 weeks into the quarantine, I turned it around to face the street and put a black mask on her. It has become very instagrammable.”
De Sousa’s wall of family photographs
For De Sousa, home has to have a sense of history. “It has to be about you, your trips, your family, the things that bring memories, a small piece of glass, an amazing photograph, having those pieces interspaced within your interiors, that juxtaposition and the ability to combine those things in a house gives it soul.” He says. “I have a wall that is 60 photographs dating from the mid the 1800s of my family memories; all different sizes, I have my great, great grandfather and grandmother. I have an amazing photo of my great grandmother at a wedding when she first came to America in 1917. My mother’s side has been in Boston since 1632. Walking by the wall and seeing these people everyday makes my house a home.”
Communication was the biggest change De Sousa encountered from the new virtual workday. “At first everyone went into shock mode and then had to get the projects rolling. How we deliver to clients is different, but people are now used to it, they are adapting pretty well,” he says, “There are people spending a lot of time in their homes and looking at things a little differently. They want the spaces to be usable and comfortable. Each client is so individual. I am really fortunate to have a wide array of clients with very different aesthetics.” De Sousa is seeing a change in attitude and in how clients are using their homes. “I don’t see people asking for home offices right now,” he says, “but I do see people coming to me saying that they are using some rooms more often now than before–using rooms for the first time–using their outdoor spaces more now, not just on the weekends. I also see people who left the city and went to their second homes and they are now really looking at how they use those homes and how they can make them equally usable. People are thinking about nesting, comfort, and entertaining again.”
With no social engagements due to the lockdown, De Sousa anticipated having lots of free time, “I always wanted to learn to needlepoint; I opened the box and never touched it. I bought a Georgian dollhouse for my nieces, but have not started it. Once we started our meetings in the mornings, the day gets away. I’ve taken on three large projects during the pandemic!
‘Passagem do Tempo’ Designer Vignette by Geoffrey De Sousa Interior Design at the 2015 San Francisco Fall Show. Custom wallpaper by de Gournay. Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
In 2015, De Sousa was among the three designers invited to participate in the inaugural return of the Designer Vignettes for the Grand Entry Hall of the Fall Show. Taking on the theme “Time After Time”, De Sousa called his vignette ‘Passagem do Tempo’ (Passage of Time), paying homage to the mid-20th century Brazilian furniture designer Joaquim Tenreiro and his language of organic simplicity. It was surrounded by the sculptural Araucaria forest hand painted on silk by de Gournay. I asked him about a favourite show memory. “Really and truly”, he confessed, “the Preview Gala is one of the ultimate parties of San Francisco every year. When you are all wrapped up in your business and life, to be able to stand with your contemporaries, talk about business, see clients, catch up. You know everyone is going to be there. It kicks off the holiday season. It’s always an upbeat feeling. That will be missed the most in this year.”
But with the isolation, there is an upside: “Jose and I are relative newlyweds so this time we have had and with my dog has been really lovely. We spend a lot of time together, watching a great movie–we watched Hamilton the other night–it’s been great. And we’ve been reaching out to friends on Zoom that I probably would not be talking to so much otherwise.”
California native Kendall Wilkinson has spent over two decades creating beautiful spaces for both residential and commercial clients. Her sensibility is rooted in classical design, often creating authentic period looks or mixing modern pieces with older gems. Wilkinson has become one of the most sought-after interior designers and her projects span the globe. Her collection for Fabricut, launched Spring 2016, features indoor/outdoor fabrics in a sophisticated mix of neutrals, bold colors, and innovative patterns.
In 2017, the San Francisco Fall Show invited Wilkinson to create a Designer Vignette for that year’s Flower Power theme. Each of the four designers that year was given a season on which to focus their vignette, and Wilkinson’s was Autumn. She dubbed it ‘The Secret Garden’ and it remains a favorite Show memory for her. “It was inspired by a Valentino dress and our amazing partners, de Gournay,” she shared. “They hand -painted and hand-beaded a floral motif onto an iridescent silk wallpaper in autumnal colors resulting in the most exquisite wall covering. We also incorporated wonderfully crusty stone garden elements from (Fall Show dealer) Finnegan Gallery in Chicago.” I chatted with Wilkinson about running her design firm from home, and how the lockdown has affected her business, her clients and her family life.
