Tony Russian Hill town home asks $3.95M

Famed cul-de-sac home hits market

Curbed SF January 4, 2018 | by Brock Keeling

1035 Vallejo Street

1035 Vallejo Street

At the end of a cul-de-sac on Vallejo in Russian Hill sits a row of shingled town homes, developed on 1998 byJohn Willis (the Butterfly House, the Garage on Hyde) and designed by Ed McEachron (reportedly the Getty family architect). And today, one of the units inside the Russian Hill Summit lands on the market. A red-letter day, indeed.  Read more...

Shay Zak - Zak Architecture

A Leeward Design Touch

By Joseph Lucier

Shay Zak's masterful alchemy of architectural relationships between a home and its site has made him the last word in estate design along Hawaii's Kona Coast and beyond.  His passion for symmetry belies his chosen San Francisco home along the undulating curves of the city's famed Lombard Street. Yet this decision to reside amongst the cacophony of tourists flowing down Russian Hill must intuitively help inform the design decisions he calculates amidst the crashing waves and flowing lava rock surrounding the island homes he thoughtfully sites.  I have had the good fortune to know Shay for quite some time and was pleased to have the opportunity to learn more about the man behind Hawaii's noteworthy leeward designs.



Joseph Lucier: When was the seed planted for your interest in architecture?

Shay Zak: It was my Senior year of high school.  I always had an alert interest in the arts.  I loved painting, drawing, photography and sculpture.  I also loved to build things out of wood, metal and anything I could get my hands on.  So, I thought engineering was it for me.  However, a friend of mine at the time was applying to architectural schools and I thought, perfect, something that combines my two passions, that is for me.  Architecture it was going to be.  I never looked back.

 JL: Who are the architects that inspire you?

 SZ: I am a collector of Architectural Monographs.  I have a wall full of them in my office and I pull them out every day.  All good architects inspire me.  They reside both from afar and right her in San Francisco.  The most important architects for me are the ones that have found their original voice.  Like Rothko, Mondrian, Serra, they invented a new language.  It is their own, they invented it, and they own it.   This is nirvana to any artist, and to the Architect.   Rafael Moneo, the brilliant Spanish architect, was my mentor in graduate school and he had a huge influence on me.  He has his own language. He really can’t help himself.  I call that an original voice and as it falls upon the realm of genius.  As for the masters of yesteryear, I always return for inspiration to Louis Khan.



JL: What did you learn from your education at Harvard and work at SOM that gave you a foundation to start your own architecture firm? 

 SZ: At Harvard, I learned that there is a lot of design diversity out there.  We had Peter Eisenman, Rafael Moneo, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, to name a few, all teaching students in one large open communal design studio.  At Harvard, the unexplored had no place.  The lesson from SOM was how to design excellent clean tight modern commercial buildings and high-rise towers.  Then the assignment was to make a killer presentation to the sell it to our clients and close the deal.  The best part about SOM was that I met such talented colleagues that become friends as they develop their own private practices.

JL: If they wrote the book “What They Don’t teach you at Harvard Design School,” what would you tell students there?

SZ:  If you want to write a Fee Proposal, you are on your own.

JL: How do you bring the classical principals of scale, balance and proportion into your designs?

SZ: I was born with symmetry on the brain and try as I might it is hard for me to shake it.  However, I am also a minimalist and a modernist too.  A ying yang perhaps.  So, I have learned to embrace both.  As I develop the composition for a new design, I take great pleasure in how to combine them into one thing. 

JL: You have become well known for your work in Hawaii.  How did you begin working on the islands?

SZ:  I was fortunate to be asked to design one of the first custom homes for the new Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai, on the big Island.  It was completed in 1999 and this house led to several other commissions.  We are now designing homes at several Big Island communities as well as on the islands of Lanai and Kauai.  We have completed over 30 homes in Hawaii and have many new projects in the works.

JL: How do you approach a site when beginning the design process?

 SZ:  I look at different forces that affect the site.  I study the site’s history, place, personality and, of course, its topography.  Only then can I take the character of the owner and their program and put pen to paper.

 JL: Talk about the importance of quality materials and craftsmanship in the look and feel of a completed home.

SZ: Quality of material for me is key to our work and non-negotiable.  I like to think that we don’t design for decades but for generations.  My question for building materials is ‘will this material get better with age.’

JL: In your mind’s eye, where would your personal dream home be located and what would it look like?

 SZ: That’s a tough on.  When FLW was asked what his favorite project was, he famously said ‘My next one.’ I feel like that too.  My wife and I are designing a home for ourselves now up in St. Helena.  It’s sort of a Barn typology detailed with crisp minimal detailing.  That is my current dream home in the works.

JL: Discuss the importance of travel in keeping ideas fresh in your work.

 SZ:  This is key.  I travel as much as I can and they typically are art and architecture themed trips.  A few years ago, my daughter and I flew into Bilbao and spent ten days driving through Spain to see incredible new and old architecture with a special focus on Rafael Moneo.  As architects, we must travel to better understand our own work.

JL: What do you do to recharge your batteries?

SZ:  Play a little golf with family and friends and break the Ducati out for a spin.

JL: Favorite weekend getaway?

 SZ: St. Helena, Pebble Beach, and Kohanaiki, HI.

JL: Top three restaurants around the world?

 SZ: French Laundry, Balthazar, Fish & Chips at London’s Tate Modern.

JL: What are you reading?

SZ: Lou Reed. The book just came out by Anthony DeCurtis.  Lou is the best!



Kendall Wilkinson - Kendall Wilkinson Design

The Wilkinson Touch

By Joseph Lucier

As a San Francisco native and daughter of an interior designer, Kendall Wilkinson had the privilege of growing up amidst the city's treasured architectural lineage while developing a sense of scale and color at an early age. Studying abroad in Paris further solidified a belief in the importance of architectural heritage and fine craftsmanship, It also put the City of Lights high up on the list when sourcing objets d'art and furnishings for her sumptuous interiors.  Kendall's evolving design style, coupled with her authenticity and business savvy, have helped build a loyal clientele who have turned her Presidio Heights atelier into a landing pad as she jets between projects in Mexico, Montana, and New York City.  I had the recent good fortune to join Kendall and her million dollar smile in Jackson Square to chat about how she so elegantly choreographs the hustle bustle of life, family, and her creative pursuits.

Kendall Wilkinson

Kendall Wilkinson

Joseph Lucier: Coming from an interior design family, what did you learn early on about the profession and what "good design" really means?

Kendall Wilkinson: My mother was a designer and she taught me the importance of scale, color, and tone at a very early age. I learned that you can mix neutrals as long as you keep in mind the different textures and hues. “Good design” is greater than using the most luxurious materials, custom solutions, or one-of-a-kind furnishings; it’s about how these elements can be applied to create an environment that is restorative and reflective of its inhabitants. While an interior designer can create a home that is considered beautiful, ultimately “good design” comes down to the homeowner—how they feel and live in the space once the designer’s job is complete. 

JL: As a native San Franciscan, what do you see as your part in the stewardship of historic homes?

KW: As a child, I had the privilege of growing up surrounded by some of the nation’s most treasured historic homes and developed a deep affection and appreciation for San Francisco’s architectural integrity. I believe that the bones of a house are a key element in the design process. Keeping and restoring original details is of high importance to me. As designers, we can nod to the future while still respecting the past and there is a wonderful symmetry to that. There’s nothing I enjoy more than juxtaposing old and new by choosing a sleek contemporary light fixture for a traditional Victorian residence.

JL: How did your time living in Paris, and your travels in general, shape your knowledge base and help inform your current design decisions?

KW: Living in Paris taught me the importance historic significance is to design and architecture—and the importance of great craftsmanship. I think we’ve lost something today since we’ve moved in the direction of retail. I want to keep one of a kind pieces as the cornerstone of my design.

JL: How has your design philosophy developed over the past two decades?

KW: While trends in design have impacted how my aesthetic has evolved, my core philosophy remains the same. When it comes to design, my motto is that order equals calm. I believe that interiors need to be not only beautiful, but should also be functional and accommodate the lifestyle of the homeowner. My style has evolved along with the changing design landscape and client demographic; there is a ubiquitous desire for clean lines and spaces where less is more. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift in how people want their spaces to feel. Businesses want their offices be more inviting, home-like environments while homeowners seek residences that feel like a hotel or spa retreat and evoke feelings of serenity.

JL: Talk about the perfect dance between an architect and interior designer.

KW: The perfect dance is when both parties respect what each does—because they serve inherently different functions—and can come together to create something beautiful. While interior designers and architects share the same end goal, they are trained differently and each bring unique perspectives to the project. By uniting my expertise in furnishings with an architect’s expertise in spatial configurations, we are able to collaborate to create a home where form and function go hand-in-hand and there is a seamless connection between the home’s structure and its decor.

"Putting a fabulous antique or a wonderful vintage piece in a very modern room can anchor it and give it a feeling of authenticity." 

JL: How do you achieve an alchemy between traditional and contemporary styles in decor?

KW: There is something contrived about a room where everything is new, so I try to avoid that whenever I can. I love the juxtaposition of very clean and contemporary furniture with traditional architecture and classic moldings. There is a pleasant tension that feels very authentic to me. At the same time, putting a fabulous antique or a wonderful vintage piece in a very modern room can anchor it and give it that same feeling of authenticity that it might not have otherwise.

