Tour a 1920s San Francisco Home with a Bold, Barrel-Vaulted Ceiling

Jeff Schlarb’s clients instantly clicked with the designer. They loved his style—colorful, bold and glamorous—so they simply told him, “Make it awesome.” “The challenge,” he says, “was to figure out how an almost-empty nester couple would live in this space.”    

The space in question was a 2-floor, 3-bedroom condo in a 2-unit 1920s building in San Francisco’s Lake District. The building itself was in great condition, with gorgeous moldings throughout, stained glass elements, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling and lunette windows in the living room. So, the project required only minor remodeling on the bedroom level.   

schlarb chanedlier
The soaring entry and stairwell needed a dramatic fixture to fill the space. Schlarb chose the Augustus chandelier from Arteriors as a modern juxtaposition to the home’s existing millwork. Photos by Aubrie Pick.

Mainly, the home needed a heaping dose of personality—to match a venturesome couple. “My clients moved from New York to San Francisco to shake up their lives,” says Schlarb, whose firm includes a staff of 16, with offices in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. The couple moved across the country with one of their three children—a son, in high school—but an empty-nest life, with plenty of entertaining, was coming in the near future.     


schlarb living room
To draw the eye up to the living room’s dramatic barrel ceiling, Schlarb chose a handpainted wallcovering by Porter Teleo. Another handpainted wallpaper, this one by San Francisco’s Surfaces by David Bonk, surrounds the fireplace. Balancing the strong color on the ceiling are neutral tones for the walls, the rug and the sofa.

To highlight the living room’s architectural details—a barrel-vaulted ceiling, a fireplace and beautiful lunette windows—Schlarb brought in a mix of color and pattern. He started with neutral walls, then added drama with a hand-painted, dark-green-and-gold wallcovering on the ceiling. The color, inspired by the stained glass windows that flank the nearby dining room, reappears on comfy club chairs and sofa pillows.  

schlarb shelves
Schlarb transformed the two built-in niches on either side of the living room fireplace with texture and interest. First, he added Zephyr wallpaper from the French company Nobilis, then custom marble shelves with brass detailing.

For texture, Schlarb added richness with new marble shelves inset into the wall with the fireplace. (Those shelves, complete with brass accents, replace glass shelves that Schlarb says were “cheesy.”) Surrounding the fireplace mantel and lining the niche that holds the shelves are two wallpapers add a ton of visual interest and dimension.   


schlarb dining room
The homeowner’s wanted to keep the dining room’s statement wallpaper, so Schlarb balanced the strong black-and-white graphics with warmer elements: a wood-and-brass table by Organic Modernism, and a bronze Olympia mirror by Arteriors.

Visible from the living room is the dining room, which had an existing, graphic, black-and-white wallcovering that the owners wanted incorporated into the new decor scheme. Schlarb balanced the strong wallcovering with approachable, warm tones in the furnishings: dark wood for the dining table and chairs, a bronze mirror and a light fixture with brass details.   


schlarb sitting area
What could have languished as an unused landing at the top of the stairs became a sitting area with club chairs by Studio Van den Akker. Above the fireplace hangs a limited-edition archival pigment photograph, “Jardin Jaune,” by Maia Flore.

At the top of the stairs on the main floor was a transitional space that could have been almost anything, Schlarb notes.

“Instead of a round table with a floral arrangement, which seemed redundant because the dining room is right next to it, we made this a moment for two amazing chairs by Studio Van den Akker,” he says. “We blocked the artwork on the fireplace so it floats off from the wall.”

All the fireplaces in the house were redone by the Schlarb team—not only aesthetically with new surrounds, but also converted to gas.  


schlarb bedroom
In the primary bedroom, Schlarb chose a textured, pale-blue wallcovering by Phillip Jeffries to accent the room’s existing crown molding. Custom drapes in a fabric by Rubelli provide contrast and connect the space to the darker colors in the adjacent sitting room.

In the upstairs bedroom area, Schlarb made some light renovations that made a huge difference in how the couple live in the space. “There were two bedrooms in the back that both led to a sunroom,” he says. “We moved the door and made those rooms into a primary suite with a bedroom and closet that both go into the sunroom.”   


schlarb sunroom
In this sitting room off of the primary bedroom, the palette is set with a dreamy wallcovering by York on the ceiling. The furnishings include a sofa, coffee table and swivel chair from Four Hands. The custom drapes are made with a Holland & Sherry fabric.

The sunroom is now a more private place for the couple to read or watch TV, and it’s one of Schlarb’s favorite rooms. “It’s rich with wintery fabrics and a cozy feel,” he says. “And, of course, we put a cool wallpaper on the ceiling.”  


schlarb boudoir
Schlarb reconfigured the upstairs bedrooms, turning a smaller bedroom into this boudoir. A built-in window seat doubles as shoe storage, while the bench by Arteriors provides additional seating. The mirror is also by Arteriors.

The primary closet, which is generously sized because it was previously bedroom, became a boudoir space, including: a sunny window seat, with shoe storage tucked underneath; a generous vanity, complete with a fringed stool; and a long upholstered bench. The bedroom’s calming blue tones naturally flow in.   

The house, with its wow factor, certainly meets the family’s request that it be fabulous and not at all boring. Schlarb says, “We want to give the clients the most happiness they can possibly have every time they come home.”

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Laura Hine

Laura Hine is a design and style writer based in Brooklyn. She’s a former editor-in-chief of Better, as well as the Modern Luxury publications Interiors Chicago and NS.