‘The Secret Garden’ Designer Vignette by Kendall Wilkinson for the Flower Power theme at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Show. Custom hand-painted wall paper by de Gournay. Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
When the lockdown started, Wilkinson and her sons stayed close to her office, in their home in the Sea Cliff neighbourhood of San Francisco. “The boys still had virtual school to attend”, she shared. “My senior team and I had to piece a plan together to organize my entire staff to work from home. Once school finished, and ‘work-from-home’ became our new normal, we relocated to Stinson Beach close to where I was born and raised. The light, patterns, and nature of this magical place served as inspiration for my fabric collections, and I have realized they continue to inspire my color choices to this day.”
Living Room in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
In Wilkinson’s view, memories make a home: “a house is a physical structure, a tangible edifice that is cold and empty.” She believes. “A home is when the house is filled with love, living life, and its inhabitants’ vitality. It’s the culmination of memories–photographs of trips taken, of children growing up, and trails of everyday life. Special pieces that pass on from generation to generation, gifts received, or the art and objects collected over time create a sense of home, belonging, and sentiment!” Her favourite piece is a photograph. “My dear friend Barbara Vaughn captured an exquisite reflection image in Sausalito, titled “Kyrtotis” and hung prominently in my living room, she says. ‘I often sit watching the fire, reading and catching a view of my absolute favourite piece in my home.”
Barbara Vaughn photograph, “Kyrtotis” in Kendall Wilkinson’s Living Room Photo by Bill Reitzel
While the lockdown has turned everyone’s lives on end, Wilkinson has found a silver lining. “I have enjoyed observing and interacting with my teenage sons during quarantine in a way that working in the office, going to events, and traveling for projects just didn’t allow me to see day-to-day. The constant companionship of my boys and seeing how they have grown in subtle and overt ways brings me endless joy.” But sharing a house with teenagers does have it’s hurdles “ When school was in session, my house was rotating musical chairs – some days, one of my boys would be at my desk in my “office” located in my upstairs library, and I was relegated to using my laptop on the dining room table. Other days we flipped and sometimes worked on our laptops at the kitchen counter. It all depended on the day! She laughs. “Funny enough, I was the one who had to be utterly nomadic about finding a work spot–sidebar”, she adds—”I have now found my dining room chairs to be terribly uncomfortable and will definitely be needing to find new ones soon- hopefully I’ll be able to purchase them when the antique show comes next year!”
With all the chaos of three people working and home schooling together, Wilkinson retreats to her private space. “not many people know”, she reveals, “but I have a home sanctuary filled with meditative elements, a Moroccan prayer rug, and incense. No one else, not even my beloved pup Biscuit is allowed here. It is the definition of calming and quiet!”
Kitchen in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
The isolation of the past several months has changed us all. For interior designers, it is an interesting time as clients are spending so much time at home, and many of us are looking at our homes in a new way, and thinking about how we use our homes and what’s important to us. Wilkinson concurs, “my clients are now far more involved with the details than they were in the past,” she shares. “The extra time has allowed them to be more curious and engaged in the actual business and logistics of design and why we make certain decisions. There is a more inquisitive approach. Hopefully, that means a greater appreciation for what we do and the service we provide.” Kendall Wilkinson Design has always prioritised comfort above form and for current clients she says “they are now fully experiencing their homes and what we designed and created for them. I think they are developing more appreciation for the details and the comfort.”
Library in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
Working from home has not slowed Wilkinson down, or opened up her schedule. “My days have been even more consumed than they were pre-COVID. I am on at least 6-8 hours a day of Zoom calls with my team, clients, and vendors before any actual “work” gets done,” she says.
Design is such a collaborative and hands on creative process and that has been the most difficult part of the quarantine for her: “I have missed my team’s interaction, being in the office with them, working with them, and the time spent in my office creating and designing. I also miss site visits and installations, sounds crazy, but even travel! And most of all, the broader design community and my industry friends.”
