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!




By Joseph Lucier    

“You’re the top! You’re the Colosseum, You’re the top you’re the Louvre Museum.” And so, began Cole Porter’s jaunty tune for his 1934 musical Anything Goes. Superlatives abound when the topic of penthouses arise, and why not?  These fabled residences whisper privacy, command inspiring views, and announce the undisputed claim of top dog.  But one wonders what all the fuss is about.  On a recent foray into San Francisco’s penthouse market, I found three maxims to be true.  These apartments carry the undeniable weight of exclusivity, desirability, and intrinsic value. Let’s have a look.

Along the rolling contours of Pacific Heights, Russian Hill and Nob Hill reside approximately fifteen proper pre-war buildings that predate Porter’s ditty.  Some were built as apartments, but the lion’s share was developed as cooperative apartment, doorman buildings modeled after the venerable facades of New York’s Fifth Avenue. Another dozen or so were added in the decades between 1960 and 1985.  Even a baker’s dozen, twice over, offers the owners of these grand perches a swelling sense of pride in a club which they claim membership.  The second and equally important factor to exclusivity is the tenure of ownership that often accompanies these rare birds.  In a recent effort for a well-heeled client to shake one of these apartments loose, I was told by the penthouse owner of Pacific Heights iconic 2500 Steiner Street, “Joe, we are going out feet first!” It’s a common quip and one particular reason it is so difficult to enter this desirable property category.

2000 Washington Street Duplex Penthouse

2000 Washington Street Duplex Penthouse

This storied lack of inventory makes an invite to one of these homes a cause for occasion and, once the visit is over, can kindle a sense of desire.  Yet it is the case no matter your wealth that one is often told they will have to wait their turn to get into the club.  Once the indignation of this reality settles, one of the seven deadly sins often creeps in and whispers, “I want to have this more than anything in the world.”  Any why not?  The exquisite porte-cochère of 2006 Washington Street or the hushed calm when approaching the serene cul-de-sac of 945 Green Street evoke the spirit of a time gone by wrapped in the tasteful architecture of Muessdorffer and Quandt’s elegant designs. But how much will I have to pay, the enchanted, would be owner wonders?

Mr. Porter would mix this potent elixir of exclusivity and desire, pour it into a frosted martini glass, and announce it as “value, simply value, old sport!” This concoction of often generational luxury regularly commands closing prices well above the marketplace. Such was the case when Templeton Crocker’s Russian Hill penthouse sold for an astounding $1,500 sq. ft. in 1999.  The recent purchase of one the city’s crown jewels, the penthouse at 2006 Washington Street, for over $6,000 sq. ft. makes this strong case a reality for the marketplace.  On the flip side, Craig Ramsey’s purchase of Tom Perkins’ Millennium Tower penthouse for $13,000,000 seemed like a deal given the fact that Mr. Perkins was in to the apartment for over $20,000,000.  One bright spot for our leaning Tower of Pisa.

Like the roaring 1920’s, when many of these iconic buildings were realized, the market is again awash in an ocean of money from a strong stock market and another tech fueled bubble.  As our beloved Baghdad by the Bay enters a new chapter, one with a skyline being dotted with pinnacles to new wealth, the rarified air of the penthouse market will continue to be a safe haven for capital and one that will always elicit a sense of mystery and desire.

2500 Steiner Street along Alta Plaza Park

2500 Steiner Street along Alta Plaza Park

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.



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

Stephen Sutro - Sutro Architects

A Native Approach


Year after year the ubiquitous orange and white signs of Sutro Architects dot San Francisco’s highly sought residences.  As a native son, Stephen Sutro embodies the elegance, longevity, and quiet pride that San Francisco is known for the world over.  Sutro’s constant stream of well-heeled clients enjoy his soft business touch, creative design solutions, and his all-important understanding of the dance between San Francisco building codes and the perfect home.  A look inside Sutro Architects downtown offices reveal a passionate man who looks after the heart of the city with his careful stewardship of our picturesque residential neighborhoods.

Stephen Sutro

Stephen Sutro

Joseph Lucier: Being a native San Franciscan, how does your connection to the City inspire the work you do in town every day?

