Monday, June 25, 2012

Bespoke at Home: San Francisco antique dealer Darin Geise’s interiors are tailored with wit and style

I love his exuberance and muscular humor.

At his trend-setting San Francisco antiques gallery, Coup d’Etat, Darin Geise displays alluring and elegant one-of-a-kind furnishings, along with edgy vintage collections, John Dickinson tables, armillaries, and bold industrial-inspired lighting by Jefferson Mack.

Newell Turner, House Beautiful’s brilliant editor-in-chief, called Coup d’Etat ‘one of the most exciting new design galleries in the design world today

But there’s another, very surprising private side of Darin Geise.

Come for a visit and be inspired. 

Darin at Home: Antique dealer Darin Geise, owner of the acclaimed Coup d’Etat gallery in San Francisco. 

I’ve known the great antique dealer Darin Geise since he first opened Coup d’Etat in San Francisco about a dozen years ago. His collections are always provocative, modern and alluring. A jolt!

Decorators flock to acquire his over-scale wing chairs, orb-shaped rusted metal lighting, chrome lamps, fetishy sculptures, paint-chipped found objects (lots of those, his eye is fantastic), velvet-upholstered ottomans, lush silver, and a bit of weirdness and lots of wonder. The gallery has action and elegance, rough contrast and shock, and perhaps even terror (skeletons, skulls, medical diagrams).

It’s all soothed with the fragrances of French Cire Trudon candles with a whiff of frankincense and myrrh, and with romantic chandeliers thrown in for a glorious boost of Beaux-Arts beauty.

Geise’s deft placement of tufted crimson velvet sofas with rusted military lockers and bronze busts draws avid collectors.

Darin moves you forward. You move with him.

Today we’re making a detour, an adventure trip to visit sunny Potrero Hill, where San Francisco antiques dealer/designer Darin Geise has created his own dreamscape. His interiors are populated with a compelling collection of centuries-old European portraits and venerable antiques. It’s not what you expect from Mr. Subversive. Follow me. 

Past Times: Scene-setting Bennison silk velvet curtains in the living room are trimmed with vintage gold braid found at an estate sale. Geise’s artful mis-en-scene includes an 1870 metamorphic chair upholstered in vintage silk velvet. The pair of cabinets was crafted from old barnwood retrieved in Connecticut and custom-made in the Swedish neoclassical style. Geise acquired the 1920s hillside house five years ago, then refinished the floors, wallpapered the walls and used antiques to provide a sense of architecture. 

With his shaved head, charcoal Lanvin pants, vintage Levi’s denim jacket, black American Apparel t-shirt, seventies gold Rolex with a peacock blue face, and trend-setting antiques gallery, Coup d’Etat, Darin Geise looks like the ultimate South of Market denizen.

But when Geise, whose new antiques gallery has floors (by Erin Martin) of raw salvaged scaffolding boards, and divider walls of concrete block, heads home in the evening to Potrero Hill, his interiors turn their back on today. 

A gold-framed panoply of noble eighteenth-century portraits of alluring ermine-robed French kings, handsome Belgian soldiers, foppish English dukes, Dutch nobles, and handsome princelings is enhanced with subdued lighting.

Handcrafted barnwood cabinets, massive tufted sofas, and a metamorphic chair with the original red velvet worn to a silken sheen invite reflection--or perusal of perhaps a club journal. Geise's collections, edited and perfected, make his residence feel like a turn-of-the-century private men’s club in a secret corner of Pall Mall. With an edge. Geise brings a knowing wink to the elegant scene, throwing in a few nudes to crank it up a notch.

“I admire and appreciate modern interiors and full-on contemporary design but for myself and my Brussels Griffon dogs, I want a big sofa, thread-bare rugs, a sense of tradition and design history,” said Geise, originally from North Platte, Nebraska. “I light the fire, select favorite jazz singers. Candlelight sets the mood. I’m in my own world.” 

Steady Gaze: Geise’s collection of portraits includes a seventeenth-century painting of a Dutch soldier in ceremonial robes. Geise designed the sofa in the Beaux-Arts style, inspired by a classic design by French decorator Jacques Garcia. 

