Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Diary of a Showcase Room

San Francisco designer Brian Dittmar debuts at the San Francisco Decorator Showcase April 28 with a brilliant and original room that highlights fine craftsmanship, exquisite tonalities, and the allure of obsession. Bravo, Brian!

A last minute revision to the design after The Style Saloniste photo shoot: Brian moved the clock out of the corner...much better and more elegant.

The prestigious San Francisco Decorator Showcase, now in its 33rd year, opens this week, with a press preview on April 28, followed by glamorous sponsor and patron parties. It is open to the public May 1 through May 31.

With the sudden postponement of the Kips Bay Showcase, all eyes are on San Francisco. 

Leading designers at the house include Suzanne Tucker, David Kensington, Darin Geise, Cecilie Starin, Benjamin Dhong, Shirley Robinson, Will Wick, Shelby de Quesada, Michael Burg, Siol Studios, Thad Warren, George Brazil and Cecilia Sagrera-Hill, Philpotts & Associates, Charles de Lisle, and Brian Dittmar.

The house is superbly located in Presidio Heights, with verdant views over the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s a fabulous, classical house—full of surprises, extreme elegance, great art, spectacular decorative painting, and charming and dreamy rooms. There is even a nursery for triplets (a first, I think, at a design showcase) which is very apt, considering the numbers of large-scale strollers rolling along the sidewalks of Pacific Heights.

3450 Washington Street in San Francisco

The house before the transformation began.

San Francisco interior designer Brian Dittmar designs his first showcase room, ‘Poetry in Time: The Horologist’s Laboratory’

Meet THE STYLE SALONISTE Art Director, Brian Dittmar, and enter his fascinating room at the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, opening this week. You’ve seen his signature company logo on THE STYLE SALONISTE—and admired my blog's logo. It was designed, I am pleased to say, by Brian.

Follow along as we show you his completed room. It is a tiny former maid’s room beneath the eaves. This small dimension appealed to Brian—who decided it would be the perfect size for his first showcase outing.

Fortunately, his design proposal was selected from among many beautiful presentations.

Join us as we walk through the room, and show how it came together. Brian kept a diary, and you’ll see all the ‘ingredients’—the handsome custom-made rug, Paul Benson’s new lamp, and of course the divine clocks.

Room Concept:  Tucked away in the attic space, this sunny room-with-a-view is a retreat for an horologist — an aficionado of the art or science of measuring time. He appreciates the beauty, technology and craftsmanship that goes into the making of watches, clocks, timepieces and sundials, but he is also fascinated by the passing of time and of history. This is his ‘laboratory’ — a place where he can escape to study and learn more about his passion.

Brian guides us through the room 
This room serves first and foremost as a display area for the horologist’s collection of timepieces. The largest clock in the collection is a 1950s German sculptural ‘hoop clock’ made of five overlapping tubular steel ovals (purchased from Vermillion Gallery in Miami).

Additional clocks include: a 1860s French ‘Portico’ clock made of two shades of bronze; a small Art Deco hanging wall clock; a very unusual antique ‘globe clock’ ca. 1880 found in Argentina and on loan from
McRae & Co.; a Sonic Woodblock Clock (by San Francisco-based Shine Labs) that incorporates a one inch high LED time display that shines through a thin wood veneer face; and a one-of-a-kind, hand-made skeleton wall clock by Sonoma, CA, metal artist Paul Benson.

Paul Benson's one-of-a-kind skeleton clock

Four antique pocket watches are displayed in custom shadowboxes, expertly crafted by San Francisco's Underglass Framing. Displayed on a decorative skirted radiator cover, a collection of hourglasses (plus an antique armillary) demonstrate alternate ways in which to measure time.

The centerpiece of this room is a tone-on-tone custom designed rug (through Mark Nelson Designs in New York City), woven with the Auguste Rodin quote “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely” in handwritten script lettering. Given the large scale of the words, they first appear as an abstract, contemporary pattern — but upon further inspection, the words will become clear.

Reflecting the light coming in through the dormer windows — and the view to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands — is a custom, standing framed mirror (fabricated by Paige Glass Co.) with the etched letters of a poem about time as it relates to the Earth by John Muir. 

The two interior walls are covered in a rich, subtly textured wallpaper from Threads at Lee Jofa. with random length metallic stripes that appear as a contemporary interpretation of tree bark. The two other walls and ceiling are painted in Benjamin Moore’s ‘Bleecker Beige’ with the trim in a slightly darker warm grey color.
Illustrating a love of architecture and history, an eclectic mix of furnishings includes a handsome French Neo-classical low cabinet made of steel (purchased from Coup d’Etat) sitting below the ‘hoop clock’ and playing off the metallic wallpaper behind. 