Kendall Wilkinson with Hannah Cecil Gurney of de Gournay posing in front of ‘The Secret Garden’ Designer Vignette at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Show Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
Hand painted Amazonia Chinoiserie wallpaper on Pink xuan paper. Photo by Mariam Medvedeva
Walking into a room lined with de Gournay paper is like walking into a painting. This is no mere wallpaper, but rather, exquisitely rendered, custom created scenes that draw you into another world. Claud Cecil Gurney founded de Gournay almost 40 years ago and today it is widely known as the world’s most beautiful hand-painted wallpapers. Every inch of de Gournay paper is painted by skilled artists and artisans, every project a work of art. Their collections cover a breathtaking range: the exotic and flamboyant, Chinoiserie, the stunning block-print-style panoramics of the Scenic Collection, the striking, delicate Japanese & Korean Collection, the graphic and floral patterns of the Eclectic Collection, and the abstract and ornate designs inspired by the decorative movements of 20th century art found in the Diaghilev Collection, among others.
‘Erdem’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper on Adam Grey dyed silk. Photo Sarah Piantadosi
I recently chatted with Claud’s daughters, Rachel Cecil Gurney and Hannah Cecil Gurney about the company, the creation and production process and what sets de Gournay apart.
Ariane: This is very much a family business, can you share how you all work together and what your roles are?
Hannah: My father started the company in 1982 with his nephew, my cousin, Dominic Evans-Freke, so I grew up surrounded by walls filled with designs and colour as the brand grew. My sister, Rachel started working with my father after university and I followed shortly after. My father remains involved in every aspect of the company, and Dominic too, who oversees our production. It’s lovely to be able to work so closely with my family despite the odd and inevitable disagreement!
Rachel: My father is the one with boundless energy even at 70 so funnily enough he is the one who constantly looks to develop new fields in the business and has recently set up our embroidery studio in India offering stunning hand embroidered fabrics. He is also the one opening new showrooms around the world, the latest one in Beirut, an exciting cultural melting pot of creativity. He loves travelling and meeting people. My cousin manages the production in our studio near Shanghai and helped my father set up the studio back in the 1980’s so he oversees all the detail and has a huge depth of knowledge in all the technical side of things. My sister handles PR & marketing and is always dreaming up a new collaboration or looking for inspiration for a new design. I manage worldwide sales so am constantly in touch with all our showrooms worldwide about their projects and trying to keep all our clients happy!
‘St. Laurent’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper on Edo painted xuan India Tea Paper Interior by Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Photo by James McDonald
For our Chinoiserie collection we look back to iconic 18th century rooms such as Yves Saint Laurent’s drawing room or Pauline de Rotshchilds’s bedroom and try to recreate the depth, beauty and aged feel of the original papers.
Detail of image above
Ariane: What is the process for developing a new wallpaper design? Where does the inspiration come from?
Hannah: We’re always looking for ways to develop our collections and create new designs. Inspiration can come from anywhere – the world around you, art, books, history, that’s the beauty of creating something from scratch – there are limitless sources to be inspired by. As well as creating new designs, some of our wallpapers are based on beautiful originals, which can be found in grand English houses or taken from ancient Chinese scrolls.
Rachel: Our more traditional wallpapers tend to be reproductions of original designs. For our Chinoiserie collection we look back to iconic 18th century rooms such as Yves Saint Laurent’s drawing room or Pauline de Rotshchilds’s bedroom and try to recreate the depth, beauty and aged feel of the original papers. Our Papiers Peints Panoramiques collection refers back to 19th century hand block printed wallpaper but we hand paint in this style giving much more flexibility for the client to customize colours and tailor the design to fit the space. Our Japanese & Korean collection is inspired by works of art from the Edo period such as kimonos and screens. Some designs are developed as a result of a collaboration such as our whimsical English garden re-interpretation of a Chinoiserie with Erdem, our tropical Chinoiserie design with monkeys and toucans inspired by the Amazon developed with Aquazurra or our Anemones in Light wallpaper inspired by Kate Moss’s favourite flower and reflecting her more modern aesthetic.
