Colorful & Stylish Family Home
Written and produced by Sabine Rothman
Photography by Werner Straube
It’s bath time at the Morfit house. But 2-year-old Bea and Harry, 4, have escaped—for the moment. Half-clothed, they’re engaged in a game of follow-the-leader—going round and round on the tufted velvet sociable that anchors the entrance hall of the San Francisco Edwardian they share with their parents, Anna and Mason Morfit, and Teddy, their baby brother. Their high jinks take the stately piece of furniture down a notch. Because that’s how it goes in this family home. Within a classic framework, everything’s fun and games. At least until their parents swoop up the laughing children to face the music.
Bold color, cheerful patterns, and inventive details infuse this house with youthful vitality. “Everything was purposefully designed to suit our lifestyle, which is not always tidy,” Anna says. “The house is elegant but not precious.”
Within the tree-lined streets of their Presidio Heights neighborhood, it’s rare to find a home that hasn’t been renovated within an inch of its life. But Anna and Mason wanted something in disrepair—a project they could make their own.
“This house, built in 1900, was the dog of the neighborhood,” says Robert Stiles, the project architect. “Even though someone lived there, it looked totally abandoned.” Anna recalls trees growing in the kitchen and pigeons nesting in the roof.
Anna brought in interior designer Melissa Warner of the firm Massucco Warner Miller, a triumvirate with offices in San Francisco, L.A., and Seattle. Warner had helped Anna and Mason before, so she understood their vision—and shared it. “Everyone wanted the best for Anna and Mason,” she says, “and it shows.”
While keeping the footprint intact, the team reconfigured the interior, creating rooms with elegant proportions appropriate to the house’s scale and reinventing long-gone architectural details. They opened up the rear half of the main floor to create a casual space that includes a kitchen, breakfast nook, and cozy sitting area. Plus, they installed new windows and re-clad the exterior. Amazingly, it’s so much in keeping with the neighborhood that it looks as though they did nothing at all.
Anna was on site almost every day, answering questions. “We didn’t want to get held up for 12 weeks at a time waiting for a specific tile,” she explains. Her decisiveness helped move the project along quickly. And as an avid reader of design books and magazines, she always had a few visual references to help explain what she was after. “I’m a little spoiled,” Stiles says. “She’s very good at communicating what she wants.”
And what is that? “I started out wanting everything,” Anna laughs. “But we scaled back—eventually.” High ceilings on the main floor give way to lower ones upstairs. Correspondingly, crown moldings and baseboards get smaller and less elaborate, as would have been the case when the house was built.
Warner’s lighting, hardware, and fabric choices are not quite as fancy elsewhere as on the main floor. Cabinet- and curtain-makers with more basic skills—and lower fees—were assigned to less complicated tasks. This is not to say the Morfits didn’t splurge or that the project wasn’t ambitious, only that quality was maintained while keeping the budget in check. For instance, the couple decided to forgo the luxury of central air, an eco-sound decision many residents make in San Francisco, where summers are mild.
Painting the entry and hallways a continuous tone was also a way to contain costs. More important, the neutral core allowed the team to indulge in the saturated palettes that bring this house to life. Creating restrained transitions meant they could go for intense color in individual rooms.
“Anna has great style, and she’s not afraid to commit to bold color,” Warner says. “The overall aesthetic is traditional, but that doesn’t have to mean formal if you use a youthful palette.” The pair already had a vivid base in place for the living room. Anna still loved her fuchsia velvet armchairs and chocolate sofa. But she was ready for a more sophisticated backdrop than the bright yellow painted walls they used last time. Choosing a rich yellow-orange for the walls felt more grown-up—but still spirited—as did long caramel silk curtains.
They proceeded through the house methodically—room by room. The process, while efficient, contained a healthy dose of playfulness. Anna usually had one element her heart was set on. And her designer would build around it. “Melissa would drop packages in my mailbox with schemes for each room,” Anna says. “I really looked forward to getting those goodie bags.”
For the dining room, an emerald green wall covering from de Gournay held Anna in thrall. Its mouthwatering hues gave Warner license to make unpredictable choices, such as tangerine velvet on the vintage chairs.