JL: Where do you love to go when sourcing unique furnishings?

KW: New York, Los Angeles, and Paris! You just can’t beat the treasures in those cities. Recently, I’ve explored Mexico City and am enamored with the wonderful contemporary and modern furnishings I’ve discovered, many of which have a strong Italian influence.



JL: You are fortunate enough to design your clients second and even third homes. How do you nurture a client’s viewpoint when working on a vacation home as opposed to a primary residence?

KW: I always take into consideration the environment and region of where I’m designing. Whether it’s Mexico, Montana, or a New York City penthouse apartment, the location always serves as the point of inspiration. That said, I never want to design a signature Mexican hacienda or Montana log cabin. I take into account how the individuals will live in the home or space while still conforming to the originality of the place and existing architecture.

JL: You have added a textile line to your portfolio. What have you learned through developing this aspect of your business?

KW: Actually, I developed a fabric line like I would any other business: it requires authenticity and business savvy! It’s a very competitive industry with lots of talented people involved, so it requires a lot of focus. As a high-end interior designer who is accustomed to creating custom solutions for each of my clients, it was a challenge to choose colors, patterns, and prints that would be accessible to a broader audience and still feel one-of-a-kind.

JL: Where would your dream vacation home be and what would it look like?

KW: A seaside villa somewhere on the coast of Mexico. It would be modern, very clean, and serene with an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living. I imagine this residence as A place where I can host close friends and family for home cooked meals and intimate gatherings.

"As designers, we can nod to the future while still respecting the past and there is a wonderful symmetry to that."

JL: Outside of your busy life with clients and your children, what do you like to do to unwind?

KW: Walking on the beach with my lab, Biscuit, or a close girlfriend.

JL:  Travel bucket list?

KW: I think Greece, with a chartered boat to a few islands—and stop in Istanbul.

JL:  What are you reading?

KW: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

JL: Favorite restaurants internationally?

KW: Flora Farms in Cabo, Mexico.

JL: Tell us something that we don’t know about you.

KW: I was in a rock ‘n roll band.



Visit @

Many thanks to Kendall Wilkinson and Nicole Balin for working with me on this feature!

Geddes Ulinskas - Geddes Ulinskas Architects

The Alchemy of Geddes

By Joseph Lucier

High atop downtown San Francisco's venerable Mills Building sits a sun drenched office where elegant designs are created for some of the city's most exacting residential clients. I first visited the offices of architect Geddes Ulinskas last year and was immediately taken by a model of a pool house that he was collaborating on with a Pacific Heights family. The sensitivity and the patience of making such a model made me realize immediately that in an age of CAD design and digitized reality, Geddes is a bright spot shining through to a bygone time where discourse and the flexibility of human touch still guides architectural decisions. During his time working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Geddes has embraced a keen eye for classical proportion, engaged in spirited discourse with San Francisco's unique topography, and, ultimately, delivered his clients beautiful homes that offer them a sense of daily inspiration.

Geddes Ulinskas

Geddes Ulinskas

Joseph Lucier: What was your path like to establishing a career as an architect?

Geddes Ulinskas: Growing up, I was sure that I was going to have a career as a commercial artist or an illustrator. My aunt was a very successful illustrator and painter who trained at Pratt Institute in New York. Pratt held a merit based scholarship program for art and architecture. It was a national competition to gather the best students from all over the country. Somehow, I missed the deadline to apply for the art scholarship, but my art teacher pointed out that I still had time to apply for the architecture scholarship. I didn’t really know anything about architecture, but was told that if I got a scholarship to attend Pratt, I could always switch my major. I entered the architecture competition and was awarded the first-place full scholarship. I was so fascinated by architecture that I never switched my major and graduated from the program.

Prior to establishing my own firm, I was fortunate to work with some international architects like Ricardo Legoretta and Fumiko Maki. I found these architects to be intensely creative and artistic in their approach to space. It reminded me that there shouldn’t be tangible difference between artists and architects.

JL: You worked in New York prior to opening a firm in San Francisco. What are some of the benefits and challenges of working in San Francisco as opposed to New York?

GU: New York is such a vibrant urban context to work in. There is nothing like it. When you design in New York, you are always acknowledging what is near you and what surrounds you, but you are usually creating an inward focused space. San Francisco has such unparalleled topography and natural beauty; the architecture is much more outwardly focused toward views of the bay or the skyline. Because of all the hills and slopes, even back yards and basements have views.

JL: Your offices are in one of downtown San Francisco’s most venerable buildings, the Mills Building (1890). What other public buildings in the city speak to you?

GU: I love the Palace Hotel; the Garden court is a very magical space. The Frank Lloyd Wright building on Maiden Lane is a great gem. I find the Armory to be wonderful. One of the scenes of the original Star Wars was filmed there. It doesn’t get much better than that.

"To draw and build by hand brings the team a more intimate understanding of the design. By designing with traditional methods, more unintended things happen, and that is often a good thing."

JL: What are the things that anybody can do to make their home more livable?

GU: The entrance to a house is so important. It sets up the feeling you get coming home. It reminds you why you love returning at the end of the day. It’s the transition from the outside world into your oasis. The front gate, the steps, the reflecting pool – if you can make that happen, it can be a daily ritual you love.

JL: What signals a "dream client" to you during the interview process for a new project?

GU: A client’s art collection often can tell me that a project is going to be a dream project. The way a client has collected art, objects, and furniture signal a passion for design and craftsmanship. I can also build a plan around their art and understand their home as a space where they co-exist with the work they have collected. I love it when we finish a project and the client’s art and objects breathe life into the home. It is so wonderful to see.

JL: I understand you engage in the more traditional design practices of hand drawing and modeling. Why is that important in a digital age?

GU: To create a work of architecture is an intensely personal endeavor for the client. The architect is the client’s partner and guide in the process. To draw and build the design by hand just brings the team a much more intimate understanding of the design. I also feel that parameters get established very early on when working digitally, but when designing with traditional methods, more unintended things happen, and that is often a good thing.

JL: You have had the fortune to work with some of the great interior design talents in the city. How did these professionals inspire you during the projects?

GU: The designer’s I’ve worked with have developed an amazing sense of scale. They just seem to know the perfect proportion that an object should have and its relation to another object, and all this tells a story.

JL: “Behind every great project is a great client.” What does that mean to you?

GU: It means I’ve been lucky and I’ve had the good fortune to meet some great clients. I’ve learned a lot from the builders I’ve worked with. I have learned a great deal from the designer’s I have been partnered with, but by far, I have learned the most from my clients.

JL: How do you refresh yourself creatively?

GU: I often guest critique at CCA. To see students and the work they are doing is very inspiring. It helps me to understand the directions that design is exploring and gives me a glimpse of what the new generation of architects will be achieving which is very exciting.

"I have learned a great deal from the designer’s I have been partnered with, but by far, I have learned the most from my clients."

JL: What is your favorite color. Why?

GU: Green is my favorite color. It is the color of growth and creativity.

JL: Are you more of a dreamer or a practical person?

GU: I would definitely say dreamer. I think every great architect is a dreamer, but a dreamer who is smart enough to surround himself with practical people.

JL: Favorite neighborhood in San Francisco?

GU: The Mission is such a great mix of old and new, of cultures and ideals. It is a place where people try things, some fail, some succeed.

JL: What are you reading?

GU: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino

JL: In what international country or city would you like to go to study architecture?

GU: Rome, Rome, Rome.

JL: Favorite thing to do on the weekends?

GU: I love to get outside and do some watercolor on weekends.

Visit Geddes @

Portrait photo: Carly Tabak

Architectural photography: Rein Van Rijthoven, Richard Barnes, Drew Kelly



Willem Racke - Willem Racke Studio

Walls of Art

Dating back from the Caves of Lascaux and the fresco adorned ancient city of Pompeii to the more refined skills that ancient artisans employed using lacquer finishing and verre églomisé, decorative painting and finishing reflects the history that cultures had for story telling and beauty.  Willem Racke of Willem Racke Studios offers clients an opportunity to enter his world of time honored artistry to grace their homes with his fresh vision on traditional techniques. Sitting down recently with Racke at his production studio in the Inner Mission shed light on the creative talents of this master craftsman.

Willem Racke

Willem Racke

CaenLucier: How did you come to the profession of decorative painting?

Willem Racke: I fell into decorative painting. I decided to take a break from college in New Zealand to travel to the US and Europe for a 1 to 2 year trip. I lived in San Francisco for six months then went to New York with the idea of living there for a while, then moving on to Europe. I had a friend in San Francisco and she put me in contact with a friend of hers who lives in New York that happened to be a decorative painter who needed an assistant. I loved the work and was crazy about the art scene in NYC. That six months lasted over 3 years. I returned to San Francisco, started my studio and haven’t looked back.

CL: If you could indulge yourself at home with your craft, which room and what type of treatment would draw your creative talents?

WR: I have bought, renovated and lived in several homes over the last few years, integrating decorative finishing into every one of them. The building where I live now is an industrial building in South of Market, which I renovated into a sophisticated urban loft. The style is very contemporary and I've used decorative finishes throughout, subtle Venetian plasters, custom finished wood paneling, industrial metal finishes. I’m currently working on a mural for my powder room; it’s going to be silhouettes of trees in black-and-white. In my next house I would love to have a paneled library finished in eggplant color lacquer.

CL: Looking back in history what examples of different cultures informing each other have been brought to your modern day craft?

