Monday, August 11, 2014

Designer I Love: Stephen Brady — City Retreat, Domestic Bliss

EXCLUSIVE TO THE STYLE SALONISTE:  Come with me to meet the wonderfully talented designer Stephen Brady and learn how he has created his own private retreat, a peaceful realm near San Francisco Bay.

This week we visit Stephen at home in Mission Bay, San Francisco, to capture his tips on interior design and find ideas in his tailored apartment. It’s new, and has never been published. You see it here first.

You’ll discover how Stephen designs for his own pleasure.

For the last twenty years, he has been designing GAP Inc. international flagship stores and retail concepts for high profile Banana Republic and Old Navy stores and new acquisitions like Athleta. Recently he has been traveling often to China where the company is expanding. 

Stephen has also designed several highly successful San Francisco restaurants, including the popular Spruce in Pacific Heights, and Café des Amis, on Union Street.

I’ve written about Stephen rather a lot over the past two decades. And yet you won’t find him featured in design magazines…but you will find his influence on thousands of retail stores around the world.

If you leap over to your library and flick through some of my earlier books, you will find him. His rustic house at Stinson Beach is in ‘Seaside Interiors’ one of my Taschen books (or was it ‘California Interiors’?) His city house is in ‘San Francisco Interiors’ where he is definitely on Page 129. Let me know if you find him in others. His beautiful garden was featured in Garden Design magazine (I was one of the founders) and ‘The Garden Design Book’

His private work is personal, graphic, classic, old-school, and always wonderful to photograph. 

Stephen has just completed decorating his new San Francisco apartment, and I shot it with David Duncan Livingston to give my readers the first look.

The Mission Bay apartment is in a superbly designed new complex in the newly developed Mission Bay district, formerly a tumbleweed area along the bay, east of the city. (Think former railroad yards, warehouses, an industrial area time had passed by.)

Stephen’s new two-bedroom apartment is chic, relaxed, and immensely comfortable. It’s his perfect weekend escape. Come for a visit.

As a special extra treat, I’m included below a list of design tips and ideas from Stephen. You’ll find them inspiring.

Who is Stephen Brady

Stephen Brady has devoted his life to interior design and interior architecture. He is the Executive Vice-President Creative Services at GAP Inc. and recently celebrated his twentieth year with the company. If you’ve walked into a new Banana Republic flagship store in Shanghai, Rome, London or Paris or New York, you’ve seen the work Stephen and his team have created. He directs and collaborates with highly talented teams for high-profile GAP Inc. stores, as well as Banana Republic and Old Navy. Stephen put his imprint on many stores including glossy Banana Republic interiors on Regent Street, London, the Champs-Elysées, Paris, and in Tokyo and Rome.

In other words, Stephen is devoted to style—and he is always traveling long-distance to finesse and fine-tune bold new retail concepts.

In San Francisco recently, he took six months to find his ideal apartment, a two-bedroom, 1,600 square foot south-facing residence that feels spacious, and gets sun much of the day.

His apartment is both a private refuge from a busy life, and a clubby retreat where he likes to entertain friends with impromptu dinners and casual gatherings. And perhaps because his very early career was at Britches, the venerable menswear store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, he has a deep love of menswear fabrics like suede, tweed, linen, wool, cashmere, cotton oxford, and patterns like herringbone and houndstooth. That’s a great habit to pick up. Oh, and his bed is upholstered in tan faux ostrich. 

“I was looking for a two bedroom apartment to acquire, and heard about new construction in Mission Bay by a top Canadian developer that specializes in high-quality design,” said Stephen. “I went to check out floor plans and finishes and materials when the building had barely broken ground. I love real estate and was attracted to this new neighborhood fifteen minutes from my office, and twenty minutes from SFO. I liked the refined floor plans, the fourteen-foot ceilings, and the well-considered design. My favorite floor plan had a quiet sheltered terrace where I could enjoy breakfast in the morning.”

