A Sight For Awe-Inspired Eyes

Exquisitely curated art and design make this S.F. penthouse a work of art in its own right



The three creative collaborators responsible for the model penthouse at San Francisco’s new central Fifteen Fifty building shared a single vision: designing a space which speaks to the city’s urban and Bay views, and youthful, adventurous energy.

Eschewing mass appeal and neutral tones, peripatetic collectable design gallery Gabriel & Guillaume, in partnership with branding and design agency frenchCALIFORNIA, furnished each room with bold, historically significant pieces from the 20th century, complimented by punchy wall coverings and monochromatic modern art curated by S.F.-based curator Jessica Silverman.


The penthouse kitchen at FIFTEEN FIFTY featuring a Sergio Rodrigues dining table and dining chairs by Martin Szekely. Photo by Douglas Friedman.


The dark blue open kitchen flows into a dining space defined by a wool rug from Beirut Rug Emporium’s Iwan Maktabi, where a Jacaranda wood and marble Sergio Rodrigues dining table is framed by striking late-1980s lacquered wood dining chairs by seminal French designer Martin Szekely, edited by the now defunct Galerie Néotù, one of the early pioneers of collectable design art.


Amikam Toren’s Pidgin Painting (Voosertsach), 2006, hangs above a white fabric sofa by Martin Szekely from the late-1980s in the penthouse living room. Photo by Douglas Friedman. 


The white sofa in the adjoining pale-pink-toned living space, fronted by tall windows overlooking the city skyline, is also by Szekely for Galerie Néotù, flanked by 1950s pieces by two Brazil-based artisans: an architectural, green-accented jacaranda bookshelf by Jorge Zalszupin and a custom wood sideboard by pioneering modernist furniture maker Joaquim Tenreiro for a Copacabana apartment.


The penthouse living room with armchairs by Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler; a wood bench from Italy by Ranya Sarakbi and Niko Koronis; and Italian lighting from the 1950s by the famed Angelo Lelli. Photo by Douglas Friedman.


“It’s really to show the type of renters and buyers that are in San Francisco and the Bay Area that it’s never too soon or too late to start collecting, and collecting fine art and furniture can be playful. We’re really using the different colors in the different rooms to evoke different emotions,” explains frenchCALIFORNIA founder Guillaume Coutheillas, a Paris-born marketing and branding expert based in San Francisco and New York.

It’s the first time Gabriel & Guillaume have exhibited in S.F., but not their first model home project. Previously, Gabriel & Guillaume and frenchCALIFORNIA decorated the 5,000-square-foot penthouse atop the landmarked Beaux-Arts Steinway building, which fronts the new so-called Steinway Tower at 111 West 57 in New York.


“It’s never too soon or too late to start collecting, and collecting fine art and furniture can be playful.”

Guillaume Coutheillas


FIFTEEN FIFTY’s private Park with landscape design by Marmol Radziner. Photo by Adam Potts.


Fifteen Fifty, which opened to tenants this summer, is a very different property but similarly premier. Realized by architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the central 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use development, located on a 2.5-acre site at 1550 Mission, incorporates a residents-only park and dog run, rooftop pool deck, fitness amenities and Penthouse Club, which encompasses a private dining area, demonstration kitchen, entertainment lounge and outdoor terrace. L.A.-based Marmol Radziner (Kazunori Westwood, Sony Studios Commissary) was responsible for interiors across common spaces and the tower’s 550 for-lease residences, where floor plans range from studios to four three-bedroom penthouses on the top floor.


FIFTEEN FIFTY’s rooftop featuring architecture by SOM. Photo by Adam Potts.


Jessica Silverman, an S.F.-resident who founded her eponymous gallery in 2008 and holds a seat on the San Francisco Arts Commission, curated the art displayed elsewhere in the building and was happy to collaborate on the model penthouse. “There’s a real kind of playfulness with regard to the way the design and the art are in dialogue, which I think is deeply appreciated by people coming through,” she says.


The rooftop pool and lounge. Photo by Adam Potts.


Since cofounding Gabriel & Guillaume in 2013, Nancy Gabriel and Guillaume Excoffier have produced several exhibitions featuring pieces they’ve sourced from all over the world, predominantly from the mid-modern period but also from the 1980s and 1990s before interest in designer furniture became more mainstream.


FIFTEEN FIFTY’s library lounge designed by Marmol Radziner featuring Heath Ceramics. Photo by Adam Potts.