WR: I think people need to be reminded that decorative painting is the first form of art, man painted the walls of caves long before any of the fine arts as we define them existed. Decorative plaster, frescos and painting techniques all date back to Roman times and probably were established well before that. Many historic cultures were reflected in how they painted and finished their residences and temples, Venetian plaster is written about in Vitruvius's De Architectura, a 1st Century B.C. history of Rome. So nothing is really new, it’s all about a fresh vision for traditional techniques that suits the aesthetics of today.

Lacquer finishing, as another example, is enjoying a revival today. The techniques for creating great lacquer are the same as the ones used in ancient China, we have modern tools and equipment to apply the materials but the hand sanding and buffing are all essential to a true lacquer finish.

"I think people need to be reminded that decorative painting is the first form of art, man painted the walls of caves long before any of the fine arts as we define them existed. Decorative plaster, frescos and painting techniques all date back to Roman times and probably were established well before that."



CL: What are a couple of centuries old techniques that you enjoy employing in today’s interiors?

WR: I like subtle, tonal Venetian Plaster, it really elevates a neutral palette, we do a special Strata finish that goes from dark to light in a way that complements the interior furnishings.  I really like Verre églomisé, a reverse glass painting technique that gives an effect that you can’t duplicate in any other way, it plays with the light in a room.

CL: What would the powder room of your dreams look like?

WR: I have always contended that if you are going to go wild, do it in the powder room. I have done many extravagant powder rooms. We did an all tortoise shell powder room in a Nob Hill a pied a terre, walls and ceiling and cabinetry that is just over the top. Recently, I completed a verre églomise powder room inspired by the post impressionist jungle paintings of Henri Rousseau, it was quite a feat of art and engineering to create and install but it’s spectacular. Another over the top powder room was for a young, hip couple. We did the floors walls and ceiling in op art themed polka dots that oscillate for a bit of a mind-bending experience. If you aren’t a bit stoned when you walk in you certainly will be when you walk out.

CL: Have you seen any decorative finish in your international travels that you have developed to make your own?

WR: The Tsarskoye Selo museum in the Catherine palace in Saint Petersburg is one of the highest examples of decorative finishing in the world. Every surface is decoratively painted or gilded or treated in some way. I was really impressed by the elaborate inlaid wood floors and I developed techniques to translate that look into stenciled and stained designs for wood floors.

CL: Have you seen over the years your part of interior design work go through particular fads?  If so what?

WR: When I first started finishing in the 80’s the look was Memphis, lots of pastel blues, purples and greens. There was a lot of sea sponging wall finishes and faux marble was usually over the top. Now finishes are more refined and subtle, I mean we still do faux marble, we participated in the restoration of the Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor where we faux marbled the trim to match the real stone.

Detail of Restored Park Lane Beamed Ceiling - Nob Hill

Detail of Restored Park Lane Beamed Ceiling - Nob Hill

CL: Do you have a particular finish application that is near and dear to your heart?

WR: I am really liking verre églomisé these days, it’s a vintage French technique of reverse painting on glass that has a lot of visual impact when it’s done well. The jungle inspired verre églomisé powder room is a memorable room. I also love tortoise shell finishes, they can be so dramatic in the right setting.

CL: Looking back on your career, what was one of the most challenging projects you were commissioned?

WR: We did a Venetian plaster mural for Cushman Wakefield’s downtown headquarters that were designed by Gensler. The mural is a “snails eye” view of an office tower done in monochromatic tones of plaster and then incised to create a bas-relief. The geometry of the extreme perspective in different tones combined with the thousands of facets were a real challenge to execute but the final result was worth the effort.

CL: How do you find yourself most often brought into a interior design project?

WR: My projects are commissioned mostly through designers, architects and contractors, I also work directly with clients. I have worked to develop ongoing long term relationships with all my clients who rely on me for my knowledge, experience and sense of aesthetics.



Stenciled Flooring

Stenciled Flooring

CL: Any particular designers that you enjoy working with/understand how best to implement your skills into a project?

WR: I have had the opportunity to work with many of the best designers on incredible projects. I have worked with Jay Jeffers on many of his projects, his work is elegant and beautiful. I enjoy working with Kelly Hohla, she is a rising creative talent with a unique point of view. I love working with Darin Geise of Coup D’etat, he is a unique force in the world of bay area design, we have done wall finishes for the showroom as well as window displays. I have done projects with Peter Marino, an amazing architect and designer.  

CL: What is your idea of a perfect client?

WR: The perfect client is someone who I resonate with on an aesthetic level. I like working with designers and clients who understand and respect the art and craft that goes into finishing. I have a lot of experience and expertise in the field and it’s always great to be able to work with clients and designers who know, for example, that I have an extensive reference library for research that centers on decorative arts, both historical and modern to resource from. I can do my best work when the designer or client gives me some free rein and likes to collaborate.

CL: What is your favorite project that you are working on currently?

WR: We are working on a project in Hillsborough with Kelly Hohla, interior designer and Richard Beard, architect. It’s a big project with great design and finishes; we have been working for six months producing samples and concepts. In one of the rooms, we are doing lacquer finish inspired by the 2015 San Francisco Decorator Showcase room I designed that has a muted, polychromatic palette and high gloss finish. We’re also doing a dark turquoise lacquer pantry. Subtle Venetian plaster finishes and custom wood graining and finishing are part of the plans.

CL: What are you reading at the moment?

WR: I’m reading The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal. The author is a ceramicist who specializes in porcelain. The story is about his travels to the “white Hills” of the world and tracing the roots of porcelain and how it became the refined art and collected thing it is today. The book was given to me by Ron Schwartz, my first client and now friend, who is a collector of fine porcelains. It’s really given me a respect for the art and it’s significance in history.

CL: If you could choose another career what would it be?

WR: I would be an architect. That was my original plan. I wanted to travel for a year or two then return to New Zealand to study architecture. Obviously, my life went in another direction. I am really happy though that my chosen career enables me to be a part of the world great architecture and design.

Op-Art Powder Room

Op-Art Powder Room

CaenLucier would like to thank Willem Racke for all his time and amazing energy!

Paul Wiseman - The Wiseman Group

The Tao of Paul Wiseman

Entering the home of The Wiseman Group along the northern slope of Potrero Hill is to be transported into a world of serene order and beauty punctuated by the ever warm greeting from the bespectacled master of ceremonies himself, Paul Wiseman. Before we sat down in the firm's project clad conference room, Wiseman indulged us in a tour of the firm's extensive design studios. During the past 30 years, Paul has become one of the most successful and respected interior designers in America. Architectural Digest’s special edition, “100 years of Design,” mentions Paul as one of the top designers. He has been widely published and over a 16 year period has been listed on the A.D. Best Designers list. Our look behind the TWG curtain tells a story of unrelenting precision and passion where the alchemy of Paul Wiseman and his creations live.

Paul Wiseman

Paul Wiseman

CaenLucier: What do you consider "good" design?

Paul Wiseman: Anything that is appropriate for its location, climate and use. Attention to detail and well considered options result in design decisions of the highest caliber.

CL: How has your constant curiosity as a person kept your work evolving and fresh?

PW: I am always curious and there are only two guarantees in life – death and change, so I might as well be curious about change.

CL: How do you see your client’s process today in relation to the way clients and the process worked as you came to prominence years ago?

PW: I think the internet has been a great benefit and also a great hindrance to our industry. The internet generation thinks that quality and appropriateness come with the push of a button. What we do is a process, not a product.



Hillsborough Library

Hillsborough Library

CL: You are currently working with Richard Beard on a Joseph Esherick home in Hillsborough. How has your experience working with Richard on past projects and this current project been unique, surprising and professionally enhancing?

 PW: Working with Richard has been professionally enhancing due to the fact that we are both well-traveled, with our focus based upon the love of architectural history and cultural references. This also enriches our relationship with clients by offering our special and unique talents within the design process. Working with a great client and a talented architect like Richard reinforces my belief in the collective creative process.  It’s a wonderful synergy! We also share a wicked sense humor.

CL: How have your travels trained your eye?

PW: I was very fortunate to have lived abroad twice in Australia and France and have the opportunity to have extended travels around the world before cultures became more homogenized. Combined with my general curiosity, it allowed me to have a very deep dictionary of cultural cross references.

"The internet generation thinks that quality and appropriateness come with the push of a button. What we do is a process, not a product."

CL: Have you ever traveled with a client for collective inspiration for a project?

PW: I have numerous times over the years.  In one instance even before the house was built, I went on a buying trip to London with our client. We really bonded around discovering four 18th century chimney pieces that set the tone for the entire design of the home. The soft limestone-not marble-suggested a relaxed palette for the décor.  We were so lucky to find them; I have never seen that quality since.

CL: Working with a variety of clients’ personal aesthetics and different property locations, is there a Wiseman touch that is a common thread throughout these homes.

PW: Every client is different. What I hope to achieve with every project is to get the client to connect to the architecture and location based upon their own personal preferences. Good taste comes in many forms and it is my job to be the guide.

Iconic Hillsborough Living Room - Redo of Michael Taylor Design

Iconic Hillsborough Living Room - Redo of Michael Taylor Design

CL: You lived in a very formal residence on Nob Hill prior to your current residence on Belvedere Island. How have each of these residences been a reflection of the same person?

