For Shirley Robinson, owner and principal of Robinson Interiors Group, redesigning the layout of an historic 1927 Mediterranean home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood – to suit a couple with two college aged sons – was no small task. In fact, thanks to San Francisco's building restrictions, it was somewhat of an interiors puzzle.
"We’ve spent four of the last five years in construction," says Robinson. “When they bought the home, almost everything was original with very few updates at all.” The plan, according to the designer, was to give them as much space as possible despite restrictions placed on such historic properties. “What that means in San Francisco is you can’t really change the size of things like windows or build out toward the street – you can’t increase the scale of the house.”
Instead, the 25-year design veteran focused on changing the floor plan and general flow of the place. “We had to open up all the rooms to give the feeling of more space,” she explains. “It’s a decked-house–basically it’s one narrow floor on top of another–so I worked with our architect to blow the interior out as much as possible.”
After significant excavation and practically taking the interior structure down to the studs, the resulting home gave the family the additional room they required, including a generous basement-level space, complete with a game room and bar. “With the exception of the living room ceiling and fireplace, some wood floors, and the substantial carved doors leading into the dining room, every element of the space was designed, built – or rebuilt,” says Robinson.
The 14-foot windows that offer unobstructed views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge are framed with subtly glamorous white glazed cotton drapes. “It’s hundreds of yards of fabric,” recounts the designer. “Glazed cotton is my absolute favorite fabric. Growing up in London it was everywhere, though it’s not used a lot here.” Lucky for her clients, Robinson has her own line of fabrics – which includes an array of colored glazed cottons – as well as a line of handmade wallpapers (she’s represented by Tatiana Tafur in London).
As for the furniture, Robinson had everything designed with Yves Saint Laurent in mind. “Saint Laurent’s Parisian salon is one of my favorite spaces because it was designed to be used,” she explains. The sofas in this space are classic ‘party sofas’ – designed so you could sit on the backs – that flank the custom over-sized brass coffee table. The brass armchair upholstered with Mongolian lamb in the foreground is vintage 1970s Mastercraft.
The designer worked with a favorite Los Angeles-based maker to create a one-of-a-kind “contemporary deco” credenza in walnut and mahogany with brass details to house additional linens and serving pieces.
Robinson created a jewel box of a formal dining room, complete with deep sapphire blue lacquered walls and a complimentary-colored Venetian plaster ceiling in a high-gloss. “It’s the finest of Venetian plaster because it’s just marble dust and tint,” explains Robinson, who formed her decorative finishes company in the mid-90s and specializes in the technique. “And the walls have about 20 coats of shellac.”
The custom dining table benches are some of the clients' favorite parts of the home. And they're more family-friendly than they look: “The seating has two layers of fabric, one is upholstered and the other is a perfectly-fitted slipcover that can be taken off for dry cleaning,” says Robinson. They can also be tucked into the table to help maximize the limited space for a cocktail party or buffet. The custom light fixtures are from Venice.
“The kitchen is not extraordinarily large, so where the finishes were concerned, everything had to be over-the-top,” she explains. The onyx behind the stove is completely back-lit, the marble-clad walls and island are waterfalled, the vintage Italian chandelier is over-scaled, and all the cabinetry is custom.
For the powder room just outside the living and dining rooms, Robinson Venetian plastered the walls and had her team hand-paint a peacock feather motif on the ceiling. The lighting is vintage Murano, and the faucet fixtures were custom-made in Los Angeles to the designer’s specifications.
The sofa and chairs are from the set of the film American Hustle, and were originally red velvet. Robinson modestly reupholstered them in taupe mohair. The vintage coffee table is from Almond & Co., and the grass cloth wallpaper is Phillip Jeffries. Robinson designed bench seating similar to the formal dining room for an additional 1930s Burl dining table in this family space.
Robinson Venetian-plastered the groin vault ceiling and walls in a pale blue, and had the chandelier made in Italy. All the doors on the bedroom level were hand-carved from walnut and stained to match the original existing doors on the entertaining level.
The entire master bathroom is slab marble except for the mosaic "carpet." The vanity is custom with beautiful acrylic legs in order to expose more of the floor. “It’s not a huge space, so we added a groin ceiling, and as much mirror as possible.”
The colorful, large-scale mixed-media painting was also designed by Robinson and executed by her company’s artisans. “We needed something really large and there was just nothing we found that would fit the space.”
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