Monday, December 31, 2012

Designer I Love: Brilliant San Francisco interior designer Benjamin Dhong

Ben recently completed superbly creative and elegant interiors for a modern San Francisco house. 

Come with me for a highly detailed insider visit to Ben Dhong’s newest design, a residence for a finance executive in San Francisco’s Marina. 

I’ve admired Ben since he dramatically changed courses seven years ago, leaving the world of finance to intern with designer Martha Angus. He launched his own design firm, Benjamin Dhong Interior Design five years ago. 

Today, Ben works for clients around the country, stars in showcase houses, and has his work published in House Beautiful.

This week, we are taking a close look at Ben’s approach to design, his concepts, and his decorating tips.

Scroll down, and you’ll find detailed credits—including where to buy the ‘super-bargain’ picks Ben covets.

Think of this new post as a Benjamin Dhong Design Tutorial. 

Ben says:  “I play a fun game with people and tell them that in this room is something from west elm, ikea, restoration hardware and marshalls and make them try to find it….it all proves that chic doesn’t have to be expensive. We slipcovered the banquette to keep it soft and chose white to make it disappear – plus it can be washed!

We made the pillows large but few – in order to keep some order but at the same time make the space feel very laid-back.”

The owner, who is English, forty-one years old, told Ben at the start of the project that he wanted an uber-uber modern house. Ben always assesses clients to see who they are rather than merely depending on what they say. His client drives an Aston Martin, wears bespoke suits and has a devilishly charming English personality. Ben decided, his client is definitely not uber-modern. So he designed a house that reflected a cosmopolitan European feeling (collected) with strong doses of modern to make it feel fresh. 

Ben Dhong, photo by Moanalani Jeffrey.

I’ve admired Benjamin Dhong’s design and aesthetic since he first made a name for himself as an assistant to the great San Francisco designer, Martha Angus. 

Ben brings a very fresh approach to classical design. I note his naturally optimistic nature, his gregarious approach to finding antiques and art and his love of design. His learning is voracious and open-minded—essential attributes for a designer working today. 

Ben Says: “Our inspiration was a chic London salon at nighttime. with a sexy Tom Ford vibe.

Our inspirations were Karl Springer, Brancusi, Morocco. It’s all about sensuous textures here. Velvets, silk, parchment, mohair. Nothing too glitzy but the layering of textures gives it a very indulgent feel – but not over the top.

We made lots of small seating areas to create cozy nooks to gather – game table, window seat – including tearing out a built in cabinet to create a Moroccan inspired nook.” 

photo by David Duncan Livingston

Ben Says: “This room is all about my love of contrasts and how to highlight what you love about something by pairing it with something that brings out that essence.

The plaster medallion of king gustav pops like a piece of modern sculpture. The wallpaper’s field of gold blocks creates a sumptuously modern backdrop.

The polished silver Saarinen style base pops against the carpet, which seems to highlight anything that sits on it. The Louis XVI-style chairs bring a certain gravitas to the room.” 

Ben Says: “This is the top of the landing to the private areas…the master bedroom floor.

Continuing the cloud theme from the entry I wanted something light, airy, with a bit of whimsy. I love the juxtaposition of the formality and richness of the commode (who doesn’t love gilded feet!) with the dreamy naïveté of an oar-less rowboat floating away in the clouds.” 

Ben Says:  “The fireplace is flanked by two grisaille wallpaper screens from Tara Shaw. I love grisaille because it brings in so much texture and pattern without being too disruptive.

The bed is unapologetically modern. Pure geometry. I like canopy beds because they create this room within a room. Very cozy for large spaces.

“The Directoire-style bed gave the room a decidedly elegant personality against the more casual jute carpeting on the floor. I use this room to teach my clients about the benefits of keeping a room neutral until the end. The bedding and the throw are the only colored items. We could change the color accent tomorrow in a flash.

The simple Parsons table from west elm is one of my mainstays. It’s so simple and works with any style. I like to tuck stools underneath to layer more texture and make it more like a functional hotel room.

Ben Says: “The client is English, so we wanted to do a few nods to Britannia. What could be more fabulous than an homage to the Raj, so we jokingly call it the “Opium Den”.

The wallpaper is hand painted by de Gournay …aptly called “views of old India”. I’m mad about the sepia grey colors. It’s so romantic and transporting. The perfect backdrop for our “stage set”.

The daybed is simply over the top by the ever talented Michelle Nussbaumer of Ceylon et Cie. We had it designed so it could also serve as extra sleeping.

We didn’t want to make the room too thematic and predictable so we mixed in a few unexpected touches…modern leather sofa and back painted glass side tables, modern lamps.” 

photo by David Duncan Livingston

This is a teeny sliver of a space. Perhaps no more than 40 inches wide. But we wanted a bit of drama but short of flamboyance

I also wanted it to distill what we were doing throughout the house…a perfect balance of old & new, light & dark, precious & humble, expressive & restrained

The French trumeau is 1810, Empire -- something grand yet still restrained. 