‘Fishes’ hand painted wallpaper with hand embroidered beaded embellishment on Tarnished Silver gilded silk
Ariane: What materials are used in your wallpaper design? What sets it apart from other wallpapers?
Hannah: Our range of finishes and grounds are what makes de Gournay wallpapers special. We’ve spent a great deal of time developing these over the years by studying various techniques and materials used around the world, particularly from China, which is renowned for producing the most stunning hand painted porcelain & murals. Our wallpaper grounds play a large role in the overall effect of the wallpaper. For example, ‘Williamsburg’ is a finish with an antique feel to it, whereas Metallic silk is a far more contemporary finish which plays with the light. We also have finishes such as pearlescent antiquing, beading and embroidery which, as a final flourish, has the ability to turn the wallpaper into something mesmerizing.
Rachel: The wallpaper is usually made of painted Xuan “rice” paper or a paper-backed silk onto which the design is painted. The background is typically painted in gouache, and then the design is meticulously painted on using watercolour. Every detail and element of the design is first outlined in pencil — so if you look very closely at any of de Gournay’s wallpaper, you’ll see the pencil marks, which is obviously a sign that it’s handmade.
‘Houghton’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper in Rose design colours on Williamsburg
Ariane: How long does it take from idea to completed product?
Hannah: The time varies relative to the complexity of the design, the size of the project and the client. We work very closely with our clients from start to finish to ensure they are truly satisfied with their finished product but of course, minds can change! Once the order has been confirmed then the time frame for production starts at around 3 months.
Rachel: There’s always a team of artists — generally about six to ten people — working on one order. An average panel is about 90cm wide and about 2.5 metres high. It takes around 150 hours for six artists to produce one panel. Most of our designs are about 20 panels, so a full order can take anywhere from three to six months — longer if there are bespoke elements. I think a lot of people, when they see the wallpaper, think, “Oh, it’s printed.” They don’t realise that it’s all painted by hand.
‘Wisteria’ design hand embroidered upon Almost Mauve dyed silk
Ariane: Where is your wallpaper produced? And has production slowed or changed during the pandemic?
Hannah: We have a team of incredibly skilled artists based in a studio just outside Shanghai where all of our wallpapers are hand painted. As well as the painting studio, we also have a team of designers based in our London showroom, who play a vital role in the development of new designs and ongoing client projects. Our painting studio in Shanghai went into lockdown before the UK and was back up and running whilst we were still in the thick of lockdown so I’m please to say we have been able to keep orders in production despite the expected slight lull in the middle. In spite of this, lockdown provided a good opportunity for our designers to work on a lot of in house projects so we’ve certainly stayed busy.
Rachel: There are still artisans on the mainland using the original wallpaper-making techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. My father’s idea when he set up de Gournay was to bring these chinoiserie wallpapers back into European homes, and to produce them in the same way as they were originally made. Our production ironically enough was not affected by the pandemic as we are based in China and they recovered the most quickly from the pandemic so we were only closed for a few weeks. Unlike many other suppliers clients did not have to experience any significant delays to their orders.
‘Anemones in Light’ hand painted wallpaper in Dusk design colours on painted xuan paper. Designed with Kate Moss. Photo by Simon Brown
Ariane: How does wallpaper change a room?
Hannah: I love how wallpaper holds the ability to be able to transport oneself. I have our Flamingo’s design in my bathroom and I always look forward to the evening when I can slip into the bath and be carried to a watery land full of gossiping pink birds! There’s something special about a wallpaper which draws you in so you can’t resist the temptation to be lured in to inspect the finer details.
Rachel: It transforms a room bringing life and colour to it and lifting your mood. It is a window onto another world, stepping into a fantastical ‘Narnia’ like landscape.
‘Flamingos’ hand painted scenic wallpaper on Sterling Silver gilded xuan paper with Yellow ombré effect. Photo by Douglas Friedman
Ariane: You’ve been collaborating with the Fall Show for 5 years. What are some good memories, your favourite show theme?
