A pair of winemakers has transformed an everyday San Francisco apartment into a breathtaking pied-à-terre.
Three years ago, when newly-engaged Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo went house-hunting in San Francisco for a pied-à-terre, their realtor introduced them to architect Andrew Skurman.
It was a serendipitous encounter. Skurman not only helped them select a superb apartment on the 16th floor of a venerable Art Deco building on the crest of Nob Hill, but he was also hired to turn its rather dated and dowdy floor plan and interiors into a sparkling aerie.
“Andy quickly suggested an elegant architectural concept to transform a very conventional layout of small rooms into a dramatic place for entertaining,” says French-born Boisset, proprietor of Boisset Family Estates. The company, which he runs with his sister Nathalie, is an international wine powerhouse with properties in Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhône Valley, California and Canada. Gina Gallo Boisset, a granddaughter of Julio Gallo, now has a winery with her brother, Matt. The couple met five years ago at an international wine event.
“Jean-Charles and Gina were inspiring clients because they had bold and imaginative ideas,” says Skurman, who is known for his rigorously classical architecture and has had his own firm in San Francisco for the past decade. “They love to entertain, and they had a vision of this apartment as a super-glamorous escape, a home in the sky.” (They also have residences in France and California’s wine country.)
The original 1,800-square-foot layout included two small bedrooms, a tiny living room and an outdated kitchen—problematic for Gallo Boisset, who loves to cook.
The worst offense: With its warren of poky rooms, the space did nothing to showcase the apartment’s extraordinary panoramic views (the Golden Gate Bridge looms to the north, the Bay Bridge stretches to the east, and even the nearby spire of Grace Cathedral is visible from bedroom windows).
Zigzag slivers of the bay, shimmering in the early morning, form a silvery backdrop to the concrete towers of the Financial District and rooftop terraces of Chinatown far below. At night, bright stars and city lights turn the apartment into an Astaire and Rogers-worthy fantasy set.
“My vision was to create drama by taking down walls and making one sumptuous living-and-dining room across the whole apartment,” says Skurman.
Inspired by the sparkling Galerie des Glaces in Versailles, he proposed building a wall of mirrored French doors along one side, not only to increase the apparent size of the room, but also to double and triple the effect of the changing light and views. The wall also conceals a series of cabinets where the couple’s extensive collection of Baccarat carafes, decanters and wine glasses is stashed. And, part of it hides the kitchen pass-through, adjacent to the dining area. Two bedrooms were turned into a large, sunny one with a mirrored bathroom and walk-in closets. “Andy took a small apartment, redefined the spaces in a very logical manner, and made it feel grand,” says Boisset.
As construction proceeded, the couple hired San Francisco interior designers Andrew Fisher and Jeffry Weisman, known for their theatrical effects and subtle sense of hue. “Andrew had devised a brilliant plan with exquisite details, and we developed a color scheme of taupes, grays and slate,” says Weisman. Artist Karin Wikstrom added silver-leaf decorative painting to the moldings and window frames.
“The rich, dark-brown floors were left bare, to maintain the light-hearted feeling,” explains Fisher.
Weisman and Fisher also devised ethereal curtains with two layers of gauzy, high-tech Gretchen Bellinger fabric of gold floating over silver. Even on a foggy day they light up the room. “It is almost as if we hung ballgowns on each window, it is so frivolous and fun,” says Weisman. As a final touch, the ceiling was given a silver-leaf finish, so that the whole room appears to float.
Meanwhile, Boisset and Gallo Boisset traveled to Paris to order their dream furniture. “We wanted to revisit classic French styles like Jacob and Empire designs, as well as Louis XIV furniture, albeit with a modern touch,” says Boisset, who is equally passionate about his native country’s l’art de vivre as he is about wine.
They ordered chic Cabriolet-style chairs, glorious chaise longues and perfectly proper medallion-backed chairs from Gilles Nouailhac, a Parisian furniture maker, but had them finished with a bold platinum-leaf finish. To further emphasize their modern tastes, the couple had pieces upholstered in silver leather and silk satin, shocking pink velvet and a vivid green. Cushions and pillows were ordered in faux chinchilla, fox and an ivory mink. The effect is witty and flirty—with plenty of panache.
In the evening, Boisset will produce, from his extensive wine cellar, a JCB No. 21 Cremant Rosé, a bubbly apéritif evocative of the couple’s life in France. Or Gallo Boisset may pour a Gallo Family Estate 2007 Sonoma Chardonnay.
“Our apartment is high in the sky, so our wines bring us back down to earth, giving a taste of the terroirs that we both love,” says Boisset.
“The apartment has been such a celebration,” says Gallo Boisset. “We are so happy our friends and family can enjoy it with us.”
BY DIANE DORRANS SAEKS