San Francisco’s Own Versailles Chateau ... Designers Transform Le Petit Trianon
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
I had a feeling that this year’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase would be spectacular. I had been following its progress on Instagram and had a particular interest in the house. It’s located in Presidio Heights, just around the corner from my old apartment. It has a historical reference as well as a name, “Le Petit Trianon”. Built in 1904 in the image of its namesake in Versailles, France, it’s now a San Francisco Landmark and listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
The original chateau was built between 1758 and 1768 during the reign of King Louis XV. It was to be a retreat for his favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Unfortunately for her, she died before it was completed. The King next presented it to his second favorite mistress, the Comtesse du Barry. His successor and grandson, King Louis XVI, then gave it to his bride, Marie Antoinette.
I toured the showcase with two girlfriends, Cindy and Dee. There were 42 designated areas to explore (as opposed to the usual 25 to 30). I was sure that my friends’ reactions and commentary would help me write today’s centerpiece. But this showcase was unlike any I can remember. It was 18,000 square feet of colors, images, textures, fabrics, marble, oak, and stained-glass mixed with furnishings, both new and antique, and all accessorized to the max. Designers and artisans had paid ultimate attention to details – many referred to the Rococo and Neoclassic styles in which the house was built.
How could I condense countless examples of talent, creativity and workmanship into just one written piece? Could Cindy and Dee streamline my thoughts? Not really. We liked different spaces for different reasons. There was Jonathan Rachman’s 15-foot, pink, silk sofa and gold-gilded ceiling beams, Brandon Pruett’s balcony garden and skylight conservatory, Gregg De Meza’s kitchen with luscious plum-color appliances (possibly inspired by the original wisteria stained-glass window over the sink).
There were clever appointments such as Applegate Tran’s oversized gown made of plaster befitting Madams du Barry and Pompadour and Queen Marie Antoinette. The spotlit white costume held center stage in the ballroom and was contrasted by black-painted walls in the background. Susan Lind Chastain and Willem Racke turned lemons into lemonade outside their “Rooftop Rendez-Vous Retreat”. The view from the French doors was of an unsightly chimney. So, they covered it by creating a faux fireplace using a decorative stone surround and embellished it with greenery.
Le Petit Trianon was the perfect site to incorporate the French technique of verre églomisé (reverse painting and gilding on glass). Kari McIntosh Dawdy commissioned Caroline Lizarraga to create a gold, vine-patterned panel to be used as a backsplash in her butler’s pantry. Jane Richardson Mack produced a miniature version of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors portraying mystery-laden Eastern and Western astrological images. And, Victoria Weiss featured flying egrets and swimming koi that guided visitors down a stairwell to the ballroom. All were exquisitely layered with sparkling gold and silver-gilded detail. (A link to my previous centerpiece about verre églomisé is at the end of this column.)
If pressed to describe this showcase in just one word, I’d say, “Wallcoverings.” They advanced and underscored the personality of the spaces in which they occurred. They were not just applied to walls but to ceilings, niches and bookcases as well. Whether paper, fabric or grass, their colors, patterns, textures, and images elevated the stories designers intended to tell.
You might think that after narrowing my focus to just wallcoverings that Cindy and Dee could help me zoom in on my notes for this column. You might think that there was just one or two that caught their eye. No. All of them were memorable and full of vitality.
Designer, Dina Bandman, chose a delicate and iridescent, lilac silk from de Gournay for her “Marie’s Magnolias” bedroom. She and de Gournay collaborated to ensure that the hand-painted white magnolias and organic branches framed her canopied bed and highlighted her antique mirror. This ethereal wallcovering blended harmoniously with the furnishings and other textiles in the space. The overall ambiance was dreamy, luxurious and magical.
Designer, Kathleen Navarra, used a combination of soft green hues and rich bronze tones throughout her master bedroom, bath and dressing room. Her color palette and design were enriched and unified by a hand-printed wallpaper by Aux Abris for Sloan Miyasato. The paper’s images reflected a reinterpretation of the Garden of Eden and exuded a peaceful, organic ambiance with a modern architectural touch. She chose a complementary wallpaper for the back of a bookshelf and a painted cork in the dressing room. This suite skillfully managed to be pretty and soft as well as dapper and a little edgy.
Cindy and Dee would not know until reading this now that I physically felt transported back in time when I entered the bathroom spa designed by Alexis Humiston. For a moment, I felt that I was in the midst of a fantastical garden. It’s one that could be imagined in a romantic, classical, and yet, otherworldly novel. The walls were wrapped in a hand-painted paper from de Gournay called “Paradise Lost”. The scenes portrayed a story of crumbling ruins, overgrown gardens, colorful birds, peacocks, cypress, and palms all evoking a forgotten mystical landscape.
This Decorator Showcase is a memorable one. It’s open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (last entry), Friday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (last entry), Sunday and Memorial Day 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed Mondays except for Memorial Day. It’s located at 3800 Washington Street between Cherry and Maple Streets. (If the address sounds familiar, it is the block where the Zodiac killer struck in 1969.) Tickets are $40 and $35 for seniors. More information at decoratorshowcase.org.
My column describing verre églomisé can be read: plcinteriors.com/post/verre-eglomise
Kathleen Navarra Design, Kurt Manley Photography
ABH Interiors, Suzanna Scott Photography
Dina Bandman Interiors, Christopher Stark Photography
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