Hannah: The theme which stayed with me was ‘Animalia’ in 2016, it was so playful! The show is truly special to me as it brings together the most amazing group of antiques dealers all under one roof, each with a perfectly curated exhibit of products to pour over. I love that every exhibitor goes the extra mile to make their stand a masterpiece, decorated beautifully and full of inspiring vignettes.
Rachel: We love the show and look forward to it every year. There is always such a buzz around it and everyone gets dressed up which I know is unusual for San Francisco! My father is an avid collector of antiques and is always on the lookout for new pieces for our showroom. I loved the year where the theme was ‘Flower Power’ as each designer had a different season so there was a very different feel to each vignette. Last year there was an incredible Mexican red lacquer cabinet which stood out amongst the other pieces.
Designer Vignettes at the San Francisco Fall Show Custom wallpapers by de Gournay in collaboration with the designers Clockwise from top left by: Faux Bois hand embroidered Moire by Alessandra Branca (2019, Wanderlust), Zodiac hand painted wallpaper with embroidery by Ken Fulk (2018, The Sun, the Moon & The Stars), Ferns hand painted wallpaper by Veere Grenney (2019, Wanderlust), Dancing Arucaria hand painted wallpaper by Geoffrey De Sousa (2015, Time After Time) Photos by Drew Altizer Photography
Ariane: Let’s get practical. What should one think about before adding wallpaper to a room?
Hannah: It’s certainly important to take into account the practical aspects of a room – like light and purpose, but don’t let this make you feel like you can’t be adventurous. As I mentioned, my house is covered in de Gournay wallpaper, so I believe each wall should receive attention, no matter where it is. That’s no means to say you should have an bold and colourful design in every room and corridor, even if it’s just a beautiful silk wallpaper in a soft hue, this still makes a difference as it adds texture and interest.
‘African Savannah’ hand painted scenic wallpaper in monochromatic design colours Photo by Douglas Friedman
Ariane: What are important considerations when selecting a wallpaper design?
Hannah: I think it’s important to gather your feelings about what you want to experience from a finished space. Perhaps you want to walk in and feel instantly calm, or maybe you want to be transported to a far land filled with beautiful birds and verdant vistas. Once you have established this, you will be able to guide your mind towards the right design. Although I must admit, there is so much to choose from so this can often be very tricky. My house is covered head to toe in de Gournay wallpapers, it’s mad! But I’m delighted with how it all works together, and this is because I trusted in the process, there’s my tip!
Rachel: The design needs to suit the aesthetic of the house so for example in a Georgian property interior, I would recommend one of our historic Chinoiserie designs, garden scenes of Chinese birds and flowers, hand painted onto an aged handmade rice ‘Xuan’ paper, which are the most faithful reproductions of originals, unaltered in scale or design to suit modern interiors. Our Japanese & Korean collection lends itself well to a more modern interior with its bold imagery and more free flowing brushwork. We can paint these onto our metallic grounds gilded with precious and non-precious metals, in addition to more subtle pearlescent grounds, for an even more contemporary feel.
‘Coco Coromandel’ hand painted Chinoserie wallpaper on Burnt Umber xuan paper Photo by Douglas Friedman
Tips for Adding Wallpaper to a Room:
HOW TO PREP A ROOM: Hannah: Prepping a room for wallpaper, especially de Gournay, is an extremely important part of the process. If the joinery and walls aren’t ready for the paper, it will show and can end up being a time consuming mistake to correct. We recommend using lining paper before all of our installs, this is to ensure a smooth finish and act as a barrier between the raw wall and our paper. It also means that the wallpaper can be removed at some point down the line, re-backed, then re-installed somewhere else! So my tip is to pay attention to all the small details in a room to ensure it’s completely ready for the wallpaper, it’s much easier to notice and tweak details before the paper is up then have to deal with correcting them after install!
Rachel: Old uneven walls would need to be re-plastered before applying de Gournay wallpaper to ensure a smooth even finish and good design join from panel to panel. All walls need to be lined prior to applying the wallpaper to avoid moisture coming through to the surface of the panels and to get a more professional finish.
Pay attention to all the small details in a room to ensure it’s completely ready for the wallpaper.