Stephen Sutro: Its great to see some neighborhoods that are changing dramatically and others that change subtly with small improvements.

JL: Before starting your own firm, you worked with local classical architecture firm.  Do you still incorporate the principles of classical proportion and scale in your current designs?

SS: Of course. Understanding fundamentals of proportion is important, no matter what the style.

JL: You have just acquired a building downtown next door to Jay Jeffers atelier on Post Street.  What are your plans for the look and feel of Sutro Architects offices?

SS: We are transforming an auto body repair shop into a light-filled open architecture work space. We’re lucky to have lots of light and southern exposure. We are maintaining the beaux arts facade and use the large, previously auto-entrance as a large steel and glass pedestrian entrance. Its exciting!

Millennium Tower Penthouse

Millennium Tower Penthouse

"I’m currently interested in exterior materials with aesthetic and functional durability - natural materials that can be used with contemporary or traditional detailing."

JL: Many of the homes my residential real estate colleagues and I sell go through complete gut renovations.  With these types of blank canvases, how do you guide homeowners through the process of creating a new home?

SS: We help clients define their goals, understand the opportunity and challenges each property presents and create an action plan to bring it to fruition.

JL: Do you have a particular look or do you try to stay away from a formulaic approach?

SS: I think the context of the project and goals of the clients are the most important. A condo in a contemporary high rise or a new home in the city is a perfect context for a contemporary design. Working in the context of a early 20th century house with similar structures adjacent, would suggest an approach of keeping the details in tact while creating a more fresh plan and juxtaposing more contemporary materials and details.

JL: What is it about your profession that you love?

SS: The creativity!

JL: Are you working on any “ground up” projects?

SS: Quite a few… some in town and some in the country.

Cole Valley Cool

Cole Valley Cool

"Its always fun to learn about a particular function or interest in a project, or work with different climates and environments."

JL: What materials are you most enjoying integrating in your current interior/exterior designs?

SS: I’m currently interested in exterior materials with aesthetic and functional durability. For me, this means brick, stone, metal - natural materials that can be used with contemporary or traditional detailing.

JL: Do you have a dream project that you would like to have someday?

SS: Its always fun to learn about a particular function or interest in a project, or work with different climates and environments. We’ve completed a fly fishing guest ranch in Montana, which was awesome. We also have worked on some hospitality projects, which are super interesting and new. It would be fun to work on a horse ranch, beach house in Hawaii or mountain house or lodge.

JL: Favorite travel destinations (past and future)?

SS: Argentina has been a highlight — both for fishing and architecture. I’m looking forward to going to Japan.

JL: What are you reading?

SS: Mostly historical fiction.

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Miguel Villafranca & Brigitte Michelet - Villafranca Studio

Modern Day Stewardship of an Ancient Craft

By Joseph Lucier

Verre églomisé is a technique dating back to the pre-Roman era, but its name is derived from 18th century French decorator and art dealer Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711–1786), who is responsible for its revival. One of the key historical periods of the art form was in Italy during the 13th to 16th centuries when small panels of glass with designs formed by engraved gilding were applied to reliquaries and portable altars. In one of a number of related processes, the metal is fixed using a gelatin adhesive, which results in a mirror-like, reflective finish in which designs are then engraved.

Working out of a light filled studio in San Francisco's Bayview district, Brigitte Michelet and Miguel Villafranca design with passionate care and precision to keep this centuries old fine art technique alive. Collaborating with many of the Bay Area's top interior designers, their work graces the homes of knowledgeable clients that understand the importance of modern day artisanal patronage.  I was welcomed into Villafranca Studios recently by Brigitte's warm smile and a welcoming discussion of the technique led by Miguel. Theirs is a magical world where dreams come to life on the gold leaf adorned glass known as verre églomisé.



Joseph Lucier: Tell us about your studies in Paris that laid the foundation as professional fine artists.

Miguel Villafranca:  I studied architecture at The École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts. Besides the disciplines inherent to the profession of architect, there was a large emphasis on architectural drawing, composition, perspective, landscape and human figure. At the same time, I took private painting classes using mediums such as oil paint, acrylic paint, and watercolor. With the school of architecture, we traveled twice a year to Italy, Spain, the South of France, and the Loire country to sketch and paint cityscapes and landscapes. These memorable experiences strengthened my training. It was at that time and in this school that, Brigitte and I met.

