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Luxe, Calme et Volupté
Paper City • Mar 2005



"With its elegant Louis XVI gilt-framed trumeau mirrors, antique French marble mantelpieces, Versailles-style limestone floors and handsomely proportioned paneled rooms..."

- Excerpt

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et Volupte


ith its elegant Louis XVI gilt-framed trumeau mirrors, antique French marble mantelpieces, Versailles-style limestone floors and handsomely proportioned paneled rooms, San Francisco designer Steven Volpe's recently completed interiors are the epitome of classical refinement. Although tile chic decor adds a distinct French spirit, this is not La Belle France. The 5,500-square-foot residence stands on a quiet tree-lined street in Hillsborough, surrounded by Le Notre - style box parterres and citrus trees.

In the entry hall, an 18th-century gilded wood console with a marble top from the venerable Jean Wanecq antiques gallery in Paris greets guests. Throughout the house, hand-hewn waxed oak ceiling beams, 18th-century crystal chandeliers, gilded neoclassical console tables and graceful 18th-century marble fireplaces bespeak a certain French taste - imported from the Flight Bank, perhaps. Through tall windows framed with parchment-colored silk-taffeta curtains, one might expect to glimpse the Eiffel Tower or die baroque gilded sculptures on the Pont Alexandre. But although France is never far in spirit, California sunshine permeates the space, lighting a collection of museum-worthy California paintings.

"My ideal was a classic Parisian town house, but modern and very Californian," says Volpe, who recently opened the new Hedge Gallery in partnership with Roth Martin to showcase the Hedge collection of French '40s-style furniture and vintage French furniture. "My clients are Francophiles, and the Parisian style followed naturally from their passion for French history and art. But we wanted it to feel at home in Northern California, very fresh and relaxed.

Volpe's in-depth knowledge of French historic styles and his passion for French '40s decor made him the perfect guide for this tour de force. "As we created this house, my clients let me take them on a journey to study the finest French antiques and the best of French contemporary design" says Volpe, who traveled to Paris several times with them to acquire trophy pieces, including 18th-century chandeliers, a pair of Louis XVI game tables, a series of French '40s Baguès tables and a set of 10 charming Veronese green-painted regénce -style chairs, circa 1940s, by Maison Jansen. "My clients saw they could take it to another level, beyond just being an authentic-looking, pretty French-style house. They got to know the texture of Paris, saw and loved the real thing."

Volpe, who had designed several rooms in the ranch-style house that had previously stood on the property, was brought into the project even before the blueprints were drawn up. When the owners first discussed the possibility of remodeling the ranch, Volpe noted that even with improvements, the house would still just be a glorified ranch-style. Better to start over, he advised.

Farro Essalat of Essalat Hekmat Architects in San Mateo created the elegant lines and slate-shingled mansard roof of the new exterior, which is reminiscent of a small 18th-century family chateau in the park-like 16th arrondissement in Paris. The refinement of Essalat's design, combined with Volpe's talent for proportion and scale, pares down the demeanor from overly formal to sunny and welcoming. "I saw this project as my idealized French town house - [designed] with historical references but without the pomp, for modern living," Volpe says. "In all rooms, I erred on the side of simplicity."

Instead of traditional floral-flavored color schemes, predictably sedate sofas and gilded porcelains, this house resonates with cream-and parchment-colored walls, bare parquet floors, modernist French '40s tables, quirky Jacques Adnet '40s dining chairs with cashew-colored linen upholstery and even a chartreuse cashmere Hermès throw splashed on the chocolate-brown contemporary Italian leather sofa. "I was thinking of Paris in the '70s, when designers like Francois Catroux and David Hicks were updating and refreshing very traditional interiors with lively colors, modernist furniture and contemporary art," Volpe says. "'The old idea of doing a line-for-line reproduction of historic, period rooms did not appeal to them or their clients. You have to break away and rethink design for today.

The dining room is exceptionally seductive, with mocha-colored lacquered walls (18 perfect coats), a concave Line Vautrin mirror from Hedge Gallery with a sunburst-shaped gilded frame, a bare waxed parquet floor and superbly delineated moldings. A Louis XVI elm dining table with tapered legs is surrounded by a series of painted regénce chairs crafted for Paris Maison Jansen in the '40s.

"The dining room is my favorite room, especially at night, says Volpe, who lived in Paris for two years when he first began his design career. The room holds formidable pieces: an 18th-century crystal chandelier and a marble-topped regénce oak chest of drawers. For contrast, atop the chest rests a pair of large barnacle-encrusted 18th-century shells originally found in a shipwreck in the China Seas. Volpe discovered them in a noted Antwerp antiques shop. Four antique carved North African cowrie shells, studded with silver, are set on a '40s gilt bronze console table by French artist Felix Agostini.

In the sitting room, Volpe arranged a classical pair of tufted cream Mozart linen velvet sofas facing the marble fireplace, but spiced it up with an ultramarine silk-velvet sofa with a rococo silhouette. The sofa, from the R. Louis Bofferding antiques gallery in New York, was formerly in the apartment of Paris artist Pierre Le-Tan. An indigo and terra-cotta painting by Nathan Oliveira is juxtaposed with an antique black-lacquered Chinese altar table.

Each piece of furniture in the house has a story, a journey, an adventure, an anecdote. "By the time my clients moved in, every chair and table and gilded mirror had history for them, held memories of Paris and the antiques dealers and artists we'd met," Volpe says.

Between the designer, the architect and the adventurous clients, this was the happiest of collaborations. The house will continue to evolve and change, thanks to Volpe's enthusiasm and his client's eye for fine California contemporary paintings. But the feeling will remain, to everyone's delight, perfectly Parisian.


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