The neighborhood he discovered has been developed over the last decade, from a neglected former drive-by area to a thriving community of top research hospitals, and low-rise apartments.

“Today’s glamour should be seductive, personal, comfortable, and just a little bit eccentric. These concepts were the motivation behind my new apartment,” said Stephen.

That’s the driving force for Stephen whose new apartment suggests the nuanced colors and connoisseurship of Coco Chanel, the quiet sculptural refinement of Jean-Michel Frank, and the wildly confident passion for art in thirties Paris.

Tobacco-colored suede club chairs, softly faded Aubusson rugs, mirrored black lacquer screens which refract shards of sunlight, and a panoply of portraits and iconic black and white twentieth-century photography whisper of the intrigue of Paris salons and the designer’s worldly travels. 

A handsome eighteenth-century French painted chinoiserie chest, a shimmering pair of mirror-topped brushed nickel cigarette tables, and a sleek glass and nickel Art Deco coffee table, along with voluptuous twenties and thirties bronze figures on tables and shelves show Stephen’s knowledgeable and discerning eye.

“Eclectic antique and art collections are always an important part of my rooms,” said Stephen.

Essentially, the furniture is overscale. This approach makes his rooms feel more expansive, more comfortable, and certainly grander. Furnishings in a chiaroscuro of dark brown, black and off-white create a background, a mood, and a frame for the paintings, photography, and objects he has collected over many years.

Brady has made it his practice to create mood, individuality and mystery in his rooms.

For his work, Stephen Brady is always on a plane or on-site or in his studio in San Francisco overlooking the bay.

His job is intense, highly collaborative with many specialist teams, and very rewarding as he sees stores designed, built, polished, perfected efficiently with his specialists, and then opened. He had previously worked in top design positions for Ralph Lauren and for Calvin Klein.

Stephen has done city chic in Manhattan, a Stinson Beach beach cottage, and a sleek Palm Springs retreat. In the Hamptons his shingled saltbox weekend house is all cushy sofas, down pillows, open doors, and sunny terraces.

When he first arrived in San Francisco from New York in the early nineties, he created richly-detailed rooms in an Arts & Crafts house near Buena Vista Park, complete with a redwood paneled sitting room and a romantic formal living room with hand-plastered walls. That apartment is in my book, San Francisco Interiors.

Stephen is a serial apartment lover. Returning to Manhattan in 1995, as a design director for Ralph Lauren Home, he shaped his French-accented art deco townhouse in the East Village. Heading uptown to Sutton Place, he designed a glamorous art deco apartment overlooking the East River.

“There’s a thread between the various California and New York City apartments and co-ops I’ve lived in,” said Brady, who heads every spring to celebrate his birthday in a rustic cottage in St Bart’s.

“Everywhere I go, I find antiques, sculptures, paintings, and my rooms have a mix of eccentric and rare antiques from London, Paris, New York, or Morocco. I like diversity. I like pieces that have odd proportions that show signs of age and wear. They all live with my collections of black and white photography by Angus McBean, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, and Horst.

In all his dwellings, Brady selects console tables, hall tables, chests, dressers and cigarette tables on which he arranges vignettes of gilt-framed portraits, crystal lamps, antique silver candlesticks, arcane design books, flea market collections of tortoiseshell boxes, along with French silver vases filled with tulips and garden roses, and antique Murano and Daum glass vases.

To give his living room a feeling of pure luxe, and to enhance its apparent size, Stephen kept the window shades ultra-simple.

“I wanted a romantic, Paris salon-style apartment overlooking trees and a quiet park,” said the designer. “For me it has a New York sensibility, and the interior could also be in Paris.”

His rooms seduce the senses with soulful paintings, wax-buffed hardwood floors, gestural sculptures, French art books and fragrant candles (Cire Trudon and Diptyque.).