Painting the moldings high-gloss gray—anything but neutral—grounds the room with refinement, repeated in gunmetal taffeta curtains and a leather-clad door studded with nails. The space glows with invitation and personality. “A formal dining room might be intimidating, but this one doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Warner explains. “The orange really helps.”
The saturated color up front is balanced in the back half of the house with a light and airy space devoted to practical matters. “I love things to look nice, but with the family, we need function,” Anna says. “Otherwise, you just can’t be comfortable.” While she does find velvet upholstery and Oriental rugs surprisingly durable, the kitchen and casual living area are heavy duty. The day the family moved in there was a big spill. (“Big!” recalls Anna.) Fortunately, the banquette’s faux-ostrich textured vinyl wiped clean like a dream. And above the banquette hangs a new piece by a young artist Warner found on the street. “Oil paintings are surprisingly resistant to sticky fingers,” she laughs. “Much better for a kitchen than works on paper!”
Bea and Harry’s bedrooms are equally inviting—and adorable. “They’re such little people, they don’t need that much space,” says Anna. Bea’s built-in bed and shelves are shipshape. The turquoise, white, and watermelon scheme suits her now, but can grow with her. Navy-and-white stripes plus pumpkin-colored headboards give Harry’s room its boyish punch.
The master suite is on the same floor, but feels like a world away. Here, the wallpaper’s golden floral pattern sparkles like a new romance. Warner decided to marry its warmth with coral and cream for a scheme that’s feminine but not girlish. And the designer complemented the wallpaper her client loved so much with two subtle tone-on-tone prints—an abstract wave-like pattern on the walls of the sitting area and a damask on the dressing room ceiling that echoes the fretwork on sliding pocket doors. That kind of attention to detail helps a project sing—and inspires client-designer rhapsodies of praise. “Melissa always adds an extra level of refinement and sophistication,” says Anna. In turn, Warner maintains she’s never had a client who loved to talk about trim so much. “Her interest allowed us to have fun with the details that give this house its special flair.”
To top off the project—literally—Anna and Mason placed solar panels on their roof. (They do live in San Francisco, where composting is mandated by law.) Although the initial investment was hefty, the city, state, and energy company all offered tax credits and refunds. Not only have their energy bills dropped dramatically, but the Morfits are contributing to their children’s future in a meaningful way. And isn’t that what a family home is supposed to do?
Architect: Rob Stiles and Charlie Barnett, Charlie Barnett Associates, 626 Hampshire St., San Francisco, CA 94110; 415/824-0478, charliebarnettassoc.com; Robert Stiles Architecture, 2934 Ford St., Studio 4A, Oakland, CA 94601; 510/536-3504, robstiles.com.
Interior designer: Melissa Warner, Massucco Warner Miller Interior Design and Decoration, Los Angeles/San Francisco/Seattle, 3253 Steiner St., San Francisco, CA 94123, 415/409-1997; in Los Angeles, 310/570-0084; in Seattle, 206/455-3078, MWMinteriordesign.com.
Wall paint (“Orangery” #70): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121, farrow-ball.com.
Ceiling and trim paint (“Monterey White’’): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667, benjaminmoore.com.
Sofa: owner’s collection.
Sofa fabric (“Gilles Linen Velvet’’/Brown #403007, by Travers): Zimmer + Rohde, 866/627-6899, zimmer-rohde.com.
Pink pillows on sofa (“Donuts’’/Pink): Galbraith & Paul, 215/508-0800, galbraithandpaul.com. Available through Room and Board, 800/301-9720, roomandboard.com.
Pillow trim (“Sargent Silk Taffeta’’/Goldenrod): Schumacher, 800/523-1200, fschumacher.com.
Red trim (“Effile Coupe’’/Rose #FM25/25): Scalamandré, 800/932-4361, scalamandre.com.
Round end tables; table lamp on round end table; end table to right of sofa: owner’s collection.
Table lamp on end table (“12 Stick Table Lamp’’): Mattaliano, mattaliano.com.
Art of tree: by Meghan Gerety, meghangerety.com.
Carpet (“Natura’’): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000, starkcarpet.com.