PW: The city apartment formally provided a great backdrop for that part of my life that was much more social. In order to maintain my creativity, the older I get the more I must have sacred space to rejuvenate that creativity. Belvedere provides a perfect venue – I can garden and cook and still entertain, but at a much more relaxed pace.

CL: What is your favorite color and why?

 PW: Most shades of yellow and green, because they remind me of nature.

"We have had clients that became serious students of the architectural styles and design motifs we chose for their home.  Armed with the knowledge and possessing great creativity, they put their stamp on the project and made it their own."

Paul Wiseman / Richard Beard Collaboration 1

Paul Wiseman / Richard Beard Collaboration 1

Paul Wiseman / Richard Beard Collaboration 2

Paul Wiseman / Richard Beard Collaboration 2

CL: How would you describe your "dream client?"

PW: Intelligent, curious, kind and respectful. We have had clients that became serious students of the architectural styles and design motifs we chose for their home.  Armed with the knowledge and possessing great creativity, they put their stamp on the project and made it their own.

CL: What is your favorite project that your firm is working on at the moment?

PW: All of my projects are favorites, but the most unusual is the Frank Gehry house that we are currently working on. It is Frank’s first residence in 25 years and his first residence in Northern California. 

CaenLucier would like to thank Paul Wiseman for all his time and amazing energy! We would also like to thank Layne Varholdt and Kevin Peters of TWG for their organization in helping us produce this feature!

Suzanne Tucker - Tucker & Marks

The Timeless Elegance of Suzanne Tucker


As a little girl, Suzanne Tucker grew up in the idyllic southern California enclave of Montecito, rearranging all the ornaments on the family Christmas tree. It was no surprise that she would eventually begin a career as an aspiring young designer with the legendary Michael Taylor, setting the stage to become the last word in interior design for San Francisco’s beau monde and beyond.  Having enjoyed a friendship with Suzanne for over a decade, I have had the pleasure of intimately witnessing the weave she creates from intermingling a passion for design with her zeal for living. Suzanne's attention to every detail and a genuine caring personality, topped with an unerring sensibility for scale and proportion, give her interiors a sense of refined comfort and livability that speak to the very essence of her well heeled clientele. Her ability to frame classical principles with a modern sensibility allows homeowners the comfort of Tucker's guided collaboration.  I spoke with Suzanne between projects in Pebble Beach, Aspen, and the Yellowstone Club to learn a little more about what makes the “Queen of Custom” tick.


Joseph Lucier: Was there something inside of you as a child giving you a notion that someday you would enter the world of interior design?

Suzanne Tucker: My mother will tell you she saw the decorating inclination in me when I was a very little girl, apparently spending hours rearranging all the ornaments on the Christmas tree.  But growing up in Montecito, the world was my architectural and horticultural oyster. My sister and I would spend days on end building forts and creating fantasies, roaming through next door properties with romantic names like Lotusland, Val Verde, and El Mirador. I loved tagging along with my parents to their friends' parties so I could see their houses and explore their gardens.  Art classes outside of my school curriculum were a must and it seemed a given that I would gravitate towards the arts, art history, architecture and design when I was in college. I studied interior architecture and design at university and was happiest when totally immersed in the art department. For a moment I had seriously considered architecture school but all that tedious math and years of more schooling seemed so boring - I wanted to get out into the “real world”!  It may sound a bit odd but I didn't set out with the intention of having a career. I followed what I loved, traveled to Europe, lived in London, worked for some inspiring people, had some incredible mentors, and it all fell into place. Interior design is a fantastic profession - constantly evolving, always challenging, very hard work, and immensely rewarding.

JL: Having grown up in Santa Barbara, are there any stylistic elements of the Tucker & Marks look that owe themselves to this part of California's architectural, interior, and landscape design heritage?

ST: Absolutely, although I was also strongly influenced by living in London for several years – another architectural feast and a great decorating influence. But Santa Barbara is in my soul and has had a powerful effect on me, given the importance and beauty of the local architecture, the inherently gracious houses, historic precedents of style, enchanted gardens, the unique quality of the light, and the colors of the mountains and beaches.  All of this lives deep in my visual and sensual memories, grounding how I create layered and elegant environments for others. I would say London gave me my extended education in decorating and architecture with courses at the V&A that were invaluable and the deeper understanding of a “proper house”: how rooms should flow, how a house should function, the graciousness of space, putting a house together and the ease of living comfortably, whether casual or formal.

JL: How did you come to work for Michael Taylor and, more interestingly, how did you manage to stay in a position that tested so many before you?

ST: There are several very funny stories in answer to that question, but that’s for a tell-all book.  I consider myself very fortunate to have landed that job – even though to get my foot in the door, I had to swallow my pride and start as Michael’s secretary – albeit one with rather pathetic secretarial skills who could barely type.  But that lasted all of three months when he figured out I actually knew something about decorating and began taking me to client meetings and involving me in the projects. Michael was notorious for hiring and firing and was an incorrigible bully to his staff.  I suppose I stayed because I wasn't afraid to speak my mind – chalk it up to chutzpah or naiveté, or a mix of both – and he respected that… and was amused by it. Michael, lovable tyrant that he was, took me under his wing as “teacher’s pet”, spoiled and indulged me, and thus became my greatest mentor.   After his death, Tim and I bought his interiors business and the furniture line Michael Taylor Designs was sold to Paul Weaver who built it into the line it is today.

JL: What element of Taylor’s style, both in business and design, did you take into the formative years of Tucker & Marks?

ST: I couldn’t help but be greatly influenced by Michael's mastery of scale and proportion, his use of color and light, and his knowledge of furniture and antiques. And those are all aspects that I utilize in some form or fashion every single day in my work. I’ve definitely done my own thing, but every once in awhile, I find that I pause and ask myself “What would Michael do with this space?”   And as to the business, Tim (Marks) and I have modeled ours along the same high-end service and custom design work that Michael did.  But the best part is that he showed us how not to run a business and how not to treat employees. He was abysmal at both.

"Michael, lovable tyrant that he was, took me under his wing as 'teacher’s pet', spoiled and indulged me, and thus became my greatest mentor." 

JL: How has your design style developed over the years?

ST: Stylistically I’ve never been trendy.  Trends are great for fashion but the kiss of death in decorating.  Who wants to live in yesterday’s fad?  My own style has always aligned with what is current yet timeless, elegant yet approachable, more classic than cool. And my design philosophy has always been the same: scale and proportion are key; color is subjective; make it individual – make it timeless - make it beautiful. I always strive to create uniquely personalized residences that reflect my clients – who they are, how they want to live, and I hope, where they ultimately are most themselves - at home.

JL: You have done a number of units in 2006 Washington Street in Pacific Heights. How do you keep the ideas fresh as you go from apartment to apartment?

ST: That’s easy for me because I don’t have a cookie-cutter look.  For me, each project is about the client – who they are, how they live, their likes and dislikes, and my job is to create something that is personally reflective, so much them, that it’s beyond anything they could dream on their own.  A house should reflect those who live in it not the decorator, and should become a personal haven.  And 2006 is my most favorite San Francisco building – great architecture, full floor apartments, a classic circular flow, excellent proportions, light on all sides and fabulous views.

Apartment at  2006 Washington Street

Apartment at 2006 Washington Street

JL: As a founder of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s Northern California Chapter and a current national board member, what importance do you place on the stewardship of these centuries old design and proportion principles?

ST: For me this stewardship, as you call it, is vital.  Classicism today is still about the essentials of scale and proportion and balance. Education is the key and the ICAA still teaches these fundamental courses that are no longer being taught in 99% of the architecture schools in the country.  My interiors work is not about being a slave to traditional formality or unimaginative constraints, but rather, it’s about a suitable approach in today’s world. I find that many clients and even some architects associate classic design simply with predictable forms—arches, columns, pediments, moldings, etc. But even the most modern structure needs to have its grounding in classical proportions. For my work it’s maintaining a creative focus that is both timely and timeless because it’s based in a classic approach. The human eye will pick up an imbalance and the psyche will know when rooms feel harmonious and others feel discordant – it’s not about the style or the colors, modern or traditional, it’s all about the proportions.

JL: What are your secrets to perfectly marrying art, antiques, and furnishings?

ST: The rigid rules are gone – thank goodness. There are some definite “Don’ts” – don’t buy a “suite” of furniture, don’t buy pairs of everything, don’t hang art too high, don’t have everything in a room brand new.  I love the mix so I would say never to be afraid of putting a piece of great value - art or antiques - next to a flea market find. Mix the high with the low – it will have more character.  I'm also not a purist and definitely believe in mixing contemporary pieces with antiques, modern elements with antiquities. But regardless of style or era, the balance of the furniture and elements in a room are always the most important. Does it fit? Does it look out of place? Look at the lines, study the bones... If it speaks to you, buy it! Live with it and love it, don't forget to feed it with a good wax and pass it onto the next lucky person.  And approach art the same way… love it? Buy it! Move it to different walls, live with it in different spaces.

JL: As this year’s chair of The San Francisco Fall Art and Antiques Show, how do you see this highly regarded event keeping up with the times as current tastes veer away from traditional antiques?

ST: Interestingly enough, we are finding there is still a very strong market for the high-end collectors – that has never changed.  And the pendulum has definitely swung back to mixing the old with the new, the antiques with the modern. In the design world we are always talking about the mix – it’s nothing new and the most chic interiors have always had those ingredients. I always encourage my clients to have at least one piece with some age in a room. It does not have to be over-the-top expensive, but antiques resonate with history's silent voices. The appeal resides in a patina only achievable with time: their very imperfections speak to me of soul and character and life lived.  Besides, a room filled with all new things is so boring… and remember, you don’t want to be the oldest thing in the room!