Brigitte Michelet: I also studied architecture for 2 years at The École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts before attending The École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD) for 4 years. Also casually called “the Arts Décos,” ENSAD is a school of art and design in Paris and is one of the most prestigious French grandes écoles.  I graduated from ENSAD where I studied with great teachers in different fields such as illustration, typography, graphic design, colors, animated movies, and engraving gaining a broad education in all the visual arts.

JL: What did you get out of being surrounded by centuries of art and architecture while being a student in Paris?

MV: Through being surrounded by centuries of art and architecture from a young age I acquired something we can call a “cultural capital.” It’s something intangible that becomes part of yourself and guides your aesthetic taste throughout your life providing bases and parameters to evaluate and appreciate beauty.

BM: I was born in Paris and studied there. It’s a magical city that had an enormous influence on me. I have always loved it, ever since I was a child, (I learned how to roller-skate under the Eiffel Tower!!). My exposure to Paris trained my eyes in a very unique way for all that is visual.

JL: Do you think there is a stronger sensibility and appreciation towards craftsmanship in Europe as opposed to the United States?

MV: I think that sensibility and appreciation towards craftsmanship manifest themselves in different ways in these two parts of the world. In the United States surprise and subsequently admiration and curiosity is often the response to a high level of savoir-faire. In Europe there is greater familiarity due to long-standing exposure to art in its many forms.

BM: I will not say stronger but different. In Europe, a cultural heritage has been transmitted through generations. European countries have a lot of savoir-faire in so many areas and there is a strong sense of aesthetics. In France there is a culture of memory so to speak; there, for centuries people have kept track of all kinds of methods, techniques in very diverse fields (food, arts, artisanship, architecture, etc.). It’s quite amazing what kind of treatises you can find in specialized libraries! The influence of history is strongly felt in Europe. The USA is a vast country that integrated many diverse influences in a shorter time period; being a young country, there is tremendous enthusiasm and eagerness in welcoming new possibilities and discoveries.

"I was fascinated by the double nature of the gold which appears darker or brighter and luminous depending on the circulation of light and depending on your own movementrevealing the kinetic aspect of églomisé glass which makes it so alive"

JL: What is it about verre églomisé that captured your attention and inspired you to learn the craft?

MV: Brigitte and I discovered verre églomisé many years ago in Paris while visiting an antique dealer. In his store, we saw a mirror with a frame in églomisé glass that left a strong impression on us. I was fascinated by the double nature of the gold which appears darker or brighter and luminous depending on the circulation of light and depending on your own movement, revealing the kinetic aspect of églomisé glass which makes it so alive.

BM: Yes, definitively light was a factor in this love affair! There was also the challenge of working in reverse that was appealing. When you paint on canvas or wood panel or whatever substrate, you build up layers of paint towards you because you will look at the final painting from that same side, the reverse side is not visible and the canvas or wood panel will even disappear from the sight of the viewer under the layers of paints. In églomisé the process is different. We are not only working on the back of the glass but we are also working with a reversed layout. So here is the challenge, you have to control what is happening on the front because it will be the visible side and consequently there is not a lot of space for mistakes! The glass panel plays three important roles. It is the substrate on which precious metals and pigments are applied, it is an integral part of what is seen due to its unique property of reflecting the light, and it importantly acts as the protection to the artwork itself. 

JL: How difficult was the process of teaching yourself this art form?  

MV & BM: When we started to focus on this art form, we saw that we could incorporate our lifelong experience as illustrators and decorative artists in the fields of painting, drawing, engraving, gilding and illustration.  It was a matter of adapting ourselves to working on glass and learning the principles connected to it.  We used all the knowledge and experience we had accumulated until then to master what we have called Églomisé Architectural Glass.  Our approach is a major change of scale from what the original technique was historically intended to be.

JL: What are some of the technical aspects that you have mastered over the years?

