ONE ROOM, GARDEN VIEW / Elle Decor
Although interior decorators and gardeners both toil in the service of getting things to look more beautiful, their processes are fundamentally different. For their Sonoma County retreat, however, San Francisco interior designers Andrew Fisher and Jeffry Weisman decided to think gardener.
Both may toil in the service of getting things to look more beautiful, but interior decorators and gardeners differ fundamentally when it comes to process. Decorators want to get everything – walls, furniture, upholstery, paint – in and done as fast as possible. Gardeners, on the other hand, have patience. They plant. They water. And a few years later, after much waiting, a lovely landscape blooms.
When Jeffry Weisman and Andrew Fisher, interior designers who live and work together in San Francisco, built on a sprawling hilltop property in Sonoma County, they decided to think gardener and plant seeds – in this case, a weekend getaway. But instead of some spacious five-bedroom pleasure dome the couple wasn’t even sure they wanted, they built a poolhouse first, along with a pool, and promptly moved in. “Still, we weren’t sure if we really would use the place,” says Weisman. “Then we found we came here every weekend.”
Little more than a pavilion, the one-room house is outfitted with five sets of French doors opening onto the pool and acres of surrounding vineyards. The same square footage (and almost the same shape) as the pool, the cottage was also equipped with a luxury open-plan kitchen, so it didn’t become a cramped, temporary placeholder for a dream-house-to-be but a hassle-free pad where Fisher and Weisman could really get away and relax.
Of course, different people have different ways of relaxing. “I’m the kind of person who has to be doing something,” says Weisman, whose idea of kicking back is heavy-duty gardening. And since the house sits on nearly 28 acres – with an olive orchard of 250 trees, an enormous rose garden, a vineyard, and several dozen fruit trees (there are also amazingly generous water rights) – Weisman has become something of a gentleman farmer.
Fisher, a former protégé of famed designer Tony Duquette, is more prone to involve himself in crafts projects around the house. The elaborate shell-encrusted chandelier hanging in the middle of the living area is his design, as are two antique-looking urns: They’re actually plastic covered with oyster shells and paint, in which Fisher planted spiky agave. The black coral candlesticks of the mantel are cast-iron and irons to which he added circular tiers of long, curved candle-toting branches. And the faux-bois bombé chests that flank the bed were bought for $75 each at a garage sale. “They’re just some Grand Rapids reproduction things that I turned into little work of art,” explains Fisher. Not every project, though, works out as planned. The couple stained the floors with acid to look like leather, an arduous process they won’t try again. “If anyone tells you to do it with your floors, tell them to forget it,” he says.
His pièce-de-résistance is a pair of Venetian-style shell-encrusted torchers mounted on iron poles that rise out of the pool and flank submerged stairs, an ode to the striped poles that sprout from the canals of Venice, glorified hitching posts for gondolas that conjure a world where water isn’t decorative but something front and center, part and parcel of everyday life.
But given Fisher’s passion for crafting elaborate and fanciful things – and the cult following he has in the Bay Area for such pieces – one might be surprised that the overarching tone of the place is rather restrained and serene, which Fisher chalks up to a happy medium between his and Weisman’s personalities. “I am totally fantasy,” he says. “And Jeffry’s exactly the opposite. So when we get hired as designers, they get the best of both worlds.”
“I like balance, so I’m the one who’s always compromising, and it works really well,” adds Weisman. “What happens is his imagination goes wild and my practicality gets intensified, and somehow you don’t get too much of either.”
Recently, Fisher and Weisman’s trademark mix of pragmatism and imagination has been thrown into serious overdrive. They’re erecting a compound of Balinese-style treehouses on the island of Kauai and, across the country, completing porch-to-roof renovations for fabric maven Gretchen Bellinger’s upstate New York home. Meanwhile, the couple’s plans to build themselves a larger house have been put on indefinite hold.
“It would be fun when we’re older to have a bigger place, but for now it’s great,” says Weisman. “We’ll have a crowd for lunch, and then they all have to go – there’s nowhere to put them!”
Text by David Colman / Photography by Grey Crawford