Geise’s living room is framed with burgundy velvet curtains the color of the finest claret and a marble fireplace with a glowing fire adds to the clubby atmosphere.

“I’m fascinated by English country houses, where you can sit by the fire, read a book, sip a good claret with friends, and it’s all very comfortable, and that’s my inspiration,” said Geise. “I wanted the rooms to have a sense of history.”

Natural curiosities (shells and rare minerals), small bronze sculptures, and antique oriental rugs create an ambiance that seems to have leapt straight from the pages of The World of Interiors, the fusty-chic London design magazine so beloved by young fogeys like Geise.

“I started my portrait collection about ten years ago with a Regency-period dandy in a blue velvet jacket, and I was hooked, so later I found a Dutch nobleman in full body armor, and a seventeenth-century king in a plumed head-dress, then a French courtier and two Italian noblewomen in carved oak frames,” said Geise. “I love the humanity of these portraits. I wonder about the artists. These people have such soul and resonance.” 

Time Travel: Four 1870s Swedish neoclassical chairs upholstered in gray alpaca, surround the industrial table with a zinc top, a vintage find. Walls are painted in a custom-designed multiple-pigment paint that mutates from dusty gray to a sober green with a touch of midnight Aegean blue. It’s an artful background for Geise’s collection of French, Flemish and English portraits. 

Geise recently participated in two by-invitation San Francisco Decorator Showcase houses (a mountain chalet in a former wine cellar, a moody study). His clientele grew.

But while his gallery is a compelling mix of sleek Danish glass, handcrafted chandeliers, and no-holds-barred compositions of rare and precious, rough and smooth, rusty industrial and gilded and refined, old, handcrafted and machine-made, Geise’s house came together with sedate elegance toughened up with an addictive frisson of transgression and provocation. 

A slew of top editors of national publications and design locomotives like Holly Hunt, in town recently, have raved about Geise’s fresh style. Hunt, who brought the highly influential Paris designer Christian Liaigre to the US, is reported to have told her designer colleagues that “Coup d’Etat is the most exciting gallery in the US right now’ and called it ‘world-class’.

At Coup d’Etat, Geise surrounded a vast pock-marked antique jeweler’s work station with whimsical photographs of birds nests, or circling a grand aristocratic red velvet sofa, very ‘Fanny and Alexander’, with industrial relics, rough and cocky in their factory-made rusted surfaces.

Geise’s jolt of steampunk-meets-Louis XVI shakes up fixed concepts, and illustrates masterfully how antiques can be used playfully and with abandon, at home and in his gallery. 

Good Night: Geise created a sense of architecture (and artifice) in the twelve feet x twelve feet guest bedroom, with a hundred yards of Schumacher Toile de Jouy fabric cleverly stitched into swags that suggest a tent. The vintage brass bed is dressed with a traditional Turkish Suzani quilt, originally handcrafted for a bride’s dowry. 

Object Lessons: A neoclassical maple dresser of unknown origin has gilded animal feet. The pine mirror, Belgium 1934, animates the small room. Geise, a brilliant editor of his collections, added an American portrait, c1942, and a collection of English and Indian antique ivory boxes. 

Geise's confident approach offers liberation from debunked and out-dated notions of ‘good taste’. 'Taste' in any case, is a highly dubious concept in the twenty-first century.

His vocation and avocation mean that Geise is always looking for extraordinary decorative objects and art for his shop—as well as for his burgeoning private collection.

“I have more than forty antique portraits in my collection,” said Geise, who travels to Paris and to remote English and Belgian country towns, as well as estate sales, near and far, to find his treasures.

“I’ll go into a dusty auction house or arrive at a flea market before sunrise and hope to find a portrait or a mirror or de-accessioned military furniture that no-one has noticed,” said Geise. “I’ve run out of wall space at home, so now I’m stacking the framed portraits on the floor, a look I love. I’m a bit obsessed. I can’t stop collecting.”

Geise is a master at creating mood. 