MV: I worked for 3 years in the 80s for a prestigious set décor atelier in Paris doing enormous canvases for the Opera de Paris and the Opera de Monte Carlo among others where I became very familiar with painting on a very large scale. Brigitte and I then became illustrators for magazines and books, drawing and painting on a very small scale; I switched from one-foot wide brushes to triple zero brushes, the smallest brush you can find! These two complementary experiences were very valuable to launch myself into the Églomisé Architectural Glass technique.

BM: Conceptual thinking in design, drawing and engraving.

JL: Have you had to educate design professionals to incorporate your work into their interior designs?

BM: We had the incredible luck to be in contact with extremely educated and talented interior designers; they recognized instantly the high value of our work and what they could do with it; it is rewarding to see that what we do is inspiring for them. So the process in that case is very enjoyable and we are very grateful to be involved in remarkable projects. Sometimes we meet clients who don’t know much about verre églomisé, which is perfectly understandable as it is not a common form of artwork and craftsmanship. In that case, we can help them with ideas, suggestions, concepts, showing them a variety of possibilities. We love the collaborative process of our work.

MV: Most of the time, the numerous samples we have, along with photos of completed projects, and a visit to our studio are enough to educate the designers or private clients who don’t know the technique of Eglomisé Architectural Glass.

JL: Are there particular qualities or personality traits that you see in yourselves and artisans who design for the home? 

MV: A great attention to detail as well as to the whole finished piece within its context. The ability to control and master our work ourselves from the very beginning of a project to the very end, a process that is not so common nowadays. I would also add that most of the artisans we have met are very kind, very gentle people, passionate about their work.

BM: I would like to also add that communication and the ability to listen are very important qualities in this profession. In the art field, sometimes respecting a project parameters can be seen as an obstacle to creativity, but I think it’s the opposite, they stimulate and promote creativity.

JL: Do you have a favorite placement for your work OR is there a particular room in the home that best takes advantage of the technique?

BM: Powder Rooms, Master bathrooms, dressing rooms, bar areas and kitchens are quite in demand because verre églomisé creates depth, space, and perspective along with an ethereal atmosphere. In addition, églomisé glass surfaces, in spite of their high refinement, are very easy to maintain and clean. Dining rooms, living rooms, foyers, hallways can be greatly enhanced either by églomisé glass paneling, an accent wall or an églomisé glass art piece.

MV: Églomisé Architectural Glass enhances each place where it is installed playing the role of a jewel within the space. As we can control the level of reflectivity of the panels they can go in every room of the home. For example, in a dining room, we can completely reduce the reflectivity of the panels since people prefer not to look at themselves while eating. Nevertheless the églomisé glass will create a poetic atmosphere with depth, perspective and soft reflections.

"Églomisé Architectural Glass enhances each place where it is installed playing the role of a jewel within the space."



JL: What do you love about living in San Francisco?

MV: I love San Francisco! I think it would be difficult for me to live anywhere else in California because of the beauty of the Bay that one can enjoy from so many places in the city. I also love how close it is to the ocean, wine country, and the mountains.  I very much like the “Spirit of San Francisco” with its variety of people, and its multicultural aspect.

BM: San Francisco is a very vibrant and alive city full of charm. Because of its unique and exceptional location, surrounded by water, the quality of the light is very special, there is something ethereal about this city, it has an ever-changing mood. I even start to find charm in the fog! I like the diverse neighborhoods and the San Franciscans so far have taken great care of their city through time and it is very rewarding. It’s also very urban but at the same time the relation to nature is strong here, which is very healthy and contributes to the feeling of wellbeing.

JL: Favorite restaurants?

MV: Flour + Water for its creative dishes and its laid-back atmosphere - Saru Sushi Bar in Noe valley, a tiny little Japanese restaurant with exceptional tasty sushis in a warm, cozy atmosphere - Locanda in the Mission.

BM: Bar Tartine, my favorite Fusion restaurant, Una Pizza Napoletana, the most authentic pizza in San Francisco in a minimalist essential trattoria setting, and Farina.

JL: What are you reading?

MV: I am reading three books these days: The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi, Llamadas Telefónicas  by Roberto Bolaño, and Rue Des Boutiques Obscures by Patrick Modiano who won the 2014 Literature Nobel Prize.

