August 30, 2010

Pied-a-terre by day, dance party by night

by Zahid Sardar for the San Francisco Chronicle.
San Francisco's new Mint Plaza is a symbol of urbanity. It is studded with the Old Mint, a venerable 1870s Greek revival stone building with vestiges of its Gold Rush past, and surrounded by frayed single-room- occupancy buildings, elegant cafes, restaurants and chic, revamped live/work lofts in 16-story buildings. That was exactly what attracted a pair of young men from the Peninsula who live amid suburban homogeneity, although one of them works at Google's hip headquarters, to buy a penthouse pied-a-terre on the plaza.

"They wanted something unique, like a nightclub of their own," says Nicole Hollis, the San Francisco interior designer who helped them find their dream loft in a 1920s 10-story steel-and-concrete building. The 2,000-square-foot loft also has a rooftop garden.

Hollis has known the couple since 2005 when she decorated a smaller flat for them in Mountain View and remembered their penchant for glamour and fashion.

"We had to think of Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Tom Ford rolled into one," she said.

To unify that vision, Hollis coordinated details with project architect Ian Birchall, lighting consultants at Lumatech (who worked on the San Francisco nightclub Ruby Skye) and landscape design firm Living Green. They created a bespoke two-bedroom home that morphs with push-button speed into a full-fledged nightclub replete with a mist machine, disco ball, video projections and surround sound. The owners can fill it almost as quickly with friends who get invited via text messages.

The bare-bones standard condominium was stripped to its steel and concrete shell and Hollis restored a minimum of partitions to form two bathrooms, a private study and guest room. The slope of a ramped L-shape entryway is now barely discernible. Lightweight walk-through aluminum chain-link curtains and see-through glass walls divide the remaining space.

"We needed some surfaces to project images into the middle of the space and chain link was better than wood or steel-beaded curtains for that," Hollis said.

Guests can dance in the living room under strobe lights (hidden above retractable ceiling panels), swill at the backlit bar that has a cascading fountain as its backdrop, or go up Birchall's showy white Corian staircase to the roof garden.

A Boffi kitchen and modern furnishing from Dzine, a crisp steel storage wall that conceals audio/visual equipment and a flat-screen TV add polished counterpoints to raw concrete left exposed in several areas of the loft.

Because the furniture is deliberately low, the party loft seems larger than it is.

When parties swell to larger numbers, revelers can spread upstairs to the roof deck where Hollis has supplied a stainless steel barbecue and more seating alongside Paola Lenti ottomans on an artificial-turf carpet.

Hollis and project designer Edward Ngiam were not allowed to change any part of the historic shell or add or alter windows. During the day the natural colors of concrete, wood, brick and black lacquer cabinetry make this a relaxed setting to enjoy daylight and south- and west-facing views, but at night, as if to compete with showy sunsets, Hollis used a basic trick: colored lights (a la artist James Turrell) that dim and change from blue to red to pink to create the illusion of sunsets within the mostly white space.
"At night," Hollis said, "even the kitchen island seems to change color."

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