San Francisco Chronicle Hone and Farden
October 23, 2002
Antiques for today
A Sausalito Victorian is home to fresh color and contemporary furniture as well as antiques
Faced with elegantly proportioned and attractive Victorian, Edwardian or Arts and Crafts interiors, many homeowners feel a certain pressure to allow the original interior architecture to dictate the furnishings.

Under the incorrect impresion that Victorian or even '50s interiors demand decor of the exact date and style of the house, many home-owners research and plan "authentic" design, antiques and vintage pieces.

Out of a sense of duty to the house, they painstakingly piece together period rooms, selecting colors, fabrics, funiture and even art and lighting all consistent with the time when the house was crafted. It's a worthy effort, but the effect can be heavy and lifeless, even museum-like, as if time has stood still.

"Few families can live in true period rooms, and few people would try to create them today," said San Francisco interior designer Francesca Leaman. "Rooms full of antiques of the same era and same styles can feel like a theme hotel or overstuffed Bed-and-Breakfast. Modern life damands a lighter touch. You have to let fresh air in and take an eclectic appoach."

Leaman recently completed the interior redesign of "Three Gates," an 1879 Victorian house in Sausalito, for Michael and Doris De Santis and their three daughers. Leaman's plan was to use antiques and a growing collection of paintings, as well as family heirlooms, with newly designed furniture with an accent on ease and comfort.

"Theme design would have been boring for this house. But that doesn't mean we would go to the opposite extreme and shock the house with all hard-edge modern furniture," she said. "The key is to mix modern classics with understated lines and an unexpected selection of fabrics that work with the antiques.


When any of my clients have rooms with historical flavor, we add drama to the room with unexpected color, such as shocking pink, lime, cerulean blue or graphic black and white.

"I mix fabrics like silk taffeta, wool flannel, rich velvets and striped ticking. Then the antiques can shine. You appreciate antiques more this way." Leaman worked closely with the DeSantis family, along with the architects and contractors and teams of expert painters, to achieve an elegant but not stuffy house. "The client's objectives are always my objectives?and the DeSantises both wanted interiors that were practical and functional, as well as stylish," said Leaman.

"Three Gates" was built in 1879 in grand Victorian style by a Portuguese family on a sunny knoll overlooking Richardson Bay, Sausalito and Belvedere. The two-story cream painted house, which today looks suprisingly similar to the way it did more than 120 years ago, has three bedrooms upstairs, and a large living room, library/dining room, study and kitchen/family-dining room downstairs. The DeSantises' architects and contactors enlarged the front porch to create a comfortable place for the family to gather, overlooking the garden. A small balcony was added to the formal dining room, to bring the room more light. The study was given a tall, new bay window, crafted so expertly that is looks as if it had always been there. All additions and revisions follow to the letter original detailing, proportions, finishes and even materials.

A new landscape that opens the house to the bay view was designed by Topher Delaney of San Francisco. "We wanted the house to look the way it originally did, but enhanced," said Doris DeSatis. "We seldom used the living room, so we wanted more light there, and needed funiture that would serve many purposes." Once the renovation team had been assembled, and general contactor Charles Kuhn and his crews had updated the exterior and interior architecture of the house, Leaman set to work. "The plaster of the living room was cleaned and repaired, and we painted the whole room in creamy white," said Leaman. "I wanted to make a lighthearted room that the family would use all year, not just for holiday celebrations.