BM: Right now I am reading several books, three by Pr. Michel Pastoureau on colors, Bleu, Vert, and Noir. He is the first historian to specialize in the history of colors in depth, it’s very enriching. I’m also reading l’Africain by JMG Le Clézio, a beautiful novel based on childhood memories in Africa in the 30s-40s .

JL: What do you like to do in your free time?

BM: I never lived in a city by the sea before, so hiking by the ocean is one of my favorites things to do, it’s really regenerating. Spending time with Miguel and friends in the city’s museums, parks and gardens, in particular walking the many stairways in SF, it’s a great way to discover many surprising sides of the city.

MV: Besides all the promenades we do together, I like to practice new techniques in painting like encaustics (beeswax and color pigments).





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Projects included in this piece are from work with ODADA, The Wiseman Group, Navarra Design, Jabarra Athas Associates, and Kathy Best Design.

Photo credits: John Casado and Matthew Millman.

Villa Feltrinelli - BAMO

Sophisticated Italian luxury along the shores of Lake Garda

There is that day that we all wait for: when the phone rings and we are asked to come along for a ride – a ride into a dream from another world, maybe even another time.  Such was the case when Pamela Babey and Steve Henry of San Francisco’s premier design firm, BAMO, received a call from Bob Burns, an old client, friend, and collaborator. After the 1992 sale of his storied hospitality group, Regent International Hotels, legendary hotelier Bob Burns purchased Villa Feltrinelli along the shores of Italy’s Lake Garda and set about turning it into his perfect summer house.  Uncompromising to the last and with vast budgets blown, Burns ultimately brought in BAMO to fashion his retreat into one Europe’s most dreamy hotels.  
The Villa, built in 1788 for the Feltrinelli clan, had a storied past including an occupation by Italian dictator Mussolini, from 1943 to 1945, where he ran the Fascist puppet republic of Salo. Although the view of the water from his bedroom, now known as the Magnolia suite, didn’t appeal to him. Mussolini hated lakes.  Opening in 2001, Villa Feltrinelli offered guests a fantasy of towers and frescoes bathed in wonderfully lavish interiors and cradled by sumptuous lawns and pools of marble.  Having just completed a light-handed update of the Villa’s interiors in 2014, Pamela Babey and Steve Henry talk to CaenLucier about their personal stewardship of this legendary continental property.
Pamela Babey and Steve Henry

Pamela Babey and Steve Henry

CaenLucier: BAMO has a made name for itself in the hospitality space.  How did the firm get established working with hotel owners and operators?

Pamela Babey: With hotelier Bob Burns, it was with the Pfister office and a prior existing relationship with his earlier Regent Hotels. This led to the design of the Four Seasons Milan and the Villa Feltrinelli.  We first worked with Mandarin Hotels--probably because we were next door--and had experience in doing several hotels from previous offices and they were renovating.  It was a simpler process in the 1990’s.

CL: Villa Feltrinelli is such a magical location and a storied, family residence.  What was it that Bob Burns initially saw in the property and how did you work with his vision to create what welcomes guests today?

PB: Bob was fascinated by The Point in The Adirondacks.  The idea that one could stay in a lodge and feel “at home.”  The concept that you would not feel that you needed to lock your door, that everything was taken care of and personal.   Bob thought Italy could do this even better with more romance and style and the best food!  We began the discussions and the stories, worked with him for approval on the basics, and from there we just built a dream.

CL: You mentioned that exceptional hotels come from exceptional property owners.  How have you seen Burns’ style mature over the years as an hotelier?

PB: For me Bob did not mature… he was perfect, he had done this for years top to bottom.  Steve and I matured.  We learned to care about every little knob, and hook and painting: every cushion, every chair’s comfort and purpose.  It was an amazing experience.  Then to top it off, we worked hand in hand with the training of staff until the opening celebrations.  It was a complete sort of project rarely seen today.

"The setting of the house on the lake, the constant sounds of the waves, the breezes, and the majestic old trees in the gardens.  The Villa interiors are amazing, but when you add in the atmosphere of the surroundings, it becomes a full sensory experience."

CL: Do you remember the feeling you had when you saw the villa for the first time?