“My collections have come together over decades,” said Brady. “When I return home in the evening, there’s an air of tranquility. It’s very quiet and meditative. It’s a bit formal, but I entertain very casually. I don’t stand on ceremony.”

In composing rooms of quiet beauty, harmony and elegance, he has also painted a very artful portrait of himself.

Weekends with Stephen...
“On a Saturday morning, it’s very quiet and private here,” he said. “I may go up one flight of stairs to the gym. I could swim at the Olympic-size outdoor pool. Or I might go over to Dogpatch and meet a friend for lunch at Piccino. There’s the Mission Rock Resort, with fantastic views over the bay. I can drive to the Ferry Plaza for lunch with friends at Bouli Bar on Sunday.”

In particular he said, he likes the simplicity of life here—after the excitement of working on a glamorous new flagship in Shanghai or Paris or Tokyo.

Hot Tips from Stephen Brady:

Interior designer Stephen Brady’s decorating ideas are cool-wherever you hang your hat.

COOL COLORS — Keep your color scheme uncomplicated and fresh. Brady loves timeless blue and white fabrics, and white walls. He’s also a fan of charcoal, dove, off-white and black…very Chanel…for a color scheme with an edge. Black is his go-to color.

DOUBLE DUTY — Versatile furniture makes life simpler. A large upholstered ottoman can also be used as a coffee table topped with a tray. A day bed instantly becomes an extra guest bed. (Dress it with a selection of throws, blankets and wraps.)

PRACTICAL UPHOLSTERY — Stephen loves fabrics that look like men’s haberdashery--tweeds, wool herringbone, checks, slubby linen, and flannel. For his country house on Long Island he uses slipcovers in natural off-white denim, or indigo washed denim feel good against bare skin--and can be thrown in the washing machine for instant cleaning.

CANDLELIGHT — Keep a stock of natural beeswax candles--tapers, columns and votives. Dozens. Candlelight helps everyone relax.

NO HARSH LIGHTING — In the evening, banish overhead lights. “They should be taboo,” said Brady. “Overhead lighting is harsh and unflattering.”

CUT A RUG — Choose carpets (like rush matting) that you can pick up, shake out, and change at will. Faded, somewhat tattered Oriental carpets are especially hardwearing even outdoors. They can turn a patio or terrace into an outdoor room.

TABLE OF CONTENT — Select a very generous, sturdy dining table-to use for everything. It’s the perfect family gathering place all day, children can do projects on it on a cool day, and it’s ideal for a buffet. 

CREDITS:Photography exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE by David Duncan Livingston.

David Duncan Livingston is an interior and architectural photographer working throughout the country from his Mill Valley, California studio.

Interior designers, architects and publishers work with Livingston to create photos of interiors for portfolios and editorial, along with the people and products that reside within them. Livingston brings a cohesive vision to his assignments by carefully overseeing the art direction, styling and post-production of his photography. His editorial style creates photos that are inviting, with a natural light-filled feeling.

David Duncan Livingston is the photographer of six books of interior design among them: Shingle Style, by Rizzoli, San Francisco Style, California Country Style by Chronicle Books. Hawaii a Sense of Place, by Mutual Publishing, and by Taunton Press; The New City Home, Patterns of Home.

All images used with permission from the photographer, David Duncan Livingston.


Brillante Interiors said...

Absolutely perfect design to the last detail. So inspiring that I am going to copy many ideas for my clients and myself.
Could I Pin some images with credits?
Thanks Diane for another wonderful discovery.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Oh Diane! This is such a beautiful post in so many ways. Your words, Stephen Brady's rooms and David Duncan Livingston's gorgeous photos combine to produce something that is utterly bewitching. This post took my breath away. I miss you, my beautiful, erudite friend! xx

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I love hearing from you…and love to hear that you are inspired by the designers I select.

I'm always looking for originality, eccentricity, and even…consistency and certainly classicism.

Keep me posted…best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Wonderful to hear from you.

