A client who knows what she wants can be a decorator’s best friend—sometimes, quite literally. “By the end of the project we were finishing each other’s sentences,” says San Francisco–based designer Allison Caccoma of the woman who called on her to outfit a 1920s townhouse in Presidio Heights that had been painstakingly updated by architect Andrew Skurman. “She came to the table well prepared: Pinterest boards for each room, folders with magazine clippings, even a scrap of velvet ribbon that captured the shade of green she wanted for the dining room,” recalls the designer. A lifelong discerning collector, the client brought to the project entire households’ worth of antiques—from a 19th-century Baroque Portuguese table to a 17th-century Venetian mirror—a serious collection of Delftware, and even pristine, never-touched lace curtains from a French chateau that she uncovered in a stall at the Paris flea market, Clignancourt. “She asked if I would decorate this house with her,” says Caccoma. “She’s a very creative person and didn’t want someone just presenting her with schemes. She wanted a house that was hers, not a decorator’s.”
This wasn’t the homeowner’s first rodeo. Having previously “done” houses with professional help, she knew expertise was invaluable to the enterprise. Cue Caccoma, a Bunny Williams alumna, who helped fill the house’s sun-drenched rooms with a just-so swirl of furnishings, materials and details that toe traditional, but steer clear of stuffy. In the living room, a pinky-up, tufted velvet sofa with a swishy skirt of bullion fringe is yanked right down to earth by a chunky natural fiber rug; a slipper chair in a crisp ticking stripe helps tame the blowsy floral that’s tossed all over the master bedroom. It’s a classic English approach (with healthy doses of American practicality and Californian ease mixed in) by which an accumulation of antique brown furniture, gilt and painted pieces, evocative hues and patterns, and seemingly out-of-place additions like contemporary art and humble items like a chalky farm table all add up to graceful, relaxed living spaces that will never go out of style precisely because they’re so hard to pin down to any one ethos or era.
Take the kitchen, for instance. Shipshape and functional, it features an island of cerused oak meant to look like a piece of furniture with the expected storage on one side, and on the other, bookshelves lined with cookbooks opening directly onto the family room—a multifunctional catchall complete with plush seating and the aforementioned farm table spilling onto the garden terrace through French doors.“It’s a very modern way of living,” says Caccoma. “Everything is elegant and cozy. On nice days the doors are flung open and they eat outside.” The mix of elements plays the most sophisticated tug-of-war you can imagine: Louis XVI-style dining chairs with slick raspberry leather seat cushions; a sharp, parchment-covered cocktail table sidling up to antique Portuguese side chairs with needlepoint seat cushions; an earthy collection of 17th-century Swedish wedding bowls and simple, crisply tailored curtains made from outdoor fabric so they can withstand all that sun- shine. “Her inspiration was an orangerie,” says Caccoma, “sans glass ceiling” (or oranges for that matter, but trust, nobody misses them).
“She asked if I would decorate this house with her. She wanted a house that was hers, not a decorator’s.”
The primary bedroom channels the terrace rose garden it overlooks with the bloom-covered fabric that Caccoma played on heavy repeat—bed frame and headboard, curtains, a luxe raft of a chaise. But the pattern, slightly faded and printed on linen rather than the customary chintz, steers clear of saccharine. The curtains, blackout lined and packing seemingly endless yardage, are tamed with tailored pleats. (Caccoma could easily host a MasterClass on curtains.) There’s also Bonacina wicker, a coverlet made from fabric the client picked up in India, a Moroccan side table and a 19th-century French Country commode placed directly beneath a swirling Régence mirror replete with antique glass. The room is a love letter to curling up and getting comfy—in the chicest way imaginable. Really, that mindset sums up the entire house, with its blend of old and new, vivid and subdued, chipped and pristine, and a whole-hearted embrace of antiques that some might deem unfashionable. “That French Country commode is very country,” says Caccoma of a genre that was all the rage in the 1980s and ‘90s but has gone out of style. “But it’s patinated and carved and, used in the right place, it sings.” Clever, unpretentious, and transporting? Sounds like the very best kind of aria.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SUMMER 2022 ISSUE OF FREDERIC. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!