Living far away from your family is never easy—especially when children come into the world. For one retired New York City couple, it was three children and multiple grandkids, all living on the West Coast, that prompted a move to the City by the Bay. The beautiful 1880s Victorian townhouse they landed on in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood could hardly have been a bigger departure from their Upper East Side apartment. The narrow, multiple-floor home had tall ceilings, ornate moldings, and sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge—not quite the ones the couple was used to on Madison Avenue.
To bring their vision to life, they called on the help of their interior designer Jennifer Vaughn-Miller—who had worked on projects for them on the East Coast. Having collaborated with the couple in the past, she knew exactly how to translate their aesthetic into a design that would also ring true to the home's architectural past: high ceilings; ornate wood detailing; and grand, oversize windows.
Lucky for her, she had an impressive collection of art and antiques to pull from for the house—the goal was to bring them all together into a coherent whole. Step inside the stunningly restored San Francisco townhouse that stole our hearts—and pick up a few decorating tips for your own space.
This wasn't the first project the designer tackled with these clients, so she already had a clear vision of what they wanted: "Having worked together on other projects, they asked me to create another aesthetic that embraced the formality of the home while being comfortable enough to entertain their family." Striking the perfect balance between elegant and approachable, the designer was able to create a comfortable home for the couple to entertain their family and friends.
While the clients were pleased to have found a classic Victorian townhouse, they were eager to modernize some of the details to make the home feel more casual and convenient. "The architecture is grand in scale with typical Victorian, ornate detailing," explains Vaughn-Miller. "While the moldings and floor plan remained the same, many details were streamlined and modernized. The clients had an impressive art collection that easily transitioned into the new space as well as an arsenal of accessories that served well in vignettes."
"The fireplaces were updated throughout with new hearths, and the bathrooms and kitchen were stripped of superfluous details," explains the designer. "We also added new light fixtures, paint, and wall coverings throughout the house." Most of the changes that were made to the house were cosmetic enhancements that still remained true to its original bones.
"My goal was to satisfy the clients' particular programmatic requests while still allowing for an open plan in an extremely narrow space," explains Vaughn-Miller. Among some of the designer's favorite pieces for the house were the custom upholstered sofa in Schumacher's Tigre Blanc fabric and the Kaare Klint Sofa in original leather—which suited the narrow space perfectly.
In the dining room, the walls were covered in a Designers Guild Roseus Pattern from Osborne & Little, giving the space an elegant feel and creating the perfect backdrop for the Murano brass sputnik chandelier. "Overall, each space has the same aesthetic goals: to create a space that reflects the homeowner's refined taste while remaining functional," explains the designer. "Each designed space is carefully curated to serve its end-use as well as evoke the eye."
The kitchen was updated to fit modern conveniences while still staying true to a more classic aesthetic: "We added brass hardware, marble countertops, and cabinets in Farrow & Ball's French Grey," says Vaughn-Miller. "The previously ornate marble backsplash behind the range was simplified. The La Cornue range in black with brass accents is the focal point of the space."
The owners also needed a space to display their impressive collection of antique silverware: "We added custom gray-and-white striped roman shades and open glass shelving to display the owner's impressive silver collection," says the designer. "We also demolished the rear garden and worked with Elizabeth Everdell of Everdell Garden Design to redesign the space. The goal was to extend the kitchen and dining area to an outdoor living and entertaining space."
The designer's personal style meshed well with the clients' taste, which includes an appreciation for important pieces of art and furniture: "I always lean toward a classical undercurrent with moody, often vintage and antique curiosities," says Vaughn-Miller. "The underlying sensibility is orchestrated dichotomy." The push and pull of modern and antique are what works so well in this classical home updated for modern convenience.
"The mission of the project was to tone down the ornate Victorian detailing," says the designer. "Selections of my typical gray and white arsenal, of course, drove the direction. Overall, this palette modernized the space without departing from the original integrity of the home. Occasionally, we broke the mold and went rogue with atypical wallpaper patterns to interrupt the long spatial spans." In a small powder room, Vaughn-Miller covered the walls in a Queen of Spain pattern from Schumacher.
The brief was clear: comfort and practicality first, design second. "The goal, as always for me, was to design for the architectural context and the client's needs," says Vaughn-Miller. "I work to achieve a dynamic balance of both form and scale, combining furnishings from various eras."
Now that the couple is closer to their grandchildren, they deserved a room of their own too. For the kids, Vaughn-Miller created a beautiful monochrome space in the basement complete with alphabet wallpaper and vintage linen bedding.