It’s not often you hear of a remodel in a rental, but for a San Francisco family of four, it was the right decision. “They live on the top floor of a 100 year old apartment building in the charming neighborhood of Presidio Heights,” interior designer Rachel Madden says. “They have rented this apartment for a long time and love the building and neighborhood. They did not want to move, but wanted to remodel the dated, worn interiors and make it more their own.” 

Rachel was hired to help them update the dark and dated kitchen, build a custom media cabinet in the living room, and totally revamp the furnishings. “Paint was our best friend on this project,” the designer laughs. “We used it everywhere, walls, trims, ceiling, cabinets. Paint is an affordable tool that can hugely transform a space and make it feel new again.” 

In the kitchen, they replaced flooring, counters, backsplash and appliances but left the original cabinets to save on cost. Rachel explains, “Overall we kept the finishes simple and affordable, but dressed the space up with an eye catching window treatment and light fixture – things you can take with you if you move down the line.”

Given that this was a rental apartment, changing out the dated wood flooring and worn windows was not an option. “Making these elements work was my greatest challenge on the project,” Rachel recalls. “The wood flooring had strong orange undertones that felt dated. To balance out all that warmth in the floor I chose a cool-toned color palette for the furnishings, decor and walls, and made sure to tie the floor color back in with splashes of that same tone throughout the spaces. I used brass mirrors and lighting in the dining room, and orangey/brown velvet pillows, camel leather ottomans, and more brass and bronze accents in the living room.” These savvy tricks made the floor seem intentional and cohesive in the space. 

As for the windows, which had seen better days, custom window treatments made a big impact. “Sheers are a great option because they can lay over and cover a portion of the window, and still let light in. We also chose outside mounted roman shades for the same reason,” Rachel explains. 

Once the big cosmetic updates had been made, Rachel focused on finishing touches. The clients had recently traveled to Japan, and were inspired by the style they saw there. “It was something that came up a lot in our initial design meetings,” the designer recalls. “When we really dug in, I discovered they weren’t interested in those literal Japanese elements we might first think about, such as shoji screens, bamboo and low to the ground furniture. But what they really fell in love with were the clean lines, minimalist/uncluttered spaces, and orderly feel of the interiors. Once I understood that, the design started to take shape, and the overall design became inspired by those fundamental Japanese principles – order, simplicity, balance and harmony.” The end result is a wonderful iteration of modern elegance. 

In the slideshow, Rachel gives us a tour — including a few surprising before pics! — and shares design details from each room.