The pieces they selected for the model penthouse are visually striking, but also functional and easy to live with and include several notable examples of mid-modern Brazilian design, which Excoffier says is still under-appreciated compared with its European counterparts. “What is interesting is that the lines can look like Scandinavian furniture lines, but woods were so incredible in Brazil back then that it makes the makes the furniture looks very different,” he explains, adding that the small 1950s desk by Brazilian photographer, painter and designer Geraldo De Barros in the apartment’s office is one of his favorites. “It’s a small piece, a very good example of the beauty of Brazilian design, the perfection of it.”


The penthouse office with a 1980s-style graphic wallpaper, Leon Rosen swivel armchairs, and a 1950s Brazilian Geraldo De Barros desk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

“Claudia Wieser is an artist who has for many years been in deep dialogue with design and architecture.”

Jessica Silverman


Above the desk, some of Jessica Silverman’s personal favorites: several colorful untitled geometric works by Claudia Wieser in gold leaf and colored pencil on handmade paper. Silverman says they might look deceptively straightforward, but Wieser’s crafting of each is incredibly detailed and thoughtful.

“She’s an artist who has for many years been in deep dialogue with design and architecture. [Wieser] is very interested in the kind of history of abstraction and the psychology around patterns,” says Silverman.

Elsewhere in the kooky, salon-style office nook, eclectic moments abound. Walls are covered in a vibrant green graphic paper evocative of the 1980s. An olive-green midcentury velvet sofa by Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler – primary designers for iconic Brazilian furniture company Forma – faces twin burnt orange velvet Leon Rosen pedestal base swivel armchairs and a quirky, discombobulating worked-acrylic mirror artwork punctuated by immobilized ball bearings by Bay Area artist Davina Semo, which finds its twin, Symbiosis (2019), in the dining space. “She calls them ‘bearing works.’ They allow the beholder to get their bearings, basically, by stabilizing and looking at themselves. It’s become a kind of pun because spatially they stretch the body, almost like a funhouse mirror,” says Silverman.

By contrast, the second bedroom, painted in a calming gray-blue hue, has a serene feel. Its low, simple bed is unimposing; the vintage black sofa, terrazzo Portego side table and Italian light fixtures – a brass Sergio Mazza Delta sconce and a set of metal Gino Sarfatti floor lamps – are elegantly balanced.


“When you walk into it, with wide angle views over most of San Francisco, that’s my favorite moment.”

Guillaume Coutheillas


But the cool-green-hued master bedroom is the real show stealer. Curved walls and windows – devised by architects SOM to minimize corners and maximize view corridors – interplay with monochromatic, industrial red powder-coated galvanized steel chain and hardware artwork Fire (2020), also by Semo, above the master bed. In an earthquake-prone city where citizens typically avoid hanging anything that could kill them in the middle of the night, this choice adds drama, but Silverman says the piece is comparatively safer than most art as each chain is individually hung from its own nail. “It’s like this almost humorous mimicking of curtains on the wall behind. We felt like it would bring some levity to the room… looking out into the industry of the city,” adds Silverman.


A 1950s wood sideboard, originally from Copacabana, Rio, by Joaquim Tenreiro, a pioneer of modernist Brazilian furniture making, sits below In The Studio I & II by Ian Wallace. Photo by Douglas Friedman.


The room’s mustard curtains, vintage light fixtures and contemporary hand-knotted blue and orange wool and silk rug by Marguerite le Maire and vignette with a credenza combine to create a space that feels both vintage and of the moment. For Coutheillas, it’s the apartment’s defining space. “When you walk into it, with wide angle views over most of San Francisco, that’s my favorite moment. It creates an emotion when you walk in that room, for sure.”

Coutheillas says he’s seen an uptick over the last five years in developers looking to create more noteworthy model homes, and it’s a smart marketing tool. These “exhibition” homes not only attract realtors and prospective renters/buyers, but interior designers, architects, art advisors and collectors who come to see the pieces, get a quick tour of the amenities on their journey up to the penthouse and then tell their clients.

“We’ve had top producing agents in the city come through because they are also are collectors themselves. Interior designers are always advising their clients on where to rent where to live,” he explains. “It’s a really good sort of overlap of demographics that we’re reaching by this exhibition.”

You can tour the apartment virtually here. In-person tours are also available by appointment through summer 2021. To schedule a tour, visit www.FifteenFiftySF.com. Furnishings and art on display in the penthouse are also available for purchase.


Feature image: The penthouse living room at FIFTEEN FIFTY. Photo by Douglas Friedman.


Jan. 13, 2021

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