‘Early Views of India’ hand painted scenic wallpaper. Interior by Miles Redd. Photo by Simon Upton
PROPER WALL SURFACES: Hannah: There are spaces which lend themselves to paper, with tall, straight and smooth walls, and some which don’t. For example, my son’s room has strange angles and sloping walls and naturally the paper I chose for the room was one of our more complicated designs with animals and foliage (oops!). We used a preferred installer and he did a fantastic job, so it is important to research your installer before. I think you have to be realistic with a room and wallpaper – if it’s a very intricate design and you have an awkward space with no straight lines and sloping walls, it could end up being a very tricky project.
Rachel: Before adding wallpaper to a room you should think about whether the scale of the design suits the room and whether a lighter or more dense design would work better in the space. You also need to think about which construction type is most suitable for the space for example a silk with a lustre, a gilded reflective ground or an aged matt painted ground. It is also very important to see the sample options in the space to see how the light affects the colour. For taller rooms it may be nice to install a chair rail to start the design higher up whereas for a shorter room it would look better to have the design run the whole height of the wall and even be cut off at the top to give an illusion of height. If your room has lots of light it is best not to go for a silk but to go for a ground which will not fade such as our dyed paper, metallic or scenic paper grounds. For a bathroom we would always suggesting adding a glaze to the wallpaper in case of splashes. We can help guide you as to what wallpaper would best suit your purpose.Most clients choosing a de Gournay wallpaper will start with that as their focal point then work the other elements around it, sometimes to contrast against the colours in the wallpaper and sometimes to incorporate or tone with the colours in their wallpaper. Providing the colours do not clash, I think it is important not to be afraid of layering rich colours and patterns within a room; Colour and pattern are what brings a room to life. A lot of colours from our papers and fabrics refer back to colours used frequently in classic Georgian interiors-soft greys, dusky pinks, sage greens, blue greys and burgundy’s-and I think Georgian colours are timeless and elegant and work as well today as they did then.
‘Amazonia’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper on Pink xuan paper
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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!”
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!”
Paul Wiseman’s iconic design firm, The Wiseman Group was founded in 1980, just two years before the founding of The San Francisco Fall Show. And he has been an avid supporter throughout the show’s 38-year history. His whole team arrives to preview the show each year and I have watched Paul take them on his own personal guided tour, chatting with dealers and locating treasures. So it was an honor to have The Wiseman Group create a Designer Vignette for the Grand Entry of 2018 Show. Wiseman chose “Stars” as the focus for the vignette, from that year’s theme, The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars. Not surprisingly, the celestial imagery incorporated into the display, through a combination of surrealist works by American artist and filmmaker Joseph Cornell and custom wallpaper designed in collaboration with de Gournay, offered a sparkling deep blue night sky with an otherworldly aura.
I chatted by phone with Wiseman from his home in Belvedere, CA, and asked about how he brings design into his own home and what turns a house into a retreat. “When people of all walks of life can be comfortable in your home, when the owner of the home has things that are very personal—things that make you real,” he says. Wiseman has an affinity for unique objects, antiques, and art “pieces that have soul-even if you don’t know what you are looking at.” But he doesn’t have a favourite piece. “Each piece is from a different realm of beauty,” he says. “I view all my objects as some aspect of myself. They caught my eye and gave me pleasure. My home is my sacred temple.” When pressed, however, he was able to name four pieces that bring him joy:
A William Kentridge wall sculpture. “It is so much about shadow and dark and light, it’s made of black steel, is 5’ tall x 4’ wide and looks like a calligraphy stroke,” says Wiseman.
“A period Ming lacquered scholar’s desk that I use as a coffee table in my living room” and a Han Dynasty 3-footed vessel. “It looks quite contemporary” he shares, “but it is 2-3,000 years old.” If it looks familiar, you may have seen it on the cover of Wiseman’s design book Inner Spaces (Gibbs Smith 2014)
An opalized ammonite. “It’s the second largest in the world,” he shares (The Smithsonian has the largest). “It is 80 million years old and changes colors when you pass by it: green to red to orange.”
