neat with a TWIST
San Francisco Chronicle (Habitat Magazine)
For a couple’s pre-war apartment in Lower Nob Hill, a straight-up gentlemanly redesign just wouldn’t do
BY LYDIA LEE | PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN LEE
For some, the kitchen is the heart of the home. For Daniel Maimin and Mark Savery, who live in the Belgravia, a pre-war building in Lower Nob Hill, it’s the library. The library in their two-bed- room, 1,800-square foot apartment has built-ins painted a glossy peacock-blue and a wet bar with a backsplash of gold-leafed tile — an intimate, glam- orous space where the couple read, watch TV and entertain friends. “People just stop and gape at it,” says Savery, who works in tech.
Despite its Old World opulence, from the appliqued ceiling molding to the finely detailed bookcases, the room was completely redone — a key part of the apartment’s gut renovation by Karen Curtiss of San Francisco-based Red Dot Studio. She took her cues from the 1913 Beaux-Arts building, which has elaborate details such as carved marble baseboards. At the same time, she also honored the clients’ request to kick it up a notch. “We wanted to make it ours — we didn’t want to play it safe,” says Maimin, who does marketing for luxury condominium developments and knew what generic “good taste” looked like.
“We tried to find the right mix of exuberance and restraint,” says Curtiss, whose somewhat unconventional career path may partly account for the diversity of her portfolio. The one-time competitive fencer has a master’s in interior architecture and qualified for her architect’s license through 10 years of apprenticeship at various firms. Equally comfortable creating a speakeasy with red flocked wallpaper or an all-white modernist dwelling, she designed a house in Eureka Valley that caught Maimin and Savery’s attention. “A lot of designers can do ‘beautiful,’ but this house had wit and charm,” notes Savery. “There were gargoyles peeking out above the moldings and hangman’s nooses holding shampoo and conditioner bottles over the tub. It sounds weird, but it all happened to be beautiful. We were blown away by it and knew we wanted to work with her.”
Maimin and Savery had already gone through one renovation together: They’d redone their last apartment, a ground-floor unit in the Belgravia. Anticipating that they’d eventually resell, their design for that unit was much more conservative (Maimin describes it as “sedated Barbara Barry”) and their investment considerably less. This time around, they hired Red Dot and builder Victor Mezhvinsky, known for his work on high-end projects.
In order to channel their personalities, Curtiss started by having the couple create Pinterest boards independently, without sharing the boards with each other. “Karen was great at coming up with the vision and what the spaces were supposed to be about,” says Savery. “For example, she envisioned the foyer as a dark negative space that would highlight the bright dining and living room. Daniel and I explored materials and colors, and found this Flavor Paper wallpaper in New York.”
As part of the complete remodel, the Red Dot team redid the kitchen and baths and reworked the floor plan to create more usable space for the couple. They expanded the master bath (reducing the size of the guest bedroom slightly), and turned the master bedroom’s closet into a large walk-in closet. They also opened up the kitchen by removing a block of cabinetry, adding an adjacent butler’s pantry for storage. They paid careful attention to the lighting, using cove lighting to enhance the atmospheric foyer; recessed lighting to provide subtle spotlights on artwork and architectural moldings in the living room; and sconces that weren’t ornate vintage or ostentatiously modern to light the hallway gracefully. The tailored, classic furniture came from the clients’ previous apartment, augmented by a new leather chesterfield for the library.
After their last go-around, the clients particularly appreciated the design team’s help in selecting durable finishes. “They had a bold design vision, but knowing our lifestyle, they also looked for choices that would wear well,” says Maimin. “We’d picked Carrara marble for the kitchen countertops downstairs, but that turned out to be a disaster because they showed all the coffee and red wine stains. They suggested quartzite as a more practical option.” A custom vanity in their previous unit didn’t wear well, so the designers proposed one off-the-shelf from the Furniture Guild. And the downstairs unit had an ebony- stained floor that was dramatic but also showed off dirt and cat hair from the couple’s two rescue cats; so for the new apartment, the team used a gray stain on the red-oak flooring to provide contrast without the maintenance hassle.
“When you modernize an apartment like this, you have the best of both worlds,” says Savery. “It has Old World charm; upgraded with modern finishes, lighting and plumbing, it comes out beautifully.”