The San Francisco Art & Antiques Show in its 35th year is one of the oldest and most revered antiques shows in the country and was actually the first show to have international dealers exhibiting.  It’s a not-to-be-missed opening night in San Francisco and there are some exciting changes this year to keep things current and fresh.  The word "Art" is now added to the name of the show by popular demand from many dealers.  The art world goes hand in hand with the decorative arts and collecting plus it opens the show up to a broader range of art galleries exhibiting this year. We have also invited our dealers to think beyond antiques and bring pieces from antiquity to present day (no more 50-year cut-off date). With architect Andrew Skurman, we have reconfigured the entire layout of the show, making the booths much more interactive and compelling, displaying contemporary art with antiquities and 18th century with modern. Wandering through the show is always a visual feast but I think this year it will be particularly compelling especially with the Animalia theme.  

Joseph Lucier Suzanne Tucker

"A house should reflect those who live in it not the decorator, and should become a personal haven."

JL: With purchasing becoming more independent through online bidding at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, do you still work with clients on an advisory basis when they acquire items at auction?

ST: Absolutely. I am often bidding at auctions around the world for my clients or for myself.  And while I rely on the auction house experts to advise on condition and value, there is nothing like seeing a piece in person.  Working with trusted dealers is where you really learn about furniture, what makes something valuable, what to collect and what to avoid.  Trust the experts!

JL: Any favorite current projects?

ST: I consider myself rather fortunate at the moment as all my projects are truly exciting and inspiring for me.  They are also quite geographically varied - here in San Francisco, a breathtaking penthouse for dear friends, a historic Italianate Renaissance house in Presidio Heights, and another historic French house in Pacific Heights, a very cool “surf shack” down the coast and an exquisite 1920's Spanish compound in Pebble Beach.  My work takes me all over from Napa, Tahoe, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, to a spectacular ranch in Aspen with multiple structures for a dedicated environmentalist, a family vacation home at the Yellowstone Club in Montana, and an ongoing project in Little Rock, Arkansas with clients of 28 years.  They’re all my favorites!

JL: How have you seen the design profession change over the years?

ST: Certainly the 80’s had the most profound impact on the profession when we lost so many to the AIDS epidemic.  It’s hard for young designers to understand the magnitude - the loss of knowledge and expertise, the taste and talent, that old-school know-how.  And the designers we lost back then would now be the mentors to the new ones now. There is a generation that has missed out on that experience.  The internet and the digital revolution have certainly impacted our profession in a life-changing way. While I embrace the fact that information is so much more readily available, ultimately the pillars upon which a good design business is built remain the same no matter what: impeccable customer service, excellent relationships with clients, vendors and other partners, and plain old hard work.  You simply cannot get that surfing the internet.  But having product easily available to the customer is not a bad thing – Mr. Macy did that years ago with the concept of mass merchandising in his department stores.  But everyone needs to decide for themselves – are you a Macy’s customer or Bergdorf Goodman?  Me?  I’m unapologetically the latter.

Monterey Peninsula  Residence

Monterey Peninsula Residence

JL: What is on the top of your bucket list?

ST: Travel is always up there and I’m forever nursing a case of wanderlust.  So not necessarily in order - India for sure, Peru and Patagonia…Build my dream house one day… Perhaps my dream would be to tackle the interiors of the White House?   But that could end up a total nightmare...

JL: Favorite city in Europe?

ST: London…Paris…Rome…  you’re getting at that wanderlust thing with me.

JL: Favorite romantic weekend getaway?

ST: The Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley (Yes, I’m biased because I’ve worked on it for 30 years) … the Post Ranch in Big Sur is heavenly… and our little house in Montecito – simple perfection and muy romantico.

JL: What are you currently reading?

ST: I read multiple books at once and always have stacks by my bedside… Thrive by Arianna Huffington… Jay McInerney’s latest novel Bright Precious Days…  The Collected Stories of Louis Auchincloss, because he was a good friend of my father’s and I’m missing my dad… something about the Paleovedic Diet … A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander which isn’t new but is utterly compelling for anyone interested in architecture, designing a house, getting it right… and the just released Interior Design Master Class by Carl Dellatore, a wonderful volume of essays on various design-related subjects to which I and many of my peers have contributed. A great read and a classic in the making which should be on everyone’s shelf!

Many thanks to Suzanne Tucker and Vera Vandenbosch for working with me on this feature!

Photo credits: Matthew Millman, Peter Estersohn, and Michal Venera


The Hipness of Hayes Valley

By Joseph Lucier

When San Francisco commissioned Arthur Brown Jr. to design City Hall in 1913, he went into his bag of tricks from his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and modeled this civic landmark after Paris' Les Invalides to create an architectural axis to anchor the city after the 1906 quake.  CaenLucier narrows focus this month on Hayes Valley and the fortuitous flurry around the Civic Center. When Ron Conway rattled the cages of Ed Lee's offices, Doug Shorenstein's bet on mid-Market paid off with Twitter deciding against abandoning the city. With Benchmark Capital already across the street in the Warfield Building, it was game on for the tech sector effect on residential values. In an odd way, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake followed by Art Agnos' tenacity to tear down the freeways reinvigorated two iconic San Francisco districts... The Embarcadero and Hayes Valley.

Hayes Valley has seen a renaissance like no other neighborhood in town. While the blue collar to white-ish collar transformation of Noe Valley, Potrero Hill, and Bernal Heights has been noteworthy over the past five years, Hayes Valley is truly where the action happens. Traci des Jardin and Bill Russell-Shapiro put their money down on Jardinière and Absinthe, respectively, in the late '90's. In 2012, Randall Kline gifted our city, and particularly Hayes Valley, the Mark Cavagnero designed SF Jazz Center, adding to the internationally lauded opera, symphonic, and ballet companies that culturally anchor the Civic Center. The neighborhood now bumps to a new beat, a beat that embodies hip refinement and satisfies the intellectual curiosity of San Franciscans. Like many districts in town, Hayes Valley has been a hot bed for new development. With over 300 new units in the past four years and another 500 debuting and under development, it's go time for investors and astute residents to invest in this re-imagined neighborhood

 CaenLucier investment tip: The numbers don't lie. In the last three years of this robust market, the median price of neighborhood condominiums is up 38% ($830,000 to $1,150,000) and the single family home sector has climbed 54% ($1,550,000 to $2,400,000) CaenLucier is confident that this district has a continued sustainable and attractive growth curve.  Please consult us for leading edge opportunities in this neighborhood. We look forward to sharing our expertise in your pursuit of adding real estate to your portfolio.

Andrew Skurman - Andrew Skurman Architects

The City's Finest Classical Practitioner 

Launching our monthly series featuring San Franciscans of note, CaenLucier sits down with the city's leading classical architect, Andrew Skurman, to discuss his reinterpretation of one of Pacific Heights' last existing duplex apartments.  2000 Washington Street, originally designed by Conrad Alfred Meussdorffer in 1922, is one of the city's landmark residential buildings. It grandly sits adjacent to Lafeyette Park and the Spreckels Mansion where Danielle Steele resides when in town. 

CaenLucier: You have had many projects at both 2000 Washington Street and its elegant neighbor 2006 Washington.  What is it about these buildings that inspire the classical traditions your firm embraces?

Andrew Skurman:  2000 and 2006 Washington were built in the 1920s, with no expense spared, and with the most elegant classical interiors. One of the the apartments was designed by Julia Morgan. They all have high ceilings, large column free spaces and orientations that allow for an effortless reconfiguration that takes advantage of the glamour of classical design. 

It is by the way possible to recreate a classical home in a very modern building, but it takes a lot more effort. In order to do that, a client of ours built a second set of classical French windows in front of the building's standard modern windows. It does work really well and one cannot imagine the bare sheet rock walls behind the paneling, moldings and details

CL:  As I remember, your clients purchased the full floor apartment completely gutted. Did this offer any advantages?

AS:  When an apartment is old and in bad condition, it might be less expensive and one can achieve better results by gutting it rather than changing just part of it. You are then completely free to redo all the electricity, heating, and plumbing to modern standards, and to conceive a completely different floor plan that takes advantage of every square inch of available space.

Gutting allows for a complete re-creation and the imagination of the client can really flow. But in buildings of quality, there usually are elements that should not be eliminated but reworked. I love to find charming elements to retain and build upon. It saves expense as well as maintaining the original historical beauty. In one of these apartments, we reconfigured everything except for a delicate and beautiful dining room. Which we restored with care.

One of the apartments at 2000 Washington Street is morphing into something different for the third time. When we first created it, it had dark wood, a colorful palette, and traditional furniture. Then, under the magic wand of Fisher Weisman, it had a kind of a facelift, it was entirely painted white and became one of my favorite things: a classical background with modern furniture. We are now completing a third remodel on the same apartment! But our black and white marble floor in the entrance and many other features have remained through all the changes.

CL:  How do you feel your interior architecture decisions held up when the visual palette changed from traditional to contemporary after we sold it to our clients?

AS:  As an architect, it is wonderful to see a space you created evolve under the impetus of the new owner’s taste. There isn't just one kind of beauty, one esthetic or one architectural truth. I look forward to a diverse future, full of classical homes and homes that whisper their classicism.