Ben Says:  “We hit the jackpot when we located the nineteenth- century chair and desk clock.

French Empire? Bronze swans and stars? Blackamoor desk clock? They’re so stylistically retrograde they’re futuristic! A Gothic architectural fragment in plaster brings in texture and history.

“To create the perfect backdrop we covered the walls in a gorgeous jute linen. The rivets create the geometric backdrop and rhythm for the room while also lending an anachronistic element. Btw, Lining up all those rivets was no easy task. Phil Mcdonald our wallcovering guru was such a master that every last rivet is perfectly aligned.” 

The Wisdom of Ben:

I like creating confident rooms in which everything is not shouting at you “look at me”. It’s a low-keyed confidence. The ability to pair the precious with the humble. One of my joys is to elevate the humble and treat the valuable as an everyday object

For years I couldn’t figure out if I’m a traditionalist that likes modern things or a modernist that has a strong sense of history. I’m now comfortable with dropping the labels. Beautiful design is timeless.

I’m very intuitive and I try to discern early on what client desires and how they wish to live. I always try to find the emotional quotient. They might not be expressing it verbally but there is always an emotional need that needs to be fulfilled. I try to meet that.

I love creating ethereal and serene spaces. The balance the palette, materials, shapes etc. exude a serenity. Not to say that I don’t inject bold gestures, however they are always balanced

I love layering textures in the same color tones. It brings a richness in a very understated way.

I adore contrasts. There is a wonderful tension between the contrast of a rough linen with a rich velvet, or a distressed wood with a silver bowl. I find that tension exhilarating.

Great thought goes into the combination of a room. Some pieces must speak, while others must be sotto voce. The addition of a new piece may very well require removing something to keep it balanced.

“My color schemes tend to be muted and restrained,” noted Dhong. “I get color whiplash going through houses where all the rooms are dramatically different colors.”

The artist in me sees furniture as sculpture. There’s an elegant dialog between furnishings that requires a deft hand. I’m very good at keeping rooms balanced. Sometimes going to the edge, but never crossing it.

I like my rooms to have a bit of intellectual heft…A sense of history and erudition but never pompous.

My color schemes tend to be muted and restrained. Beautiful shell tones allowing a few select pieces to punch. I get color whiplash going through houses where all the rooms are dramatically different colors.

I especially enjoy when there is a collaborative client. Good design is a process and the give and take between good clients can produce a superior end result. 

When people say are you Traditional or Modern, I say "Why Yes I am!"

Livable elegance is what everybody wants right now. Order, but not perfection. My clients say, ‘I want something modern in spirit but warm and rich.’ I think everyone now falls somewhere between modern and traditional. They’ve seen it all, everything, and they want it all – beauty and practicality, formal and relaxed, old and new, serene and stimulating.

So instead of limiting ourselves, we strove to create a curated layered home that reflected his personality and lifestyle.

I think that is today's Modern. 

photo by David Duncan Livingston



Chinoiserie Day Bed: Inspired by a Chippendale design, manufactured by Ceylon et Cie

Wallcovering: Views of Old India, panels hand-painted by de Gournay.

Side Chair: Upholstered in Belgian Linen manufactured by Restoration Hardware.

Pair of side tables: Verre eglomise mirror cocktail cubes by World’s Away.

Pair of table lamps: gold disk table lamps by Robert Abbey

Brass side table: Hans Barbell Table by Jonathan Adler.

Rug: Jute Bali weave carpet manufactured by Merida Meridian

Union Jack Flag: found at Vagabond Vintage.


Dining chairs: Vintage Louis XVI Style chairs, Tara Shaw Antiques

Wallcovering: turquoise and gold geometric metallic pattern, “Margot,” by Sandberg

Dining table: hammered nickel table base by Julian Chichester and vintage Knoll top from Converso

Chandelier: white plaster from Donzella Gallery.

Statue: “Attitude” by Paul van Lith, Erickson Fine Art Gallery.

Relief: Plaster Medallion of King Gustav from Real Gustavian.

Carpet: custom turquoise and cream diagonal stripe wool carpet, designed by Benjamin Dhong.


Wallcovering: Fornasetti design by Cole & Son.

Mirror: Entwined Dolphins Mirror, manufactured by Carvers Guild

Table: faux bois demi-lune table, manufactured by Oly Studio.


Banquette: slipcovered in a relaxed linen, by Patricia Edwards.

Pair of lounge chairs: slipcovered in Belgian linen, manufactured by Restoration Hardware

Dining table: custom top in cerused white oak designed by Benjamin Dhong, reproduction Saarinen style table base.