Yes, Stephen's rooms are always beautifully composted and I love his eccentricity.

I've written about him for all my books…and he is a writer's dream with so many aspects to write about.

In particular…it's wonderful for me to see paintings and photography and bronzes and furniture in this apartment…that were first at Buena Vista Park or Nob Hill…or Stinson…or New York…and now are at home in his latest abode.

Always such a pleasure to hear from you. Good luck with your new book--DIANE

Michael Hampton said...

Dear Diane,

I was delighted to read your post today on Mr. Brady, who has always been a designer who I have admired greatly! I was first introduced to his talent and vision through your books and I also remember a feature that House and Garden did on him in the early nineties. (I still have the clipping in my inspiration files) I was still a design student and his work resonated so much when I was discovering my own style and paying attention to the designers that inspired me. I only wish we could see more of his residential work, though we are fortunate to experience his vision every time one goes into a Banana Republic and Gap stores.

Thanks so much for sharing his work. The photographs turned out beautifully! In particular the vignettes.

All the best,


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

I received the following message from
Merdith Etherington-Smith, London:

Hi! I LOVED your blog about this apartment. The combination of ancient, modern and contemporary has been effected with such a sure hand and a loving eye. An object lesson to us all.

Meredith--thank you so much. Stephen will be happy to read your words. DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Your post about Stephen Brady and the photos of his SF apartment were a gift. The apartment reflects a lifetime of living "with legs on it." And there is much to learn from studying those photos. Thank you. Leah Darron

Windlost said...

Gosh Diane, what an absolute feast for the eyes. Stephen has such a beautiful, refined style and there isn't a note wrong in his new apartment. Such exquisite things. I've looked at the photos (beautifully shot!) again and again and admire all these delightful elements. A beautifully composed space and he sounds like a fascinating person too with such an interesting life. You meet the most wonderful inspiring people. Thanks for sharing!!

Hope you're well Diane.
Always reading your posts. Xo Terri

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you so much for writing.

I agree with you about the vignettes. His rooms are always beautifully composted…and then when you lean in closer and look at his collections, it is a revelation.
The apartment…2 bedrooms, dressing room, large living room…is not huge, but the high ceilings, large windows and airy rooms make it feel very large. In particular, when you are standing looking at the photography, his bronzes, the books, and his smaller pieces (his sense of scale is great)…the rooms feel endless.
You are very perceptive…yes, the closeups are delicious. best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


You are right…a lifetime of living and a life of collecting with a very focused eye.

thank you for very pertinent and acute observation.

best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Terri-

I always think of you reading on the treadmill…and then at a work break…so great.

Yes…his compositions are glorious and always feel relaxed and unforced…beautifully balanced.
Yes, refined. As I started to write about his apartment…I though of him working at BRITCHES which was one of the first…perhaps the first…store to sell Ralph Lauren menswear…certainly the first to sell Ralph Lauren womenswear (which at that time was in the same fabrics)…and how he has always loved tweeds and flannel and suede and herringbone and other menswear fabrics…they look great and wear well…forever, really.

So happy you liked it. I've had an amazingly enthusiastic response from around the world, including from old friends of mine and Stephen's in London and Paris and all over. Makes everyone happy…design has that power.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Lovely and inspiring -his home is a great portrait of the artist himself. While in SF recently I had dinner at Spruce and just loved the interiors (and the food!).

cindy hattersley design said...

So interesting to see a stylesetter/tastemaker's private abode. Every element has a provenance or the appearance of such. Nothing the least bit trendy or new. Absolute perfection. Another lovely post.

Anonymous said...

I would never have guesses that this beautifully classic apartment would be in such a new neighborhood as Mission Bay. It is amazing to see how he as taken a modern space and made it cozy and traditional.
Thank you for sharing it! Kate

Kathryn said...

What a lovely post, Diane. Kudos to David, too, for the beautiful photos.