A perfectly sized rectangular Art Deco style work table — a flea market find — is refinished in a deep chocolate brown lacquer adding another reflective element and contrasting with the patina of some of the other pieces.
"The minute I walked into this space I instantly felt comfortable and at home. I loved the dormer windows and the way the sloped ceilings wrap around the space. It has an almost up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge. In this 10,000 sq. ft. Albert Farr-designed mansion, this room (formerly a servants quarters) felt manageable, quaint and human-scaled." – Brian Dittmar

Seating includes a pair of 1940s bleached mahogany Klismos chairs—their seats upholstered in a Barbara Barry smoky amethyst cut velvet—flanking the steel cabinet. A contemporary issue of the 1970s classic Karl Springer goat skin chair (on loan from McRae & Co.) serves as the work table seat. Brian Dittmar designed the wing chair to pay homage to the broken pediment top of a grandfather clock. It is upholstered in an oatmeal Kravet Calvin Klein fabric reminiscent of tree rings and sits next to the organically shaped bronze ‘Pool’ side table from Gary Hutton Design (through Therien & Co.).

Two exceptional lamps from Blackman Cruz (through Therien & Co.), a custom hand-turned aluminum floor lamp from Paul Benson (his new lighting collection will debut at DeSousa Hughes at the San Francisco Design Center later this year) and Eric Cohler’s antique silver ceiling-mounted “star light” from Circa Lighting cast a soft glow over the entire room.

Ruth Laskey, Moss Green, 2008

Ruth Laskey, Bronze, 2008

Jorge Robelo, Untitled, 2007

A unique artwork collection was curated by Baxter & Cook Art Advisors and includes two pieces from rising San Francisco artist Ruth Laskey's hand-stitched linen series as well as Mexican artist Jorge Robelo's intricate and mechanical acrylic on paper composition.
Inspiration:  “I became fascinated by grandfather (or tall case) clocks as a young child. I grew up in Delaware near Winterthur Museum and often went with my family to see the collection of clocks (among the great furniture collections) and would run home and start drawing them. Winterthur’s tall case clock collections are very architectural—like Greek temples with columns, pediments and architectural embellishments. This room brings together my childhood interest in clocks, but also my past career in graphic design."

Brian Dittmar kept a diary of his first showcase room
Summer 2009:  Began fashioning a concept for the upcoming 2010 Showcase.

October 2009:  Met with Mark Nelson, a custom carpet manufacturer from New York City and discussed a custom carpet for my room concept—based on typography and the idea of “time.” I designed several options and they were sent to the mill to create 2-foot-square samples. I selected the most elegant sample (which will accompany my design board proposal).

December 2009:  Honed my concept for the room into the “Clock Collector.”

January 25, 2010:  The Designer Preview Day for the 2010 Showcase. Many top California designers toured the house at 3450 Washington Street. I quickly passed by all the larger rooms and went in search of a smaller-scale room in which I could easily apply my concept. I found several rooms of various sizes, all on the third floor, that could work — Room 30 was ideal and became my first choice. It’s on a top-floor corner, faces west and north, has beautiful light, and the dormer windows offer spectacular views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The room as I first saw it on January 25.

The view of the Bay from the room.

January 25 – 29:  Intense, exuberant, focused, non-stop, design-filled days preparing my submission for the Design Review Board review. Deadline at noon!

 My design board as submitted to the Review Board.

Rendering of the room, by Paul O'Brien.

February 3:  I got the call. Yes, accepted. I was fortunate to have been selected and was given the room I wanted the most! A dream come true.

February 4 – 19:  Time to finalize all the designs, place the all orders and get this show on the road. Many phone calls, visits to vendors, many dollars spent in a very short time. It’s all a ‘go’ and is full steam ahead to transform the concepts into reality.

Early March:  The calm before the storm. Time to focus on wrapping up other design projects in-progress.

Mid-March:  The walls in my room are not in the best of shape, with cracks in the plaster and uneven corners. We resurface the entire room to ensure the best end product. Skimcoats go up and the walls go from looking haggard and old to fresh and smooth — certainly a big improvement.

April 7:  I’ve been given the go ahead to begin the transformations — all the time working around hoards of construction workers feverish to meet the incredibly tight deadlines. Painting begins.


April 14:  New wool and mohair wall-to-wall carpeting is installed to cover over the less than ideal soft-wood floors in the space. It will offer a clean-lined, contemporary base for the room and for the custom rug.

April 16: Wallpaper begins to go up — installed by the expert Susan Williams of Aesthete Painting & Wallcovering — and later this week custom sheer Roman shades by Ewing & Ball Custom Fine Sewing go in. I take time to view other rooms, almost complete. I love the room of Benjamin Dhong, my neighbor up on the third floor. Will Wick’s room is ethereal and so original. I can’t wait to see Darin Geise’s room, still under wraps.

The entire façade received a much needed overhaul during the process as well.

April 22:  Move-in day. I have one hour from 9:30–10:30am to move all large pieces of furniture into the room. The pressure is on.

April 21 – 26:  Details, details, details.  The devil is in the details and I have spent many hours reviewing the design, editing down and getting everything just right. 