Rich Provenance: A handcarved bed originally designed by decorator Billy Gaylord for the Sherman House hotel in Pacific Heights in the early eighties, brings a dash of Louis XVI to Geise’s bedroom. The upholstery is sage green mohair accented with antique brass nailhead trim. Above the bed, a nineteenth-century Italian bull’s-eye mirror has a central convex looking glass. A rare cinnamon-hued Suzani quilt was found in Istanbul. 

“I especially love the house at night with the candles lit, a fire burning, wine in the glass, and the lights of the city shimmering in the distance,” said Geise, seated in a Louis XV-style fauteuil with a verdure tapestry upholstery. “There is nowhere I would rather be than here.”


Coup d’Etat
111 Rhode Island Street
San Francisco
Phone 415-241-9300

All photography by Philip Harvey, used with express permission.

Philip Harvey is a commercial photographer with nineteen years of experience creating evocative images for clients. Philip guides his clients through the creative process from the early conception of the shoot--helping to creative the “look”, select locations, and find models-- through final printing. After completing his degree in literature and psychology at the University of Oregon, Philip graduated Brooks Institute of Photography with honors then moved to the Bay Area and began shooting for editorial, advertising, architecture, and catalog companies. Philip’s clients include L.L. Bean, Restoration Hardware, and Target. When not photographing Philip can be found canyoneering in Utah, whitewater rafting in Montana, or canoeing in Idaho. But most of the time he has a camera nearby.


  1. I love the revisionist regency look!
    Great use of color too.
    Can I pin these photos?

  2. As I am a big fan of the shop Coup d'Etat, I was not surprised that the owner's house was so stylishly furnished. It is a great example of a chic transformation of a regular 20th century house with low ceilings.

  3. Hello, John-

    Thank you for your lovely message.

    Yes..Darin has many fans and so many editors and designers think it is one of the top sources in the world, for rare and quirky and eccentric and bold pieces. Darin also sells smaller things...but it's the large scale that suits his space so well.
    You are right--the rooms had no architecture, really. No trim or is often called a 'Marina-style' house because it is a little bungalow like the ones built in the Marina in SF in the twenties and thirties. Builders' specials, perhaps.
    I love Darin's fearless re-invention...and the rooms have so much atmosphere, especially at night. You'd think you were in London. all best, DIANE

  4. Awesome! information regarding antique and I have come to know about your blog from my friend and I have read the post of yours it is very interesting, that was the kind of information have been looking for.Thanks for the wonderful post.


  5. Adore his sense of style + the bigger the better. Stunning

  6. I have loved Coup D'Etat since I first spied it about 6 years ago. These are amazing spaces, that come from a deep soul. Thank you. Mary


    Thank you so much for your lovely messages.
    I love enthusiasm--and I adore cheerful people who admire and appreciate beauty and style.
    Mary--you are right that Darin's collections are soulful and he is deeply involved in every aspect of his business. He has a great eye, and I must say Darin also has a wonderful sense of fun and irony and humor.

    Suzanne Allen sent a lovely note "Love it all. It's perfection'.
    I heard also from my friend, the great perfumer DelRae Roth:
    "hi there... love this and am going to make a trip to his gallery.
    All the beautiful portraits are wonderful.' DELRAE]

    Be sure to stay in touch. I love to hear from you.
    very best, DIANE

  8. Lynn Hamilton sent a lovely note:

    "Hi Hi! I love the way you wrote this and the way you show cased Darin Geise's talents. Thank you for the inspiration you shared, Lynn"

    I love this note--and always appreciate comments on the writing, the text. Thanks, Lynn.
    I so appreciate your comments. Wonderful.

  9. Wonderful, Diane. I am a fool for toile in particular and it always eems a perfect thing for a guest room. Impact, comfort, and occasional. Thanks!

  10. Darin Geise's home was a revelation. As usual, you write so engagingly I was swept up in the surprise at the apparent juxtaposition between his "cutting edge" shop and his uber-traditional home. But as you walked us through each room, I was struck at how fresh the design was - to me I felt like I was looking at something new for the first time in a long time. No question this is a talent to watch. We would love to work on a project with him. -- mbwife

  11. Stunning!

    Can't wait to visit Coup d'état