PB: YES, It was a chilly February night. The project manager picked me up from the Milano train, and we drove over the hill at Salo on a very damp night.  Driving up the lake for about an hour was rather romantic, and arriving at the villa, coming down the steep drive to a deserted house, was mysterious. Walking in through the padlocked doorway, into the poorly lit foyer was almost disheartening!  Its feeling was sort of lost in time, with no sparkle.   The next day under the sun and glitter of lake, all possibilities were apparent and the future was thrilling. 

Steve Henry: Absolutely, it was late afternoon and all the rooms were shuttered. Lightbulbs dangled in the center of each room by a wire illuminating the most wonderful painted ceilings and woodwork—all covered in decades of dust and cobwebs. I opened a shutter in what would become the bathroom of Turchese and a bird fluttered and snuck out to the gardens through a busted window.

CL: How does it feel now when you revisit the property?

PB: It feels fabulous!  It is breathtaking and such a marvelous location.  No wonder some guests come back each a season.

SH: It feels like going home. When Pamela and I returned in 2014, it was the first time I’d been back since the opening in 2001. Everything was absolutely the same as we’d left it. It was impeccable. We sat on the terrace and had a glass of prosecco as a guest departed in a helicopter right beside us.

CL: What parts of the property are most inspiring to you?

PB: The walk along the lakefront.  Sitting on the “front porch.” Closing the door behind you in the cool dark Veneziana room, I love it.

SH: The setting of the house on the lake, the constant sound of the waves, the breezes, and the majestic old trees in the garden. The Villa interiors are amazing but when you add in the atmosphere of the surroundings, it become a full sensory experience. 

CL: Did you try to give the interiors a specific Italian look and feel or, simply, old money elegance?

PB: Definitely understated.  No cliché glamour.   But guidelines of fresh, Italian. Italian-made, and with objects from the family visits around the world.

SH: When we first designed the Villa, I would bring things to show Pamela and she would always say to me, “That doesn’t look Italian. We have to make it an Italian country house”, so I learned!! As the project neared completion, everyone’s curiosity was so heightened. Mr. Malzonni, the head restoration expert was always puzzled, trying to understand what our final rooms would look like. He was expecting a very serious Italian museum-like approach and he was so pleased that we respected the integrity of the rooms but brought a very livable, relaxed atmosphere of a private home - one that was lived in and nurtured through the generations.

CL: When you completed the project, what rooms or attributes of your work please you the most?

SH: I was happy that we were able to achieve a really layered atmosphere.  As you walk from room to room, you truly feel like you are a guest in a luxurious private house. In other words, there is a very strong point of view that is consistent throughout all of the Villa.

PB: There is a feeling that you could “live there,” it is not untouchable and precious. It may not be apparent in the photos, but when there it is very comfortable wither you curl up on the terrace sofa with the newspaper and coffee, or drew up for dinner in the evening.

CL: How do you define luxury?

PB: Luxury here is a sense of freedom, an environment of pleasure and satisfaction.  A visual calm and the presence of nature is definitely a key player here.

SH: To me, luxury is being taken away from my day-to-day world and given a wonderful experience that enriches my life. Luxury is an escape from the real world.

CL: How did you approach your recent updating of the villa?  Were there specific items on the list to tackle and were there improvements that were identified organically from a second look?

SH: For our “new look” we were very careful not to change the mood, but we definitely lightened the palette and a new “summery attitude” to the rooms. The Villa is open from the spring through the early fall, so it’s a summer place by the lake.

PB: Part of how we approached it was to include artisans and workshops from the local area to do paintings and slipcovers, so they have a personal, vested connection to the property. We wanted most of what was done to be Italian, all of the craftsmen and workrooms are from the surrounding villages and towns: the painter, the woodworker, the seamstress.

CL: What is your viewpoint on the importance of a hotel’s guest reception experience?

SH: At the Villa, it’s a very old fashioned greeting – the charming married couple Gabi and Peter meet you on the front terrace with a bouquet and glass of champagne as your car sweeps down the drive and the front entry is brought into focus. It’s a bit like arriving at Downton Abbey. They whisk you inside and out onto the lakefront terrace while your luggage is taken to your room and unpacked for you.

