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On Nob Hill, San Francisco architect Matthew MacCaul Turner refreshes a classic apartment with a high-contrast palette.

Nob Hill has long been the jewel in the crown of San Francisco’s grand architectural neighborhoods. Around the elegant parterres of Huntington Park stand beautifully appointed Beaux Arts mansions, high-style Victorian residences and imposing embellished apartment buildings of great distinction.

This scene was the perfect setting for a music lover who found a sunstruck two-bedroom apartment in a 1950s building. Corner windows gaze directly at the dramatic stained glass windows of the French Gothic-style Grace Cathedral. The dwelling’s interior, however, lacked style.

The owner commissioned San Francisco architect and designer Matthew MacCaul Turner to sculpt it into a poetic and versatile space, complete with a theatrical study for the client’s Steinway grand piano. “I called upon my training in classical architecture to correct proportions, resolve details and lend a thoughtful and composed air to the decor,” says MacCaul Turner. “New columns now frame the windows, and a base molding defines the windowsills.” The resulting environs are imbued with a sense of history, while still feeling of-the-moment.

The owner, a self-professed minimalist, gave MacCaul Turner a pristine starting point: white, his favorite color. MacCaul Turner then selected Benjamin Moore semigloss paints (Snowfall White and Simply White) to help to create a cloudlike feeling, and splashed white deck paint on the floors throughout the apartment—finishing them with a marine-grade epoxy for lasting durability. The masterstroke was to transform the study/media room using matte black paint (Benjamin Moore’s Jet Black) as a bold juxtaposition. The resulting chiaroscuro effect plays spatial tricks, amplifying the apartment’s overall drama.

Recessed lighting and white shades were added to mute the light and adjust atmosphere (as well as silk curtains, to maintain privacy). But with an ever-changing panorama just outside the windows—a cable car rumbling by, wisps of fog drifting through, and pale moonlight illuminating the spires of Grace Cathedral—the resident seldom closes the shades.

Photography by JACOB ELLIOTT.

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