CL:  What were your favorite aspects of the renovation when it was completed?

AS:  There is a gallery of arches, long and wide, which allows for the display of art better than a mere corridor. As one walks about 50’ through this 8’ wide space from the entrance hall to the living room, the view that pulls you forward is of the bay in its full glory. The gallery has a quality of light that reminds me of one of my favorite places: the Vasari corridor, in Florence, that jumps from the Uffizi Gallery over the Arno River to the Palazzo Pitti.  This is where the museum exhibits self-portraits of artists collected since the 16th century.

CL:  Were there any specific historical design elements that you incorporated into this project?

AS:  The language of classicism is so rich. The paneling details are from the Wren Period in England, a voluptuous raised panel. The pilasters are in a fancy Doric style from the baths of Caracalla in ancient Rome.  The black and white patterned paving in the entrance hall was inspired by Robert Adam (an 18th century Scottish architect). The muntins on the French doors and windows reference the fretwork on Chippendale furniture. 

CL:  You and Paul Wiseman worked on this project together originally (prior to working with Fisher-Weisman seen in these images).  What was the experience like working with designers of your caliber?

AS:  Paul Wiseman has a huge palette of talents, from pure classical to modern. He can create the most detailed interior or a luxurious modern home with great art on the walls. He excels at everything he touches. We speak the same design language and share many references. We recently had dinner together and I enjoyed every minute.

CL:  You regularly visit your residence in Paris.  How does your exposure to the city's timeless elegance enhance your design vocabulary?

AS:  In my constant research of classical beauty, I love to roam around the Europe, scrutinizing and analyzing the details: in the cathedral of Reims, the integration of restored medieval stained glass windows, cohabiting with others made in 2011 by Imi Knooebel; in London the saucer domes of St. Paul, with their lacy edges, Wren’s simple yet sculptural solution to the ceiling of the nave. I can visit the same building many times, and there is always something new that catches my eye. 

Paris is a stopover from which I go to all the other countries, Italy, my most beloved, where I go every year, but also to Spain and England, Germany and Greece. I was in Greece this summer. The Parthenon was covered with cranes. What a beautiful image of the constant efforts, even in a country with considerable economic problems, to maintain our common patrimony. I mentally took in once more the proportions of the majestic columns and their orders.

CL:  What are your favorite projects that you are working on now?

AS:  We are currently working on an addition to building that is a national monument at a major East Coast university. More next time we talk…

Pacific Heights homeowners took great care in restoring 1895 Victorian

San Francisco Chronicle  July 1, 2014

By Jeremy Schnitker

Rarely does a recently restored San Francisco home that has not been gutted and completely modernized come on the market. Enter the six-bedroom, six-bath Victorian-style home on the 1800 block of Jackson Street in Pacific Heights. The 6,650-square-foot property is filled with original detailing such as wood paneling, beamed ceilings and a number of unique windows. But the home is modern where it counts, said Sotheby's International Realty agent Joseph Lucier, who, along with Caroline Kahn Werboff of Hill & Co., is listing the property for $4.995 million.

The home was built in 1895 for Henry Lund, a native of Germany who served as royal consul for Norway and Sweden on the West Coast. To build the home, Lund hired William H. Lillie, a sought-after architect in the 1890s.The home, which occupies an oversize lot, was renovated by its current owner with help from interior designer Susan Clark. It features custom Grace Richey Clarke window coverings and Lefroy Brooks faucets, as well as a modern kitchen, an upstairs library, a top-floor media room and a lower-level guest suite with a kitchen.

"The principal level has been restored to its original grandeur," Lucier said. "And painstaking effort and care was given to the mahogany and oak woodwork throughout the entry foyer, living room and dining room. The original mantel in the living room and the built-in sideboard in the dining room are representative of the craftsmen that were commissioned when the house was built."

There is also a south garden that includes tall ferns, Japanese maples, a stone terrace, a large, level lawn, decks and a three-plus-car garage.The front of the home features large London plane trees and an expansive front deck and shelter that are set back from the street. In the entryway, there is a marble stairway, an intricate mosaic-tile landing and mahogany double-front doors that open to a grand hall with quarter-sawn oak floors.

On the main floor, the living room is accented by mahogany details, as well as linen walls, a fireplace, a glass chandelier and oak flooring. The front library, which has a fireplace, is currently used as a formal dining room. A large carved oak buffet and fireplace highlight the family room. There is also a deck off the family room. 

The kitchen holds marble counters, wainscoting, white subway-tile backsplash, Wolf range, stainless steel Sub-Zero refrigerator, two dishwashers and built-in La Cornue French rotisserie.

The second level has a staircase with a LaFarge stained glass piece that sits over a window seat and a Juliet balcony at the top of the stairs, as well as a copper leaf ceiling over the second-floor landing. The entry hall, complete with candle sconces, leads to a remodeled bath with marble tiles and a bathtub with a rain shower.  

The master bedroom suite comes with a fireplace and a walk-in closet, as well as heated marble floors, double sinks, a soaking tub and a separate shower.

The third floor features two bedrooms, one with a balcony and skylight, five closets and a bathroom with an antique bear-claw tub. A media room with skylights and star lighting is adjacent to the card room and deck. 

There is also a wet bar with a storied marble top, which was quarried in the 1930s and originally used in a post office. The bar has a nickel sink and custom fixtures.The lower level holds a living area, a kitchenette and French doors that open to an expansive deck with Ipe wood.

"The home has an elegance that conjures up images of San Francisco during the turn of the century," Lucier said. "Being in the home, you can imagine the large-scale entertaining that went on in the home - particularly in the dining room - which could have easily held a table for 25. There's also a sense of privacy and comfort with the ... house being situated back from Jackson Street."

Built: 1895
Bedrooms: 6
Bathrooms: 6
Size: 6,650 square feet
Agent: Joseph Lucier, Sotheby's International Realty, (415) 260-9791

1400 Montgomery Street offers spacious hillside home

San Francisco Chronicle   July 24, 2011

By Nathan Spicer

Custom-built in 1984, this Contemporary home on the 1400 block of San Francisco's Montgomery Street is perched near the top of the Filbert Street Steps, on the steep eastern slope of the historic Telegraph Hill.  The lush plants and trees of Grace Marchant Gardens border three sides of the home, a showcase of roses, flowers, palm trees and banana trees, while Italian stone pines flank the cul-de-sac.

The main residence, 1400 Montgomery St., a three-bedroom, 5.5-bath home, stands out among the foliage in the historic area. The property includes an attached two-bedroom condominium at 1404 Montgomery. The main residence is approximately 4,500 square feet, and the condominium adds approximately 1,000 square feet - an unusually large amount of living space for the area.

The properties in the surrounding area are smaller and vary in both design and purpose.  "You have pre-earthquake, late-1800s fishermen's cottages mixed in with 1960s mid-century-designed apartment buildings," said Joseph Lucier, senior marketer for Sotheby's International Realty. "Most single-family homes on Telegraph Hill are the 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot range, and most condominiums are in the 1,000- to 2000-square-foot range."

The 1400 Montgomery St. home is notable not only for its size and location but also for its layout. The home, which has never been on the market and is being listed at $5.995 million by Sotheby's International Realty, has five levels. The first floor is introduced by a foyer, which leads to a sweeping spiral staircase with a bent-oak banister.

This structure is a staple of the architectural firm Porter and Steinwedell, which designed 1400 Montgomery. Charles Porter and Robert Steinwedell started their firm in 1953 and had studied under another famous architect, Gardner Daily, who was also renowned for incorporating a core spiral staircase.  The home "is indicative of their earlier period," architect Jerry Gere said of Porter and Steinwedell's work, especially the staircase, bay window and sliding glass doors.

A chrome-lined elevator rests on the mezzanine level, lined in distinguished red oak hardwood floors.  "You pull in the garage and walk directly out onto a mezzanine level where the elevator begins," said Joseph Lucier, an agent for Sotheby's International Realty. A door on this level leads to the three-car garage.

One of the home's five terraces is accessible through two sets of sliding glass doors on the third level. Here, the master suite with a private bath sits on the eastern side, and across the spiral staircase is a room that has a wood-burning fireplace with an antique stone mantelpiece and custom shelving on either side.

The fourth level contains a formal dining room and kitchen. The dining room has parquet oak flooring and a large picture window that overlooks the gardens and the Bay. A swinging door leads into the chef's kitchen, complete with white Corian counters and a center island with a breakfast bar, all of which are illuminated by recessed and under-cabinet lighting. The kitchen level also features a breakfast room and solarium.

On the fifth floor is the living room, which "has 10-foot ceilings, a large eastern terrace with views of downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco Bay," Lucier said. "There's an antique, wood-burning fireplace and, of course, the all-important wet bar. It also has a western terrace with views of Coit Tower."

The attached condominium, accessible through a private covered porch and garage, contains two bedrooms, a combined living and dining room, oak flooring, a wood-burning fireplace and a private terrace. The kitchen has seashell-patterned flooring and a pantry.

From 1400 Montgomery, residents can also overlook Pier 27-29, which is where yachts for the 2013 America's Cup will dock. Coit Tower is a block away, and the waterfront is down the steps from the property.

The eastern slope is also protected from San Francisco's coarser climates.  "The eastern slope has the best weather in San Francisco because it blocks the prevailing winds from the Pacific Ocean, so it's calm," Lucier said. "It's all very sunny there. It also has a wonderful, kind of bucolic atmosphere from the surrounding gardens."