Wiseman has been working on his home in Belvedere for 20 years. “I’ve created a summer house environment. The staff is surly,” he jokes, “Spa Belvedere.” But he has created an oasis. “I have a 100-year old arbor, I’ve created an herb garden and a Bali Bed with pillows and cushions. I love going down there. I have a pair of 2nd-century Roman busts and they sit there between the columns, looking down on the bed. It’s heaven, it is its own world. I sit and watch the water and the boats.”
Color is important to Wiseman. “I was born and raised in California. The greens and golds of our landscape have always resonated with me. I appreciate so many other colors—nature shows you colors that you never thought could work together. I collect Wedgwood, I love the color. I bought three pieces from Bill Blass’s collection and sent them to Peru with Sandra Jordan (of Sandra Jordan Prima Alpaca) and she made me an Alpaca textile in that color.”
During this time of quarantine, I asked Wiseman how he is creating a space to separate work from personal life. “My home and garden is my workspace,” he says. “Even at my office, I don’t have a desk, I have a chaise.” And what is the thing he is indulging in during the pandemic that he normally doesn’t allow himself? “Baking! I’ve done three bread puddings with bourbon, raisins, brown sugar, pecans, and vanilla. I have leftovers for breakfast. Yesterday I baked Martha Stewart’s Meyer Lemon Upside Down cake. Instead of flour, you use ground almonds.”
San Francisco designer Jay Jeffers knows a thing or two about beautiful objects. His retail showroom Jay Jeffers-The Store offers a collection of furniture and pieces discovered along his travels. When he agreed to create a vignette for the 2017 Fall Show, the theme that year was Flower Power and the vignettes focused on the Four Seasons. Jeffers’ boldly graphic, deep plum showcase beautifully conveyed the warmth of a cozy winter evening.
I recently chatted with Jay about the many cozy days and nights we are all spending at home during quarantine, and how that has impacted his life, and his appreciation of his own collection of beautiful objects. “One of my favorite pieces is by New York artist Forrest Williams. It has a mysterious haunting quality that I love” says Jeffers.
In designing a house, there are certain things that make it a home. For Jeffers, it is the personal effects that create memories, “whether it is art you have collected, or family photos, books, some kooky object that you bought when traveling in Africa—those things that invoke memories of a time and place. This is what created soul in a home.”
Jeffers is spending quarantine in the Napa home he shares with his husband Michael Purdy. “I have commandeered one of the guest bedrooms as my office. The closet holds my papers and files. There is a small desk, though I admit most of my computer and zoom meetings have taken place on the guest bed with my laptop.”
The best part of spending so much time at home? “Well, my dog, Olive is by my side, basically all day long, which is so nice. We have been cooking, setting the table every night with candles and linen napkins, and just generally slowed down a little bit.” He shares. His favorite room is the living room, “A fire in the fireplace, with the fire going is a good spot for me. I’m an early bird and always the first one up. It is so nice to sit by the fire and have my coffee and slowly wake up.”
When it comes to the San Francisco Fall Show, Jay has discovered many treasures over the years. His favorite find? “A pair of art deco club chairs that were made in India out of rosewood. Their new home are clients of mine that are of Indian descent so these chairs fit perfectly with our design and reminded them of home at the same time.” Jay has been a longtime supporter of the Show “it is so great to see the entire design community out and supporting an amazing cause that I have been involved with for years” he says. “But also for me it’s a chance to see beautiful things from galleries all over the world that I may not have visited. The internet, 1stdibs and all of the other sights are a wonderful tool for sourcing, but nothing compares to seeing the beauty and the condition of a piece in person.”
With no social engagements, travel or commute, Jeffers is appreciating the extra free time, and using it well. “I’m finding more time to deep dive into inspiration—Pinterest, Instagram, etc. There are some crazy talented people out there I am just discovering. In the evenings, I’m taking the dog for a walk or going on an easy bike ride.”
With all that is going on in the world, I think we all get a pass to break a rule or two. What is Jeffers? “Cocktails every night!” Cheers to that!
by Ariane Trimuschat, Director at Large/Europe
Receive event invitations
and show news by email
We send an average of one email a month. To receive our Gala invitation and brochure, signup for our mailing list.