April 27:  Studied the photos taken for this Blog post last night and I feel the room is still off balance...too much on the left, not enough on the right of the far window.  Dash over to the Showcase house early this morning, make a few changes, and yes, now it feels better to me....so much more balanced and elegant.  And just in time! 

April 28:  Press day. Top design editors and design bloggers will arrive from all over the U.S.... I can’t wait to meet them all. 

April 29:  The first of a series of parties for patrons. I’ll attend them all—and will be at showcase most days until it closes. The camaraderie with designers has been a joy, and I’m full of admiration for everyone involved. What a transformation. Extraordinary.

Brian Dittmar Design
Brian’s design aesthetic and approach to the process are influenced by his long-time passion for the graphic arts and architecture. He honed his interest in classical furniture and furnishings—specifically grandfather clocks—by exploring the interiors and collections of the Wintherthur Museum, near his childhood home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Brian has appeared on HGTV and his work has been featured in local and national magazines. Also a graphic designer, he has worked for clients including Stanford University, Chronicle Books and Lincoln Center. He designed the logo for THE STYLE SALONISTE.  

He lives in San Francisco with his physician partner and their pug.

355 Buena Vista Ave East, No. 112
San Francisco, California 94117
Phone: 415.235.0529
Fax: 415.558.9693

May 1 through May 31
3450 Washington Street, San Francisco CA 94118


Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday: 10am–3pm (last entry)  
Thursday and Friday: 10am–7pm (last entry)
Sunday and Memorial Day: 11am–4pm (last entry)
Monday: Closed (except Memorial Day) 

Tickets available at the door. General Admission $30, Seniors $25 (62 and older). All proceeds benefit the financial aid program at San Francisco University High School.
Photography: Finished showcase room images by Emily Payne


Ashfield Hansen Design Inc. said...

Not only is Brian talented, but I have the honor of considering him a dear friend!
The room is quite a success! Thank you Diane for another in-depth look at our extraordinary local talent!
David @ Ashfield Hansen Design

*Chic Provence* said...

Very creative work by Brian, and I am not surprised, he is so talented! great post, Diane!

a bientot!


Anonymous said...

I share David's thoughts. As well, thank you Diane for presenting an informative and inspiring look at the showcase process. Your passion for the world of design is contagious, and I am glad to have you as teacher, curator and guide.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Fascinating post.
Wonderful to follow the design of this lovely room. Great bones to begin with, and Brian did a marvelous job. The perfect spot to write. Well done.

Claudia Juestel said...

As they say, "I could not have happened to a nicer human being". Brian created a jewel of a room, quite deserving of such a thorough preview. Thank you Diane for also giving us some insight into his creative process, showing how such a personal passion can translate into a design everyone can relate to.


Claudia Juestel

Paul Masson said...

I enjoyed Brian's diary... except that the opening party is still 16 hours in the future! See you there!

Lisa & Alfie said...

I love seeing the creative process from beginning to end and never miss the showcase. I had the pleasure of seeing Grant K.Gibson's process of creating his gentleman's retreat from beginning to final presentation a few years back. It takes an incredible amount of talent and vision to transform a space like this, Congratulations Brian! Look forward to seeing it in person.

Randolph Arczynski said...

What a great job, Brian! See you at the opening party tonight!

Beadboard UpCountry said...

Wonderful to dee it all evolving, loved the treatment on the dormers and the carpet
and mirror with the writing...Very nicely done!Maryanne :)

nicola chipps said...

Bravo,Brian! Your journal is such a treaty to the design process. Your daily adventures walks one through the musings,the historical references and the poetic inspirations so beautifully to create such a moment in time! Rodin, a great favorite,and his TIMELESS words play upon my my toes. Like the Showcase itself, which is temporal and fleeting, we experience your room and allow for it's visual expressions to infuse the soul,the eye,and try to capture it, quickly quickly, before it fades away.

Brian D said...

Dear Diane,

Thank you ever so much for this wonderful account of the evolution of my Showcase room. You are such a kind and encouraging person and your enthusiasm for design is an inspiration to us all. I am truly grateful for this wonderful post -- thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating and insight-full post, as ever beautifully presented!

Emile de Bruijn said...

The amount of detail in this post is amazing, it is like a big magazine feature, or a small book! You are demonstrating how blogs can go deep without being repetitive.

Rachel Joins the Fray said...


I am writing to ask your permission to use the second and 24th photos in your post above on my blog. I just love this transformation and would like to remember it! Of course, having moved relatively recently, I also love your blog and how it has introduced me to so many things design-related here in San Francisco.

Apologies for asking on this forum, but I'm don't know how else to contact you.

Thank you for your consideration!


The-Countrypolitan said...

It is amazing how by just moving a couple of pieces (the clock and the fourth framed pocket watch) make all the difference in the balance the space...

I love how he documented his installation.

Very nice room... feels very tranquil comfortable, where one could get lost in one's own thoughts... ~Terri

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Anonymous said...

This is a truly beautiful work of art. The horologist that invests time here, I'm sure, would be thoroughly pleased. :-)