PB: When arriving you see little glints of the lake through the trees, stepping inside to the cool foyer and seeing the full lake view is both exciting and calming.  I think this sets the mood for the visit.

CL: How does a particular property inform design decisions?

SH: You always have to let the individual property lead the way. You have to do what the project wants, not necessarily what you want as a designer. For the Villa, each guestroom is different and unique. Since it was to feel like a grand country house, there are tons of antiques and objects that we bought in little towns throughout the region. These give that personal flavor that we sought.

CL: How do you approach a master bedroom and bath in a hotel as opposed to a private residence?

SH: For a hotel, you are striving to please a broad range of tastes. For a residence you are working directly with one of two people to give them exactly what they need. The design becomes much more personalized.

PB: On this property we have sort of two styles, the Villa has a white marble and tile environment that is “more of the estate.” While the buildings scattered on the gardens, the Casa di Fiori, the Rustica, and the Limonaia, have hand-painted tile bathrooms that are a bit more of the “Italian Countryside.” Both have every comfort and every element well placed and thought of. 

"You always let the individual property lead the way. You have to do what the property wants, not necessarily what you want as a designer."

Jerimiah Goodman's Rendering of the Salon

Jerimiah Goodman's Rendering of the Salon

CL: What other hotels in Italy or, for that matter, internationally do you dream about?

PB: Aman in Venice (I want to redo it) and I want to see the Ritz in Paris.

CL: Speak to our readers about the importance of lighting.

SH: It is super critical and when it is done right, you aren’t consciously aware of it at all. You just know that something has been done to make the room look just right. What Bob Burns taught is that when dining, nothing makes a person’s face look more seductive than when lit by the warm light of a well-placed lamp. So when we designed the dining room at the Villa, we dotted red silk lampshades around the room, and created new wall sconces that look as if they had been there forever— and they have red shades too. Then we did clever things like developing historically evocative up-lights that softly light the old painted ceiling. Our lady in France who developed them from our sketch called them “the black lettuces.” Everything goes into place and then we dim all of the lights so that each one plays its own individual role.  

CL: How has your experience given you an eye and a feel for layering details and finishes?

SH: The layering of a room gives it personality and richness. A new client came to us to do their house in New York because they loved staying at the Villa on their wedding trip. When I quizzed them as to what they liked about the Villa, the husband said, “Everywhere my eye looked, I saw an intriguing detail.”

CL: At this point in your career, what would a dream project look like?

SH: Honestly it was our recent refresh of the Villa, because our client told us to “just do what you feel is right.” It takes a lot of confidence for a client to give you that brief and then to let you run free. They didn’t hover and question what we did. Every detail of every room was reconsidered but with the overarching idea that a return guest would arrive and think , I don’t know what was done but somehow it feels even lovelier that I had remembered.



Stacey Caen and Joe Lucier thank Pamela Babey, Steve Henry, and Alyssa Terry for the creation of this feature!

Image credits
Renderings: Jeremiah Goodman
Photographers: Oberto Gili, Henry Thoreau, Ottovio Tomasini, Lucas Allen, BAMO



Star Designers Leave Their Imprint on New San Francisco Developments

Mansion Global - September 24, 2016
By Rebecca Bratburd

In San Francisco, the luxury condominium market has slowed down, yet still looks bright. Every year since 2012, the overall average sales price has increased year after year, according to Sotheby’s. However, in the second quarter of this year, the average sales price year-over-year for condominiums dropped 2.2%. The average sales price for a condominium in the second quarter of 2016 was $1.29 million compared with $1.36 million in the second quarter of 2015.

In that same time frame, Paragon Real Estate’s second quarter market report stated: “Very generally speaking, the market for more affordable homes is stronger than that for luxury homes; the market for houses stronger than that for condos; and the market for luxury condos cooling most distinctly.”

Still, properties like 181 Fremont—the city’s new super premium development —continue to emerge.

And it’s not unusual to see expensive materials worked into the interior design of these developments, as well as unique and value-adding amenities from private lounges, clubs, upscale libraries, and fully-equipped gymnasiums. Concierges, often available 24-hours a day, are typically standard and ready to assist residents in myriad ways.

