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Designer Steve Henry – On the 2014 San Francisco Decorator Showcase, 4/26–5/26

The Music Room @ 3660 Jackson Street
The Music Room @ 3660 Jackson Street
Courtesy of BAMO, Inc

The square-footage of the magnificent residence chosen for the 2014 Decorator’s Showcase is about 9,000 square feet. Located in Presidio Heights at 3660 Jackson Street (between Maple and Spruce), the house was designed by Bliss & Faville, the same firm that created a number of the City’s most familiar structures, including the Geary Theatre and St. Francis Hotel. The house is cloaked in precisely maintained climbing ficus and is indeed both dramatic and peaceful. When I learned that BAMO, Inc. would transform its music room, I arranged to talk to designer Steve Henry, a Principal of the company. His work on the 2012 Showcase – the living room at 2020 Jackson Street – was startlingly beautiful. As a singer and vocal coach, I wanted to get Steve’s definition of ‘music room’. Was it a room for the latest in playback equipment and a repository for every variety of favorite recording? Perhaps a room that could work for an intimate recital? Or a practice room where the owner/musician can hear what he’s doing? How does the selection process work when assigning a designer for each room?

“We did the living room in 2012,” said Steve during our recent interview. “Different designers get invited by the design committee to come and tour the house. Then they pick a couple of rooms that they want to do a pitch for. You submit your floor plan, a perspective sketch, fabric and materials, pictures of what you are going to use. Then the committee gets together over a weekend – this person gets this room, another gets that room. That’s how it happens. The music room is about 14-feet by 19-feet. It’s right off the foyer on the ground floor, a really prominent location. Everybody that enters the Showcase will walk past the windows, look in and see the music room as they come up to the house.”

Many of the Classical musicians and singers I interview and who are appearing with the San Francisco Symphony or Opera are invited to stay in such homes as 3660 Jackson. Usually these residences will have a dedicated room with a piano which is made available to the artists throughout their stay. Could this room accommodate a piano and be closed-off from the rest of the house? Maybe. But for this year’s Decorators Showcase and how to best display the creative spirit at BAMO, the prospective buyer was imagined as someone with a passion for a less obtrusive instrument – the cello.

“It’s a small room – too small for a piano. The owner we envisioned, the client we came up with, is a cellist. So, there’s a cello in a practice area and a place to listen to music. It’s not a technical room. That’s ‘the story’ of the music room. Each wall has something. There is a window on two of the walls, big double-doors on the other, French doors into the dining room, and a fireplace. It’s all broken up. We have a seating group centered around the fireplace. The room has really pretty faux bois French paneling that is painted to look like wood. There’s sheet music scattered around, record albums, stuff that would belong to someone with an interest in music. It’s kind-of an Old School room for practicing. Since we’re designers that do residential work, we tried to design a room that appeals to a broad number of people. The idea of the music room plays into the flow of the public rooms on the first floor of the house. It’s a room to hang-out in, a room for him to practice his cello, and listen to his music. One of my business partners, Michael Booth, designed the room with me. We started with furnishings we had, that we knew might be great for the room. We liked the room because it had this beautiful paneling and a prominent location on the ground floor of the house. It’s a great background to work in. It’s more of a furnishing project as opposed to starting from scratch and time didn’t really allow for that with the Showcase this year.”

I described my own practice and teaching room to Steve – a 12 x 14, high-ceilinged, lathe and plaster room with a parquet floor and only one thing on one wall: a large mirror. Sheet music everywhere, of course, CDs, LPs, cassette tapes, 45s and 78s – including every incarnation of Nelson Eddy’s recording of “Rose-Marie”. In the key of C, it’s my personal test-song for judging the acoustics of other music rooms.

“Well, maybe you should break out into song! The house called this ‘The Music Room’. Maybe it does have great acoustics.”

This year, the designers had around nine weeks to pull everything together. No walls would be added or knocked out. I asked Steve if BAMO keeps a stock of furnishings on hand for occasions such as these.

“No, but we have a few things – such as a French settee, a side chair – that lend a kind-of historical note to the room, because the paneling is very historical. We have a couple of really contemporary chairs mixed into the room to add a youthful vibe. So, it’s a mixture of things. That’s what we’re known for. There are accent lights shining on art work that we’ve brought in. We did a contemporary type chandelier that’s very modernistic. We got this from Jonathan Browning. He’s a friend of the office. When you start these jobs, it’s like – ‘Jonathan! He has a chandelier!’ That’s how you do it. You think about your friends, people that you’ve worked with for other jobs – who might have something for us to use in the room. When the designers do these rooms, we fund every bit of it. It’s a big marketing exercise. But it’s for a really great cause and it increases exposure to our office. We do work all around the world. So, you just start imagining how you’ll pull this together. You come up with a hypothetical client. With this one, we thought it would be a really young guy, kind-of an entrepreneur. He might want to have a room where he has contemporary pieces, inherited pieces. I thought about a piano in the beginning, but there’s absolutely no room. If we’d had a piano, then we’d have just a couple of chairs. What we really need to show is how we can pull a room together. So, that’s one reason we decided he’d be someone who’s interested in the cello, maybe hang-out there late at night with a friend, whatever – listen to music. And practice.”

I asked Steve if there was anything about the room he didn’t like. Something that really needed to be altered in order to make everything else work. Turns out, it was the floor. If asked, how might he explain its interference with his overall design scheme?

He might say, “It didn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the aesthetic of the room.”

“That’s some of the designer/technical stuff you look at when you assess a room and what you will need to do. We wanted something that was dramatic on the floor. Now, that would be a good way to put it. We used a room-size sisal carpet. Sisal brings a casual note to a room. We also have a big-shaped fluffy white mohair rug from India. This is a room for you to hang-out. You could have your morning coffee or tea in there. After coming home, you could have a drink there. It’s a small room. The furniture is small scale – a really Classic French paneled room with two big palladium windows and an elegant fireplace. It’s chic.”

So, at Wednesday’s press preview, before investigating Steve’s design, I toured each of the home’s three storeys and gasped at the jaw-dropping landscaping and view of the Bay. Having recently visited the newly re-furbished Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor, I was surprised by a number of key architectural similarities in Steve’s music room. And then burst into “Rose-Marie”.

The acoustics? Exactly what I hoped for. Sold.

Click here for more information on the 2014 Decorator Showcase and how it benefits San Francisco University High School's financial aid program for deserving students throughout the Bay Area.

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