Cole Valley is considered the smallest neighborhood in San Francisco. It’s nestled between the historic Haight-Ashbury district and the lush Sutro Forest and was quite popular with dot-commers in the ‘90s. In this chic Edwardian single-family home, the team at Alter Interiors was designing for a successful couple who expressed they wanted the theme of their home to be “now and future.” To achieve this, they played up all of the elements of the locale: the 1960s, cosmic space, technology…not to mention an overall calming Northern California feel. It sounds a bit like a contradiction…but as you tap through the photos, you’ll see it totally works. Over email, Alter’s founders Jenny Magdol and Steffie Oehm tell us how they brought the vision to life.
Your clients had strong opinions from the start—always a good thing when crafting a design plan! What were their hopes for the aesthetic of the space?
The couple was drawn to the minimalism and simplicity of Japanese and Scandinavian Design but felt that wasn’t a true reflection of who they were — or that it matched the location. We decided to take the minimalist, serene, and modern aspects as a foundation for the design and then layer in more specific elements to reflect the client and locality.
The concept of time/eras played an interesting role in this project. What can you tell us about the concept and how you translated it?
One of the first things we do when we onboard a new client at the beginning of every project is send them a custom design questionnaire. One of these questions is what their preferred historical era to live in would be. In this case, the 1960s, the now, and the future all came up. We developed the concept of “2060” —a new space age, if you will, crafted with beautiful natural materials. We took a lot of cosmic inspiration for forms and textures. At the same time, we wanted the space to convey a strong sense of place, so we incorporated lots of local art and furniture.
What was your scope of work? Could you “walk us” through each room and share a few of your favorite details?
We curated the furniture, feature lighting, wallcoverings, art, and styling. The pieces are either custom, created by small makers and/or vintage.
In the entryway, we paired a bench that serves as a functional sculpture of reclaimed redwood by Claude Bouchard with a painting by California artist Virginia Conroy from 1965 called ‘Sunspots and Eye of the Storm’. We love how the hollowed bench’s painted green interior speaks to the painting’s green background.
The downstairs area is open, so you have visual adjacencies between the entry, front parlor, dining room, and family room. We wanted to make clear distinctions between the spaces but simultaneously unify them as almost one room. The parlor is the warmest area, with these sort of martian-oxidized reds and a deep blue velvet sofa that reminds us of the night sky. The art we selected features an aerial view of a lake where the artist grew up, and the black clay is actually from the earth surrounding the lake. It will fall off over time and reveal a painting underneath, so you kind of feel the earth change over time. This space sets you into the night sky, looking down on earth, and the dining room feels like you’re in a northern California forest at dusk, gazing at the rising moon — contrasting the front parlor with much cooler tones. The family room is the sunniest, with greens and yellows, a connection to the outdoors.
You can pass through the space as the day progresses, hang out in the family room during the day, host dinner, and then settle in the parlor with a nightcap and a record.
How long did the project take, and what did the client say when they saw the finished space?
This project took about one year and a half. The clients were really into making thoughtful decisions and wanted to take their time. From our clients:
My husband and I feel so lucky to have found and worked with Jenny and Steffie…We were drawn to their collaborative nature, their ability to listen to what we needed and liked, and their interest in sourcing unique pieces. We moved into a newly renovated home with no furniture, having left it all at our last house, and it felt uninspiring, to say the least. Steffie and Jenny immediately saw the potential, took the time to understand both of us individually, and well as our needs as a family, and made the process of filling our home so enjoyable. It is now a reflection of our best selves, and feels both warm and interesting. The pieces are not just beautiful but have stories – for example, we have a vintage bench hollowed out from a Sequoia tree and a custom console made by a local work worker (that moonlights as the world’s most stylish toy cabinet). Jenny and Steffie don’t just share back ways to fill a room, they expand your understanding of design and deepen your appreciation for the products around you. I highly recommend folks work with them if they are looking to break out of cookie-cutter design and fill their home with meaning!