All designers and partners of the San Francisco Decorator Showcase (Photo courtesy of San Francisco Decorator Showcase)

Forty-five editions. Eighteen million dollars raised since 1977. Twenty-one percent of the student body funded to pursue their education. Numbers don’t lie and the San Francisco Decorator Showcase is no exception. Its success lies at the intersection between the San Francisco University High School and the world of luxury estate.

L’Italo-Americano was invited to the 2024 Press Reveal showcasing the Bliss Estate, located on San Francisco’s Billionaire’s Row, in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. This Dutch Colonial house was built in 1899 by two renowned architects – Walter D. Bliss and Walter Paville – for Elizabeth and Duane “D.L.” Bliss. This part of the city has become the symbol of power and prestige over the years: like many others, the Bliss family built a large fortune in gold mining, lumber, railroads, and were among the most remarkable players in San Francisco society. The house survived the 1906 earthquake and fire with only minor damage, losing just two chimneys, and is now for sale for the first time in 35 years, ready to become one of the most expensive listings in town. This created a perfect match for this year’s showcase.

Then and Now, room by Suzanne Tucker (Photo courtesy of Tucker & Marks)

Defining the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, especially for those who never visited it before, isn’t easy. More than just a program, it’s a collection of projects and ideas that keep some of the most talented design experts, mainly from the San Francisco Bay Area, busy for months. Once the proposals are selected among many applicants and ultimately approved, the task for each design firm is arduous, yet exciting. They have to reimagine an existing space, immerse visitors into what may become their dream house, and help find a buyer for it. With that comes philanthropy: tickets sold during the month of April and May for both visits and events are part of the fundraising that allows students to access one of the most important colleges in town. 

It took almost three hours to tour the redesigned estate, which has lots to offer, both in grandeur and special elements. For most of the thirty-one spaces, the inspiration comes from Italian design, architecture, and materials. And that’s true from the moment you get to the front door of the house: Russell Martinelli and his landscape firm gave life to both the front and the side garden. Not only does Martinelli come from an Italian-American family, but his love and passion for Italy, design, and the fashion world have a great influence on his work. “This garden blends modern elements with timeless charm, thanks to symmetrical hedges and contemporary landscaping. Olive trees often perfectly integrate with our landscaping work”, he says. Stepping into the house, the Italian touch is, if not a theme, at least an ongoing thread across many spaces. From dining rooms to kitchens and bathrooms, each floor has a piece of furniture, a material, and a decorative element coming from, manufactured in, or inspired by Italy. 

The Bliss House, with landscaping work done by Russel Martinelli (Photo: Joshua Schottstaedt)

Designer Kristen Peña chose a stone that she defines as “dramatic” in color and shape. A way to embrace the history of the house with a modern touch. Peña’s Jewel Box Kitchen, meant for food preparation and to fix drinks for guests and hosts, is connected to the main dining room designed by Suzanne Tucker. Tucker’s design firm was involved in the decorator showcase back in 1989 for this house and has led the work around that same dining room this year as well. Here again, the Italian influence comes through a gorgeous console whose top was produced by Antolini, a manufacturer from Verona that has been at the forefront of natural stone development in the country for over 60 years. And there’s more to it: “The round table in this room wants to welcome conversations, food, the lingering and the arguing, everything that happens in the room is about interaction, including furniture, fabrics, and decor”, Suzanne Tucker tells us. 

Jewel Box Kitchen by Kristen Peña (Photo credit Christopher Stark)

Keith Quiggins, owner of Rococo & Taupe, has returned from a visit to Italy just a few hours before the grand opening, a testament to his interest in design and all things Italians. “Laundry spaces are sometimes overlooked in design”, he says. Not in this house though, where the top-floor laundry mirrors the splendor of the rest of the house. The custom-carved marble sink recalls old stone basins used in a time when Italian women had to wash towels and bed linens by hand. It took a month to make this sink and two more to get it to San Francisco. “This piece of marble really shows the craftsmanship thanks to the small details, yet the room wants to be simple and functional at the same time.”

The custom marble sink recalls old basins from Italy was designed by Keith Quiggins

From the laundry to one of the main bathrooms, Serene Soak is the room you would never want to depart from. With a breathtaking view over the bay, designer Sindhu Peruri looked for the perfect color match with one of the most famous San Franciscan buildings. “The whole inspiration is the Palace of Fine Arts; this is my modern rendition of the Roman romance. I wanted a new way to depict what you see outside the window, but also the stone culture of ancient Romans. The monolithic structure of the marble slab brings lots of light, together with the floor tiles, all coming from Italy.”

The Serene Soak by Sindhue Peruri features marble from Italy (Photo: Bess Friday)

In a mansion with ten bedrooms and seven bathrooms, powder rooms become a must-see thanks to the uniqueness of the space and the choice of key elements. The Vaulted Jewel, designed by Marsh and Clark, is inspired by Rome’s Bath of Diocletian and features handcrafted Italian tiles. Stephanie Fillbrandt explains how she custom-designed the sink: “I wanted to mirror the existing vault and provide a fully immersive wet room experience, to transform a once dark, antiquated dormer into a light-filled oasis. I hope this brings relaxation and rejuvenation to whoever will use this room.”

The Vaulted Jewel by Stephanie Marsh Fillbrandt (Photo: Paul Dyer)

From the radiant colors of marble to an elegant and more exotic choice: the Purple Haze, by designer Holly Kopman, brings lots of Italian architecture and design through a mix of materials, colors, and arts. The pink onyx perfectly syncs with the purple-marbled mural, recalling the glamour of Roma Antica (Ancient Rome). “These handlers were made by a Roman artist, Patrizia Corvaglia; it was so much fun to work together. I also got some vintage Italian sconces from the ‘80s. I went back to Italy twice in the last year, so also the marble came from there and it was an easy choice. These are the things I am drawn to and they were all part of my proposal, so that I could bring elegance and attitude to this space.”

Designer Holly Kopman in the Purple Haze bathroom (Photo : Christopher Stark)

Most stone materials came from a local supplier, Da Vinci Marble. Based in San Carlos, they follow the spirit of Renaissance artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. The beauty of natural stone and a deep appreciation for materials make a difference in the industry; it comes as no surprise that many designers involved in the San Francisco Decorators Showcase picked Da Vinci Marble as one of the project partners. “As the exclusive tile, stone, custom, and outdoor material supplier, we are proud to feature products in eighteen spaces this year; eighty percent of which we import directly from Italy”, Robin Merwin, VP of Strategic Sales and Marketing at Da Vinci Marble explains. “Given the classic style and age of the house, stunning Italian marble of varying hues was the clear choice by many designers. Its timeless elegance and beauty sublimely work within the walls, from the kitchens to the bathrooms and beyond.”

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