For Fisher Weisman, designing an elegant and kid-friendly home is child’s play / Elle Decor
Anyone who thinks elegant and kid-friendly design are mutually exclusive need only step inside Joe Gillach’s San Francisco apartment. Perched on Nob Hill in a 1920s building, Gillach’s antiques-filled home at first glance seems strictly for grown-ups: A glittering mirrored wall reflecting hand-painted linen murals greets visitors in the entrance, and a peek through the apartment’s gracious enfilade of rooms reveals a vintage Jansen table here, a Gustavian settee and a scroll-arm Regency chair there.
Not to worry, says Gillach, a partner in a real estate investment company and the father of a five-year-old daughter, Grace. The murals have been glazed, so they’re easily wiped clean, and the mirrored walls and door panels, made of tempered safety glass, are “strong enough to drive a tricycle into,” he says. These and other practical touches found throughout the place are the brainchild of Andrew Fisher and Jeffry Weisman, partners in a San Francisco design firm known for mixing whimsy with pragmatism in interiors for rental and corporate clients – and Gillach’s downstairs neighbors.
“It was about taking the shell of a 1920s apartment and re-creating it as a comfortable and functional 21st-century home,” says Weisman. The 2,800-square-foot space was ripe for renovation. Ravaged by the departing tenants, it has been stripped of its original floors, walls, and plumbing; even the fireplaces had been jackhammered out. As if that weren’t enough, the apartment had fallen victim to an ill-fated attempt to “modernize” its once stately architecture and transform it into cutting-edge contemporary. Weisman and Fisher soon convinced Gillach, an old friend, to take the plunge.
“They did some sketches for me, and it was magical and compelling,” says Gillach. “Actually, the previous tenants did me a great service. I would never have been as adventurous in moving the rooms around if it hadn’t been gutted as it was.” The new layout called for a European-style enfilade of three successive salons – sitting room, living room, and dining room – and an open-plan kitchen-cum-family-room. The designers also returned some early-20th-century elegance to the apartment, outfitting it with elaborate marble mantelpieces, moldings, brass and gilded sconces, and oak floors.
Fisher created several of his trademark light fixtures, too, such as an oversize wrought-iron twig chandelier in the dining room, where it’s juxtaposed with a Regency-style table and chairs. For the walls, Weisman and Fisher commissioned Karin Wikstrom to execute lush faux-bois panelling, a conceit the artist repeated in the master bedroom.
But it’s clearly the smaller member of the household who has factored in the plans the most. Gillach, who adopted Grace from China on Christmas Day 2000, wanted a growing girl’s needs and activities worked into the design, a request Fisher and Weisman had no problem complying with. “Grace is the perfect child,” Fisher says affectionately. “She inspired a sense of playfulness.”
Lighthearted details – from walls painted with coral branches (to complement the pink-coral upholstered headboard) and colorful paper lanterns in Grace’s bedroom to the living room’s “floating” Lucite shelves, which display the colorful oeuvre of the tiny artist in residence – are expertly interwoven with Gillach’s collection of French and English antiques.
Fisher and Weisman re-covered the pieces with new fabrics in a low-key mix of beiges, browns, and rusts sprinkled with flocked velvet, leopard prints, and stripes of muted gray and pale green. And in the living room they installed a chocolate-brown velvet sofa by Michael Taylor Designs and created slipper chairs to match. “Almost everything is armless,” says Fisher, “Arms would have been too constricting for the space.” Yet the chairs’ real beauty was soon evident. “They’re perfect for bouncing around without hurting yourself,” adds Gillach.
Once the apartment was finished, he had second thoughts about only one aspect: the lack of an extra bedroom. “I’m used to having houseguests non-stop,” Gillach says. But after many happy evenings relaxing here with Grace and assorted family members and friends, he doesn’t feel even a twinge of regret. “I suddenly realized,” he laughs, “that that’s why god invented hotel rooms.”
Text by Anne Bogart / Photography by Grey Crawford