Silcox added, "It can be foggy in the Pacific Heights, and it can be eight to 10 degrees warmer on this side of Telegraph Hill.  It's an incredible place to be. I've been very fortunate to live within a block of this house for 25 years."


Inspired Design Enhances Daily Life

By Joseph Lucier

San Francisco has always been known as a city of bold moves, be they social, political, or found in our noteworthy personalities around town, but restraint bordering on insipidity seems too often plague San Francisco's architectural landscape.  Love it or not, fervent opposition is a native trait of the City's residents, but it has been hurdled before to yield landmarks known the world over.  The Transamerica Pyramid, designed by architect William Pereira in 1969, comes quickly to mind as detractors during planning and construction sometimes referred to the design as "Pereira's Prick". John King of the San Francisco Chronicle summed up an improved opinion of the building in 2009 as "an architectural icon of the best sort - one that fits its location and gets better with age."  Yet where is the opposition found today towards “safe bets” that developers deliver to planning and, thus, usher to the marketplace when current economic opportunities could equally fuel cutting edge design, top quality materials, and high caliber construction meant to inspire buyers and residents alike?

This high/low conundrum begs the proverbial question between developers and consumers of who is the chicken and who is the egg.  While we were all Millennials at one point, albeit as Baby Boomers, Gen Xers or Gen Y, who likely entered the market without a well-defined sense of taste, the question remains; can the risk of higher investment for quality materials coupled with exciting architectural design be delivered by developers and applauded by consumers?  In the late 1990’s the architect David Baker and Holliday Development redeveloped the Clock Tower building at 461 2nd Street as uniquely designated “live/work” lofts.  This 1907 building, originally constructed for the Max Schmidt Lithograph Corporation, offered a new product to buyers who excitedly embraced the exposed brick and timber components and were introduced to open plan New York loft living. Not only was the live/work designation tenaciously fought for by the developers, these lofts were cool!  The market responded positively leading to further investor confidence with the 1996 redevelopment of the Oriental Warehouse at 650 Delancey Street, ultimately adding more high quality housing stock of lasting integrity.

David Baker's innovative  clock tower lofts

David Baker's innovative clock tower lofts

Fast forward to 2014 with Stanley Saitowitz’ 8 Octavia Street rising from a triangular lot left bare after the destruction of the Central Freeway.  Saitowitz is a big thinker and a bright spot in the city’s architectural discourse.  He feels that "architecture is a frame, an open field which facilitates the dreams and desires of the inhabitants. In this way architecture can be viewed as an instrument, a way to extend the exuberant parts of life, a tool for liberation." In an ocean of floating milk toast that the SF Planning Department often unwittingly finds itself wading through, 8 Octavia gave the City an opportunity to embrace the shock of the new. DDG's (the developer) investment of economic and intellectual capital paid off hopefully inspiring future sentinel attempts to stave off less inspired designs imposed on residential marketing firms.  With 47 units and a ground floor retail component, 8 Octavia had the ability to spread out risk on the balance sheet, but what is to be done to support San Francisco’s tastemakers burning desire to express a bold move residing on a singular property?

stanley Saitowitz design  at 8 octavia

stanley Saitowitz design at 8 octavia

As the ante moves up in the world of luxury single family home redevelopment, we re-engage the chicken vs. egg paradox with all of the eggs falling into one basket.  I certainly applaud any developer who puts on his investor’s cap to accurately assess the economic factors and consumer tastes required to make a profit, but tastemakers must unflaggingly resolve the uncertainty of being rewarded for a project that rigorously takes on new design theory, uses exotic (and expensive) materials, and boldly informs the market on what THEY consider important. Do we really have to see yet another $8mm+ spec house with a bowling ball plan entertaining level punctuated with a Carrera marble kitchen island leading to a wall of glass Nano doors with no sense of progression, no mystery, and therefore, no true allure and passion? Please say no!  Real estate agents wave their hand to the tune of hundreds of thousands of additional dollars saying that the developer “offers a blank canvas” for the new buyer to make the property their own.  Let us encourage developers to play offense and personally take on these blank canvases instead of kicking them down the road to the marketplace.

uninspired formula  developer product delivered to 2015 market

uninspired formula developer product delivered to 2015 market

I believe there is a market for the tastemakers who are willing to risk investment and inform San Franciscan's on what is chic and how inspired design can enhance daily life.  Baker and Saitowitz have shown that we collectively await developers willing to show us what can be and what we can embrace.  Developers willing to harness the winds of innovation, creativity, and technology, the true lifeblood of the San Francisco Bay Area, will be patiently rewarded by those seeking the allusive framework of high quality design and construction during these interesting times.


Glenn Rescalvo - Handel Architects

A New Millennium Elegance

In a forest of cranes punctuating our rapidly evolving skyline, the hand of Glenn Rescalvo of Handel Architects shines through. Rescalvo's signature Millennium Tower ushered in a new era of elegant high rise design in 2009 and set a high watermark for the building boom that was soon to come in San Francisco.  As a native San Franciscan, Glenn's knowledge and love of the city's diverse neighborhood culture gives developers the necessary viewpoint to build informed architecture that responds to and enhances the lives of the city's residents.  With projects in over fifteen neighborhoods including The Pacific at 2121 Webster, the new Millennium Partners tower at 706 Mission, and the boutique 240 Pacific located in the historic Jackson Square district, Glenn is charged with a diverse stewardship as his native environment takes new shape.  

Our time together with Glenn at Handel's Market Street offices reveals a man who has a deep love for his hometown of San Francisco, a dreamer's vision for shaping the city's modern skyline, and a grown up kid influenced by his father's passion for exposing him to great architecture at a young age.

CaenLucier: When did you know that you wanted to be an architect?

Glenn Rescalvo: I knew quite early in life that I loved design, especially the lines and shapes of cars like Porsches and Corvettes as well as the designs of modern objects coming out of Italy and Germany. I actually thought of going into industrial design at one point, but because my father was an architect, I was very exposed to building design and construction and it soon became part of my day-to-day life.  Where we traveled was usually chosen by the availability of great architecture.  At the age of seven my father took me to Brasilia to see Oscar Niemeyer's incredible work. It is something I will never forget.

CL: As a native San Franciscan, how do you feel your “home town” status reflects your approach as an architect during this historic boom?

GR: Being a native San Franciscan has its pluses and minuses. First of all, I'm very passionate about this city.  I love the topography, the climate, and the culture of what true San Francisco stands for. Yet many times I'm frustrated that we don't take better care of it and help it grow to become an even greater city. Having the opportunity to live in New York, I was able to witness how government and private interest can work together to create positive change. I don't see enough of that process in San Francisco and I really hope that we can improve upon it.

As an architect here, I always strive to help improve the level of architecture, but, just as importantly, I am passionate about improving the pedestrian realm. Creating great architecture is rewarding only if the project responds appropriately to its contextual place. Collectively as city, we need to improve on our streets, sidewalks and green spaces. New York City has done an amazing job of bettering its streets and providing green spaces throughout the city. I hope that, as we continue to grow, our goals will include improving the public realm through a mix of government and private development.

CL: Is San Francisco’s skyline getting more interesting with the Transbay Terminal Authority specifically overseeing the design approval process as opposed to the SF Planning Department being involved?

GR: Absolutely!  The skyline has improved tremendously, yet it is critical that these selected authorities continue to maintain the level of integrity and respectfulness to the design profession as they have done so far. To this point, I truly miss the existence of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency which, in my personal opinion, was a tremendous tour de force allowing for great placemaking for creative architecture to occur.  The Yerba Buena Gardens district is an excellent case in point.  Ten years from now, I believe the Transbay Terminal district will be another "jewel" of the city.

CL: Tell us a little bit about your latest work with Chris Jeffries of Millennium Partners at 706 Mission.

GR: Millennium Partners has been at the forefront of elevating high-rise luxury residential living for many years and with each project that they develop in San Francisco, the concept, the programming, and the amenities are redefined. 706 Mission will be the latest Millennium project in San Francisco.  What will make this project unique from the Four Seasons and the Millennium Tower is that this development will not rely on a flagship hotel or an enormous numbers of units to support itself.  With only 142 units in 50 floors, 706 Mission will be the most exclusive residential tower in town. Chris Jeffries is a true visionary and sees opportunity in areas of the market that are considered non-existent. Many developments believe luxury is only about materials and views; that is only half of it. Design and service is the other half which is what makes Millennium projects so successful and memorable. We are very excited about 706 Mission, it will truly be one of San Francisco’s most impressive buildings.

CL: How has your work with Millennium over the years benefited from the intimacy of a long term relationship?

GR: Our relationship with Millennium Partners goes back over 20 years and, in that time frame, we have designed numerous projects throughout the country with them. Personally, it has been one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences as an architect to be able to work collaboratively with a client that has vision, embraces good design, and believes in the spirit of trust and collaboration. Over the years together, we’ve worked toward perfecting luxury residential living.  With each new project, we build on what we’ve learned collectively from the past.

CL: What scale of residential design are you most enjoying working on at the moment?

GR: It’s difficult to say. I really love designing tall buildings and the gesture they can make to a city's skyline and urban form. More recently, we have been involved on much smaller scale projects. They have been very rewarding and exciting to work on, primarily because of the scale and interplay of spaces and the involved detailing.