Dining Chair: Vernon Panton chair, Lumens Light and Living

Photograph: “Yew Bushes in Perspective at Sceaux,” by William Curtis Rolf.

Cocktail table: Distressed Ionic Capital Coffee Table, manufactured by Restoration Hardware.

Pair of side tables: Asian style brass side tables by James Montt, purchased from Coup d’Etat

Architectural remnant on wall: Wooden Urn Fragment from Tara Shaw Antiques.

Jeff Koons piece: Blue Balloon Dog Plate by Jeff Koons through the Gagosian Gallery. 


Wallcovering: Hempcloth wallpaper manufactured by Kneedler Fauchere Imports.

Bed: Directoire Bed Upholstered in Belgian Linen, manufactured by Restoration Hardware.

Linens: Two-toned border sheets by Williams-Sonoma Home

Throw: yin yang blanket, Truly Swedish design.

Side table: White Lacquer “Parsons Mini Desk” manufactured by West Elm

Lamp: Antique brass and glass table lamp by Circa Lighting

Wall Art: Wooden Sunburst piece from Wisteria.


Wallcovering: Fine Hempcloth in Lunar Gray, manufactured by Kneedler Fauchere Imports

Sofa: Belgian slope arm sofa, upholstered in Belgian linen, manufactured by Restoration Hardware with Lavender Dupioni Silk throw pillows in “ Orchid” by Pindler & Pindler.

Pair of chairs: Swivel Egg Chairs upholstered in charcoal gray wool from Lexington Modern.

Banquette: custom design by Benjamin Dhong and Matthew MacCaul Turner, upholstered in platinum grey velvet.

Side Chair: Swedish Bergere Chair by Tara Shaw Antiques, upholstered in a simple white duckcloth.

Game table: Game Table attributed to Karl Springer, Larry Reilly Collection.

Game table chairs: vintage parchment covered chairs by Grosfeld House through Sputnik Modern, upholstered in Goatskin.

X-Bench: Toscane Nailhead bench, upholstered in Belgian linen, manufactured by Restoration Hardware.

Cocktail Table: Karl Springer Goat Skin table, John Salibello Antiques.

Demi-lune console table: Vintage Patina Console Table, Z Gallerie.

Chest: custom ebonized buffet w/solid bronze trim from Old Plank Road

Rug: blue and grey plush carpet by Stark Carpet

Pair of floor lamps: Polished Nickel from Robert Abbey

Sculpture: White Plaster Sculpture, by Emily Scheibal, through Myra Hoefer Design.

Painting over fireplace: Refraction (Grey), by Bernadette Jiyong Frank, from Dolby Chadwick Gallery. Photograph over sofa: “Staircase,” by William Curtis Rolf

Pair of mirrors: convex “Laurel” mirrors from Downtown.

Pair of Indian tables: Mother of pearl and wood Egyptian Moroccan side tables, E. Kenoz.

Faux fur throw: plum fur “Zambia” Throw from Z Gallerie.

Pair of garden stools: ceramic celestial cloud stools from Van Cleve Collection.

Pair of brass seahorses: pair of antique brass Venetian Seahorses from Parc Monceau.


Wallpaper: silk wallcovering by Lori Weitzner Design Inc.

Bed: white cerused oak frame, custom design by Benjamin Dhong and Matthew MacCaul Turner.

Pair of stools: Toscane Nail head bench upholstered in Belgian Linen, manufactured by Restoration Hardware.

Throw pillow on bed: Candace Barnes.

Nightstands: vintage brass and marble side tables, from Fat Chance.

Pair of lamps: Gold murano glass table lamps from William Switzer.

Rug: silk and wool raised pattern carpet, The Rug Company.

White chair: Eames La Chaise Lounge Chair by Vitra from New Hampshire Antique Co-op.

Pair of commodes: custom white oak Rueil commodes with Lucite pulls manufactured by Jean de Merry.

Wall panels: Pair of Italian grisaille panels from Tara Shaw Antiques.

Pair of round wall mirrors: Pair of C. Jere antique brass mirrors from Polished Modern San Francisco.

Three white covered jars: Vintage Ceramic Jars, Kenny Pacada.

Statue (on mantle): plaster and concrete with a wood base, Flowering Nereid, by Paul van Lith from Erickson Fine Art Gallery.

Bed linens: Vintage washed Belgian Linen Duvet Cover and pillow cases, Prairie Matelasse coverlet, made by Restoration Hardware.


Desk Chair: French Empire style fauteuil from Daniel Stein Antiques.

Desk: reclaimed aviator wing desk made by Restoration Hardware.

Artwork: lunar photograph in a custom finish and frame manufactured by Pictopia.

