Enter the San Francisco Steven Volpe Sanctuary


First, in the spirit of total transparency, I must reveal that I have been working on the lovely new monograph by Steven Volpe, Steven Volpe: Rooms (Rizzoli), in which designer AD100’s own San Francisco home is highlighted. Of all the luxurious estates and urban areas featured in the volume, Volpe’s house is my favorite project: a three-dimensional kaleidoscopic self-portrait, expressing all aspects of the designer’s passions and priorities. Everything you need to know about Volpe, as a designer and as a man, is written in the furniture, books, artwork, and the myriad of architectural details that he so masterfully orchestrated.

The Maison des Beaux Arts was built in 1912, after the great earthquake, as a single-family residence. Although the records are sketchy, pioneering architect Julia Morgan, best known for her design of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, is said to have worked on the facade. At one point in the 1960s, the house was divided into a maze of apartments. Howard Hein and Randolph Arczynski, founders of the venerable Randolph & Hein showroom, bought the place in 1984 and turned it into two generous apartments. Legendary San Francisco decorator Anthony Hail, one of Volpe’s mentors, occupied the lower apartment until his death in 2013. Volpe was ultimately given the chance to acquire the entire house. The upper floors now serve as its residence, while the garden level houses a home office, a gym, guest quarters and a gallery.

The house is connected by a stairwell to the walls covered with several layers of lime paint that simulate the effect of limestone blocks. The piano nobile is accessed through a spacious gallery, measuring approximately 25 feet long by 15 feet wide, with an 18th-century oak floor laid in a Hungarian dot pattern. One end of the hall is anchored by an important 18th century Georges jacob chair, juxtaposed with an avant-garde from the 50s Luciano Grassi swirling filament chair at the opposite end. The gallery also includes a copper cube sculpture by Carl Andre, chairs by Gilbert Poillerat, a Richard misrach photograph, and a pair of 17th century copies of bronze mounts of a classic Roman bowl. “The collection of things in this space demonstrates the elasticity of my interests, from ancient to contemporary. It’s a testament to my love of large objects, ”Volpe said of the heady beer.

The living room, like the entrance gallery, includes a group of works of art, furniture and objects that each have an intimate connection to Volpe’s life as a designer and collector. There is signature furniture by Joaquim tenreiro, Joseph-André Motte, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Wendell Castle, Ettore Sottsass, Martin szekely, and Hun-Chung Lee, as well as works by Sterling Ruby, Mel Bochner, Diego giacometti, Ruth Asawa, Donald Judd, Jef verheyen, and others. One of the designer’s most treasured possessions is a 19th-century ceramic snake gifted to Tony Hail by the great Billy Baldwin, which Hail later gifted to Volpe.

Almost every object in the house has a similar personal and idiosyncratic history. There is a pair of mummified Egyptian ibises from the Ptolemaic era that once featured prominently on Hail’s mantle; a draped metal console by John Dickinson topped with a photograph of Hiroshi Sugimoto in the office; a Pierre Hujar image of David Wojnarowicz, and so on. “Working on this house has been a process of endless refinement, adding and subtracting items based on what looks right at any given time. The house is not a static thing. It continues to grow and evolve, ”Volpe said.

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The designer’s final touch-ups have focused on the garden level of the residence as well as on the master bedroom at the top. Driven by the pandemic lockdown, he has set up a training area on the lower level – what he calls his “COVID gym” – and set up the remaining rooms as a laboratory, office and training space. meeting. “It’s a much less structured environment than the upper floors. I wanted something that had more leeway around it, ”notes Volpe. In addition to polishing the furnishings in his bedroom, the designer undertook a six-month intestinal renovation of the master bathroom. “I’m fed up with using a lot of stone, so I wanted to play around with the tile,” says the designer, describing the blue and white handcrafted tiles that now form a graphic envelope for a custom vanity and a Water monopoly bathtub with an old-fashioned English feel. “It’s a simple, honest bathroom that feels both modern and old,” he adds.

Although the property encompasses a veritable walled garden of clipped boxwood and gurgling fountains, one could say that the whole house represents a hortus conclusus in its own right: an autonomous universe of beauty, rigor, imagination and art. This is the world of Steven Volpe, the backdrop to a life really well lived.

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