CL: When you dream of creating the perfect residential project where would it be, how would it look, and what materials would you use?

GR: Blessed with amazing topography, San Francisco offers so many great opportunities for creating beautiful architecture.  If given the choice of where to design a residential project, I would choose a site in Sea Cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Mt. Tamalpais, and Golden Gate Bridge.  It doesn't get any better than that!  The design would be contemporary with clean lines, but not cold or ultra-static. I would use a combination of natural materials ranging from a variety of woods, polished and raw concrete and vernacular stones. The design and material would embrace the landscape and the two would become one. Room locations, window placement, and outdoor spaces would all be established based on the movement of the sun and prevailing winds. Large overhangs with floor-to-ceiling glass space would also be key features.

CL: Tell us about working with Trumark Urban on their new project, The Pacific at 2121 Webster.

GR: This was our first project with Trumark. In this particular case, I would have to say that the stars were aligned. Both Trumark Urban and Handel Architects saw this development as a unique opportunity knowing it had to be executed extraordinarily well on all levels. One of the key factors to the success of this development was the fact that there would never be an opportunity to build anything this tall in Pacific Heights ever again. Not only was this an existing 9-story structure, it was structurally sound with a parking garage and 12' floor to floors offering with extraordinary views of the Golden Gate Bridge,  Mt. Tamalpais, and the Pacific Ocean.  With all of these factors, the process of team work and collaboration was quite seamless. Not only did the architecture need to be unique and refined, but, given the demographic and the quality one would expect to find in Pacific Heights, it was just as important that the interiors evoke a certain level of sophistication and elegance.  Trumark has been great to work with as they visualized the end product and never hesitated. They simply wanted to make this project better than anything on the market, which certainly made our job very rewarding.

CL: Jackson Square is such a beloved historic district in the city.  What decisions did you make to integrate 240 Pacific into its L shaped lot and maintain a dialogue with the surrounding buildings?

GR: When we began designing 240 Pacific, we knew that we needed to be extremely sensitive and cognizant of the history and urban fabric of the district. We wanted our design to embrace the location's history and elevate the quality of the neighborhood by creating a design that was contemporary yet sophisticated and contextual.  Historically known as the Barbary Coast, this area of San Francisco was one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. The site sits on the northeast corner of Pacific and Battery where the Old Ship Saloon, dating back to 1851, anchors the corner. The Saloon became one of the key components to a variety of design decisions made for the project.  The use of masonry brick for the exterior facade relates the project to its neighbors.  We felt it was extremely important to maintain a level of continuity not only with the Old Ship Saloon at foreground of our project, but with most of the existing neighboring structures in the district. As we developed the design, we strategically proportioned the window openings and materials to resemble that of the surrounding environment.

CL: Where do you like to spend time away from work?                                                       

GR: I either like to be in the mountains skiing or on the ocean. When I travel to other cities - as great as it is - my mind is always working, absorbing images and ideas, and I'm not really relaxing.  When I'm either in the mountains or on the ocean, I have more time to reflect and be inspired.

CL: Favorite restaurants? 

GR: Cotogna and Spruce.

CL: What are you reading now?  

GR: The White Eskimo by Stephen Brown and The Four Quartet by Joseph Ellis

CL: What would you be doing professionally if you were not an architect? 

GR: Early on I really wanted to be a veterinarian.  I love animals and always had a way with them. Maybe next time around!

CL: Blondes or Brunettes…?

GR: Diversity is the best way to live life, but final answer...brunettes.


Orlando Diaz-Azcuy - ODADA

The Refined Sophisticate

Upon entering Orlando Diaz-Azcuy’s atelier in the old Brooks Brothers Building, one is transported into a world of symmetry, refinement, and shades of neutrality that provide a dreamlike atmosphere where impossibilities become suspended.  The bustle of Union Square below echoes his homeland of Cuba from where he immigrated before earning a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the Catholic University in Washington DC, and Master’s degrees in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning from University of California at Berkeley.  Orlando made his way into early prominence during his partnership with Arthur Gensler where his trained eye and keen knack for integrating custom materials into high profile designs gained him recognition as Designer of the Year by Interiors Magazine.  Beginning his own firm in 1987, Orlando eventually transitioned from commercial work into the world of private residences from earlier relationships with John Levin of the Folger & Levin law offices downtown and his relationship with the Haas family.  Navigating through the traditional interior demands of the city’s beau monde to his signature contemporary vernacular was a patient process.  In time, Orlando’s deft sense of spatial relationships and his ability to incorporate traditional pieces into contemporary interiors made him the last word in a luxury tier where true sophistication is understood by so few.  Current clients reside in New York and the Hamptons and anticipate the completion of residences at 181 Fremont in San Francisco. 

Our recent time together with the impeccably mannered Orlando revealed a man who still lives to caress blank paper with pencil, tells a story with the twinkle of creative wit, and relaxes looking back over a career where his talents and life intermingled to result in timeless designs.

orlando diaz-azcuy

orlando diaz-azcuy

CaenLucier: What inspires your creativity in the design process?

Orlando Diaz-Azcuy: Everything. But peace of mind and quiet are essential. I must be happy where I am designing. If not, I put my pencil away. I design a lot in the middle of the night.

CL: You still like to create ideas with the intimacy of pencil on paper.  How have you seen technology aid and enhance the design process over the years?

ODA: Because I am of an older generation, eventually it will become as second nature to designers as the pencil has been to us. It all depends on the speed of your ideas and ability to illustrate them quickly on the computer.

CL: You and Arthur Gensler had a very successful business relationship for years.  How did it begin?

ODA: I was working for EPR (Environmental Planning and Research) in the early Seventies and designed the McDonald’s in John Portman’s Embarcadero Center.  The restaurant got a national recognition award that year.  Arthur was looking for a designer at the time and hired me.  We ended up having very good fortune together doing most of the law offices in town, the first United Airlines Red Carpet Room, the San Francisco International Terminal, Wells Fargo and Levi’s Plaza.  At Gensler’s 50th Anniversary event, Arthur was kind enough to say to the room how valuable my contribution had been to the success of the firm.

CL: What prompted you to go out on your own after so much time with Gensler?

ODA: I was approached by Hickory Business Furniture while at Gensler to help them transition their look from traditional to more contemporary without their clientele abandoning them.  The product did very well.  However, within an AIA membership, a professional could not design furniture and sell it to their clients.  Arthur and I made an agreement and rented a top floor in a nearby building to design furniture named ODA Design.  That’s how I began. The first summer, I decided not to go back to managing people.  The first collection was so successful that I had plenty of money and I told Arthur that I was not going to come back.  There was no animosity and I did not take any clients from Gensler.


CL: How was the transition of going out on your own?

ODA: Initially, no one would hire me for residential work, because it is such a traditional town.  I even began with my own residence at 1050 Green Street in 1982 using more antiques in this traditional French building.  I knew French and English furniture as well as my competitors did, but that is not where my heart was.  Then I started doing something that no one was doing, which was taking new buildings, new interiors and placing a few antique pieces to give a soft feeling that can’t be discerned as traditional or contemporary, but it feels good.  This look started coming into vogue.  You started to see designers like Peter Marino and others in New York starting to move in this direction.  That is how I established my name here.  If someone wanted a comfortable, understated elegant house with no draperies or tassels…go to Orlando. 

CL: How have you refined your alchemy of informing modern design with traditional elements and furnishings?

ODA: Design is evolution and incorporation of all times.

CL: Which designers/architects that have preceded you do you admire?

ODO: A long list. Everyone gives you a little something as inspiration, but there are the ones that you relate to. For me, Josef Hoffman, Adolf Loos, Luis Barragan, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Meier.

CL: How were you selected to work on Jay Paul’s 181 Fremont project?

ODA: I was introduced to Jay through the architect, Heller Manus.  Jeffrey Heller and I had worked at together at Gensler.

CL: What has your involvement been like working with Jay Paul?

ODA: Very early on, I told the Jay Paul organization that the integrity of my designs had to be followed. I must participate in any modification or deviation from the original design. So far, it has been an excellent relationship.

CL: How would you compare or contrast 181 Fremont Street to 15 Central Park West, as both are pulling the center of established luxury to other parts of town.

ODA: 181 Fremont is about luxury of materials, the quality and quantity of space, while 15 CPW is acquired status by the social/business connections of the developer and the business profile of the tenants. 

CL: What are your current favorite luxury materials that you are incorporating into your designs?

ODA: I never have current materials or colors, etc. in mind. That is fashion. There is nothing like natural materials. They are timeless.

CL: If you could design a high rise project similar to 181 Fremont in any international city, what city would you choose?

ODA: Mexico City and Hong Kong.

CL: How would you define a privileged life?

ODA: One that is well-lived. Privilege is not about money, it is what you give and what is given to you.

CL: Favorite restaurant?

ODA: In San Francisco, A-16. I love Shelley and Greg.

CL: What are you currently reading?

ODA: The biography of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, “RBG”. “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty. “The Course of Love”’ by Alain de Botton.

CL: What do you like to do during your free time?

ODA: Designing for design’s sake. Whatever comes to mind! Attending the opera and ballet. Being in our house in the country in Lucas Valley.

CL: In closing, Is there a private part of your life that you would like to share.

ODA: The pleasures and tribulations of being an immigrant. All you have to learn, to adapt on your own, without help.

odada  - post street offices

odada - post street offices