Here are some new developments on the market this fall:


181 Fremont



181 Fremont is the most premium building that has come to the market in San Francisco, period. Serving as what will likely be designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy’s swan song, according to Joseph Lucier of Sotheby’s International Realty, residences start on the 54th floor of the mixed-use building.

Luxury condos occupy the top 17 floors of the 801-foot tower, which annexes to the forthcoming Transbay Transit Center. There, residents will not only find 11 different transit systems but also a 4.5-acre rooftop park. Views include the elevated park and the SoMa cityscape on the lower floors, and sweeping views of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and Treasure Island from the upper floors. Inside, rich and luxurious materials are ubiquitous, like marble from Italy, wood from New Guinea, and brass door handles from France. Sales opened to the market in May, and construction is set to complete in 2017.


Number of units: 55 units and an additional 12 suites, akin to hotel suites for purchase by residents
Price range: Studios start at $1 million-plus; two-bedrooms start at $3 million
Developer/architect: Jay Paul/Heller Manus Architects
Apartment sizes: Studios, junior one-bedrooms, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, and five penthouses—four half-floor units (up to 3,500 square feet) and one full floor unit (up to 7,000 square feet)
Amenities: Parking, bike storage, fitness center and yoga room, four lounge spaces, a library, conference room, bar and catering kitchen, and concierge
Website: 181 Fremont


The Harrison, 401 Harrison Street

The Harrison

The Harrison

Amenities stand front and center at the Harrison—from personal grocery shoppers to Uncle Harry’s, an exclusive residents’ club with live entertainment. The residential building stands at 49 stories and is perched upon Rincon Hill, giving it considerable elevation above the water and views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Detailed and layered Old World design are featured in the residences, common areas and amenities, thanks to interior designer Ken Fulk, who notably designed Facebook executive Sean Parker’s lavish wedding in Big Sur.

Sales for one-bedroom and two-bedrooms are underway now, and three-bedrooms are not yet available.

The Harrison

Number of units: 298
Price range: One bedrooms range from $800,000-$1.6 million; two bedrooms range from $1.2 million-$1.7 million; three bedrooms will be available, but the number of units and price range have not yet been released to the market
Developer/architect: The Mark Company/Maximus Real Estate Partners/Solomon Cordwell Buenz
Apartment sizes: One bedroom, two bedrooms, and three bedrooms. The top floors are uniquely spacious because of higher ceiling heights
Amenities: An on-site concierge team called The Harrison Attaché, attended lobby, valet, and a lounge on the 49th floor called Uncle Harry’s, a two-story library in the lobby, outdoor heated infinity pool, fitness center
Website: The Harrison


The Pacific, 2121 Webster Street

The Pacific at 2121 Webster Street

The Pacific at 2121 Webster Street

The Pacific is the first luxury doorman building to be constructed in the neighborhood in over 30 years. Individual units are bound to feel spacious with 11.5-foot ceiling heights, floor-to-ceiling windows, and views of Alta Plaza Park. Residents have the option of choosing between standard apartment dimensions, or for an even homier vibe, residents can spring for townhouses with three levels or three bedrooms from the row house collection with additional baths. Outside, plenty of restaurants and shops are a half block away on Fillmore Street.

Sales of townhouses began late last year, and units in the main building began selling earlier this year for move-ins later this year.

Number of units: 76
Price range: One bedrooms start at $1.495 million; two-bedrooms range from $2.295 million to $3.095 million; three-bedrooms range from $3.495 million to $4.195 million; penthouse and grand penthouse pricing is available upon request
Developer/Architect: Trumark Urban/Handel Architects; Renown designer Jay Jeffers designed three custom residences
Apartment sizes: One-bedroom, two-bedrooms, three-bedrooms, three-level townhouses, four penthouses and four two-level grand penthouses. The penthouse collection homes come as custom shells with no framing, drywall, fixtures, or flooring.
Amenities: Valet parking, concierge, guest suite, yoga garden and fitness studio, penthouse level observatory lounge for homeowners, guest suite
Website: The Pacific

Published in Mansion Global September 24, 2016

By Rebecca Bratburd

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…