Table Lamp: Alabaster and Brass Table Lamp, Matt Murphy Studio.

Clock: French Gold Dore Clock with Blackamoor Figure, Drum and Co.

Wallcovering: Phillip Jeffries Inc.


Wallcovering: faux bois paper manufactured by Nobilis.

Mirror: 18th Century Directoire trumeau mirror from Regalo Antiques.

Base of sink: white plaster “Branche” console from Myra Hoefer Design.

Pair of wall sconces: Thomas O’Brien for Circa Lighting.


Chest of drawers: Bianca commode manufactured by Rose Tarlow.

Painting: “Le bateau dans les nuages" by Quinn Scheibal, through Myra Hoefer Design.

Accessories: conservatory model manufactured by Restoration Hardware, coral on gold painted base from Tritter Feefer. 


All photography is by Lisa Romerein.

Lisa Romerein

, based in Santa Monica, photographs for many publications including C magazine, House Beautiful and Santa Barbara magazine. 

She is the photographer for ANN GETTY INTERIOR STYLE, by Diane Dorrans Saeks

 (published in 2012 by Rizzoli International.)

All photography used here with express permission of Lisa Romerein and House Beautiful magazine, where this story was first published.

House Beautiful Decorating Director Doretta Sperduto directed this photo shoot.


t: 415.595.2582
f: 415.449.3419

Steven Rajninger owner of Locus AIA now a principal at Herman Coliver Locus architecture

415 495.1776
363 Clementina Street, San Francisco, CA


ArchitectDesign™ said...

what a gorgeous apartment and talented designer! I love the mix of high/low, and modern/antique -this is how we should all live. Thanks for keeping your blog so thrilling!
Happy New Year to you and your family! xo

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

I've received wonderful comments about Ben's Design from all his friends and fans in San Francisco.

Stefan--thank you so much for your lovely comment. Yes, you see how special Ben is and how thoughtful and 'untrendy' his work is. This house is so exciting--and so functional and so well done.

I also received the following wonderful note from my dear friend Tania Vartan in New York. Tania is the most fantastically talented artist who does delicate and elegant and artists verge eglomise for fortunate clients. Here's here message: thank you, Tania:

Dear Diane,
You are so right: He IS brilliant!
Happy New Year!

Tania Vartan

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

I had the nicest note from LYNN HAMILTON:

Happy New Year. This is a really nice post and I welcomed the thoughtful of you. Lynn

Yes, Lynn. You will note that in all stories on THE STYLE SALONISTE I credit the photographers (I only use original photographers, with express permission from photographers)...and always credit designers as well as others.
In this blog--which has such wonderful products and ideas and inexpensive pieces--I wanted readers to get inside Ben's head, and see what he found, and had access to it all. KEEP READING...more to come...all best DIANE

mary said...

Perfect timeless design. Above all it is truly modern neoclassicaI. Love every element. Thank you.

Adela Lei said...

Everything looks perfect. Everything fits and it suits really well with the owner's request too. I love looking at it so much.

columnist said...

Exquisite! I partcularly favour the mixture of classical with modern and the pretty vignettes, (tablescapes) created in corridors and landings.

All the best to you for Twenty Thirteen from Bangkok!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

I love hearing from you.
Yes, Ben is very special.
I followed him for over a year as he started and the worked on and then completed this house...he would send me 'in progress' images of a vignette, a new installation, art, mirrors, antiques as they were installed. I loved the Chinese bed--that was the turning point of final completion. As it happens, this house is about five minutes (drive) from where I live.
Mary--your new inventory on your site is wonderful.
Adela-I agree with you! The design is original and splendid...and at the same time it makes the owner/client very happy.
My Dear Columnist in Bangkok-I was in your region recently, and you'll be reading about it in the coming weeks on THE STYLE SALONISTE. I hope you've visited THE SIAM to see the collections, the archive, and the library. Keep me posted.
My best to all my readers for a LUCKY 2013...DIANE

Benjamin Dhong said...

Dear Diane,

Thank you for such a kind and generous post!!

I'm especially glad that you treated the subject as a tutorial.

For me the beauty of a room also lies in its ability to solve problems --- elegantly and efficiently...It's that ol' form vs. function!

Your observations are always so thoughtful and I'm honored to be included!

Happy New Year to you and all your readers!


Anonymous said...

Thrilled to see Ben being showcased. He is a true talent. One that understands design, style, taste don't always have a price tag.

DDS - Thanks for sharing his vision and images.

Love Ben's words:

"When people say are you Traditional or Modern, I say "Why Yes I am!"

"I adore contrasts. There is a wonderful tension between the contrast of a rough linen with a rich velvet, or a distressed wood with a silver bowl. I find that tension exhilarating. "

Anastasia said...

Congratulations Ben on another beautiful design!