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French Flair in a San Francisco Townhome

A monochromatic color scheme, variety of textures, and refined yet weathered furniture taught this contemporary townhome how to speak French

Written by Ken Wysocky
  • Edmund Barr

    Fostering French je ne sais quoi in a suburban townhome poses certain challenges, especially when the architectural bones—think sliding-glass doors and dark, masculine finishes—are decidedly un-Gallic. Undaunted, interior designer Michelle Niday relished the chance to transform this contemporary San Francisco Bay-area residence into a rustic yet refined sanctuary that glows with country French appeal—no passport required. “The home didn’t speak French to me, so
    I spoke French to it,” Niday says.

    The blueprint for the makeover followed a simple mandate from homeowner Georgia Taylor, a transplant from overcast, rainy Seattle: Let there be light—and while you’re at it, imbue rooms with charming rural French flourishes.

    The foyer’s wainscoting is enhanced with a smart-looking, two-tone paint scheme for the newel and stair rails. Niday introduced rich texture via a mohair-velvet settee and chippy paint finishes on a vintage Swedish clock and dresser.

    Photography: Edmund Barr  
    Styled by: Jody Kennedy  
    Produced by: Laura Hull

    Interior designer: Michelle Niday, Michelle Niday Interiors, 1855 Industrial St., Loft 412, Los Angeles, CA 90021; 323/819-4480;
    Builder: Corey Young, Snow Lion Construction, 1855 Industrial St., Loft 412, Los Angeles, CA 90021; 310/283-8109.

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    Gray Kitchen

    Bleaching the dark wood floors and repainting the home “greige”—a custom mix of gray and beige that’s Niday’s go-to color—jump-started the transformation. “Gray is my favorite color, and adding a little beige keeps it from going too blue or too green,” Niday says. “It’s the perfect color because it reads perfectly neutral.”

    To lend the kitchen a rustic vibe, Niday had the Carrara marble countertops and subway tile honed. Two antique wooden Italian lanterns crown the island.

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    Chic Living Room

    Niday further encouraged the informal, comfortable aesthetic Georgia wanted by hand-painting subtle greige stripes on the walls in the foyer and by changing two dark green fireplace surrounds—one in the living room and one in the master bedroom—to charcoal gray marble. “The neutral palette evokes more of a French-country feel,” Niday says.

    A wooden French cheese table, refinished to give it a cloudy, marbled look, serves as the centerpiece of the living room, where 17th-century stone end tables, a pair of Swedish vitrines, a weathered Swedish chair, new linen-upholstered sofas, and a crystal chandelier happily mingle.

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    Dining Room

    Organic fabrics—mainly linens, either plain or with faded patterns—pair with weathered pale gray furniture finishes to create a soothing monochromatic feel rich with textural interest. “I like to add drama through textures not patterns,” Niday says.

    As for those large glass doors, which run almost floor to ceiling in the living room and dining room, Niday strategically positioned draperies to hide the vertical trim between the doors. The result creates the illusion of large picture windows without hampering the doors’ functionality. For a quintessentially French touch, Niday adorned the header pleats with crude hand-stitching. “It has a slight movement to it,” she says. “It created a French feel—almost as if someone’s grandmother had made them.”

    The pairing of a delicate, rusted-metal table base from Paris with a block of heavily veined charcoal gray honed marble contributes a contemporary flair to Georgia Taylor’s sun-drenched dining room. Striped linen fabric updates classic French-style chairs. “Stripes are always in my tool belt,” Niday says. “They keep spaces from looking stale by contemporizing them.”

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    Pretty Powder Room

    Georgia, who first noticed Niday’s work in an issue of Country French, says she’s amazed today at the home’s conversion from a man cave to an airy retreat that’s both elegant and put-your-feet-up casual. “When we started out, the floors were dark oak and the walls were painted a mushroom color,” she says. “It was beautiful, but very masculine, with dark walls and furniture. 

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    Upstairs Hall

    A worn antique mirror and pale vertical wall stripes, which mimic those on the main level for cohesiveness, elegantly draw the eye upward in this upstairs hall.

    "Now the overall ambience is serene and soft," Taylor says. "There’s nothing frilly or busy about it. It’s very soothing, with a quiet drama. You walk in and say, ‘Wow.’”  

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    Pink Chest

    An antique salmon-color German chest offers an eye-pleasing contrast to monochromatic surroundings on the upstairs landing.

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    Airy Master Bedroom

    The master bedroom features an array of linen fabrics and a classic French Aubusson rug. 

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    Bedroom Corner

    An antique console and Swedish-style clock dress one corner of the master bedroom.

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    Petite Patio

    Modern outdoor furnishings deliver comfort to the deck. 

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    Chair with Patina

    “I would describe the mood in this house as the sound of silence. I like to let pieces speak for themselves,” Niday says.

    A replica of a 16th-century French fountain and a weathered bench create a snug backyard oasis.

  • Werner Segarra