Designer Kendall Wilkinson dreams up a glossy San Francisco flat that’s classic with an edge
“I’ve always believed in plenty of optimism and white paint,” pronounced the great interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, who revolutionized decorating in California in the 1920s and urged her contemporaries to lighten up.
Mme. de Wolfe would have approved of Kendall Wilkinson. The Bay Area designer recently spent two years transforming a hard-edge Modernist penthouse in San Francisco into an airy retreat. She adorned handcrafted new wall paneling with gallons of white paint—in this case, Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, a cult favorite of decorators.
Now an assemblage of statement art, bold collections and custom-designed checkerboard marble flooring, the 2,500-square-foot space was a close collaboration with Jeff Woods of Black Mountain Construction/Development.
“My client, a business executive, had acquired the very dramatic flat in the tallest residential tower in San Francisco, high above the Financial District,” says Wilkinson. “His dream was a romantic retreat. His ideal was a private and rather old-world residence with classic grace.”
“I wanted it to feel like an old-school mansion,” adds the owner.
Wilkinson gave the apartment’s light-filled rooms and meticulous craftsmanship a jolt with graphic, modern furniture. Her approach was linear and crisp, with the shimmer of Baccarat crystal chandeliers and wall sconces as poetic counterpoints. The palette was simple: black, white, anthracite, espresso, charcoal.
“Jeff and I spent months researching the finer points of historical French interiors, looking for authentic inspiration, correct proportions and refinement,” says Wilkinson. “Jeff had a great understanding of the technical requirements and demands of the highly detailed paneling we planned.”
Specialists working in the South of Market workshops of Plant Construction crafted the intricate panels, complete with ceiling coves, crown molding, and French-inspired fleur-de-lys and acanthus leaf flourishes—all hand-carved.
“Plant’s craftsmen spent nine months installing each panel in the penthouse,” says Wilkinson.
The paneling serves another practical purpose: cleverly concealing made-to-measure storage compartments that open with either a simple twist or press of a button.
“All I did was articulate some basic guidelines we referred to as ‘no debates’—for example no visible electronic equipment right down to wall speakers, light switches, plugs and TVs,” says Wilkinson’s client. “Additionally, I wanted to be able to control all the systems from my iPhone.” Ceilings were finished by artist Willem Racké with shimmering silver leaf. The designer cut loose with the decor, seeking out punks-take-over-the-palace pieces like curvy metal chairs from Darin Geise at Coup d’Etat in San Francisco, and a Lucite dining table. These pieces more than hold their own against views of the Bay Lights art installation flickering far below.
The completed apartment is a tribute to a patient, creative client, and Wilkinson and Woods’ devotion to craft. Here, old-world luxury, firmly planted in the now.
Adds the owner, “I am so grateful I can enjoy what was once just a dream.”
Written by Diane Dorrans Saeks
Photographed by David Duncan Livingston