Monday, December 8, 2014

A World of Ideas: San Francisco interior designer Benjamin Dhong creates an inspiring new family residence in Woodside, California

With subtle color harmonies, sculptural furniture, worldly art collections — and a dash of wit and free spirit — Ben Dhong offers new and lively ways of thinking about design and décor. Look for subtle tonalities, inspiration, and ideas in every room.
I recently sat down for a chat with Benjamin Dhong about a new residence he recently completed in Woodside, the leafy and ultra-private Silicon Valley town just south of San Francisco.

His client is the CEO of a global Fortune 100 company. The Japanese family has two children.

The shingled house was built in the 1930s, a golden age of domestic residences in America. It is surrounded by gardens with white roses and hydrangea. 

“The family wanted a house that both reflected them but also was suitable for important business gatherings,” said Ben, who started his design company ten years ago, after working closely with Martha Angus.

“I knew I wanted natural materials, and a sense that everything hadn't been a purchased on the same day. I thought of bringing in the garden tonalities inside the house. Especially, I wanted to look as if it had come together over decades, with a mixture of high-low, or as Andrée Putman used to say, a combination of “rich” and ‘humble”.

Interior Designer Benjamin Dhong

Living room:
The goal in the living room was to create a calm, cloudlike feeling using textures and light to set the mood.

Natural materials like grasscloth, jute, are juxtaposed with the dazzle of gold. Hints of brass add low-key 'gilding'.

"To make large rooms feel more cozy I believe that all the corners of a room should be designed for use,” said Dhong. “This makes a more welcoming space. I created five zones (main fireplace seating, game table, corner banquette, writing desk, reading area). 

“Designing in neutrals requires layers of texture so we applied grasscloth to the walls, added seagrass to the floors, and kept all the upholstered fabrics to a linen palate,” said Dhong.

A large Saarinen table anchors the bay window. It’s a clean-lined juxtaposition to the French tub chairs and the temple spire.

He designed airy linen sheers bound with earthy jute Greek key to filter the light.

“I like mixing periods as long as they all balance,” said Dhong. In the living room he brought in Gustavian, French, Swedish Deco, mid-century, John Dickinson, Asian fragments, Italian sculpture, modern art.

“We commissioned a pair of hand-carved wooden tree of life consoles from Myra Hoefer Design, Healdsburg, and had them gilded,” he said. Simple metal mirrors from Restoration Hardware keeps the look restrained. The daybed is by Carl Malmsten, Sweden’s twentieth-century answer to Ruhlmann. He placed a daybed in order to keep the room more open.

Ben Dhong told me, “I love creating cozy corners. In the corner banquette area we crowned it with a cloud painting commissioned from Healdsburg artists Wade Hoefer. We asked Wade to paint a round canvas to give it a porthole feeling. The cloud painting balances the cloud altar fragment above the desk.”

An 18th-Century Swedish desk is paired with a vintage wiggle chair. Its curves mimic the cloud altar fragment.

“I'm especially pleased with how the Frank Gehry ‘wiggle’ chair dialogs with the Gustavian secretaire and the Italian cloud fragment. It’s a playful dance,” said Dhong.

Dining Room:
The glories of green are a favorite of Dhong’s, especially unexpected green tones. The house sits in almost an acre of old oaks, maples, cedar trees and a cloud of roses, hostas and hydrangeas.

“I wanted the dining room to be totally romantic,” said Dhong. “I found this mossy green toile that had pastoral scenes of frolicking nobles and peasants. I balanced the traditional toile with bold strokes — an overscaled mirror, a modern Italian chandelier, a strong sculptural dining table.” Dhong designed the table with Candace Barnes Antiques in San Francisco.

The modern light pendant is an unexpected combination with the toile. It's Italian from the 1950's. Each suspended lens captures the light and at night the fixture is ablaze with a fiery glow. 

The chairs are 18th-century from Lyon, France.

“The chairs are fabulously crusty with pale green and parcel gilding, and perfect for adding faded glory,” said Dhong. He upholstered the seat in faded green leather for durability but topped it with green velvet. The curtain rod is a gilded faux bamboo with an overscaled key finial, a nod to the family’s background.

“We decided to make both the dining room and library green to tie them together,” said Dhong. He backed the silk curtain with burlap to give it more body and to show a contrast rough texture, and an example of rich-poor design.

“Libraries are like powder room,” said Ben. “You can let yourself go and go a little crazy.”

This library originally was a plain white box with an old green wooden mantel.

“I wanted an exotic green velvet jewel box with gold as the accent color,” said Dhong. “Now it is slightly exotic with some decadent flourishes.”

He designed the green ottoman bench with Moorish arches. It's very architectural and stands out like an elegant temple.

“So that the family can watch television, I designed a trumeau-style mirror above the mantel,” said Dhong. “The biggest mistake people make with mirrors that ‘conceal’ a set is making them the same shape as the television. You're not fooling anyone.”

The room does not get a lot of light so he added more mirrors flanking the fireplace. Dhong upholstered the frames in green velvet to make them quieter and to recede into the architecture.

A green ikat fabric on the ram’s head chairs gives a fresh update to a classic chair.

A primitive-style side tables from Bliss keeps the room from being too precious.

A 1970s desk was repainted a soft green and is a chic base for the Giacometti-style lamp from Sirmos.

Master Bedroom:
This room ‘before’ was one of the least welcoming rooms in the house — cold, cavernous, quirky window placement, with an odd niche that made no sense.

“We took all of those elements and created an aerie or treehouse — but an elegant and romantic one,” said Dhong.

Layers of neutrals in varying textures give a sense of serenity and luxe to the room.

"I knew that we needed a canopy bed to create a little nest,” he said. “We were fortunate with the locations of the rafters. They fit exactly over our bed — allowing us to raise the height of the canopy several feet.”

He covered all the walls and sloped ceiling with a nubby silk wallpaper. 

That gorgeous tall gold mirror is from Restoration Hardware Baby & Child.

“I wanted a modern fabric for the canopy and found this cut velvet from Classic Cloth," said Dhong. “It’s almost Japanese. It’s modern without losing any sense of luxury. My favorite corner has the faux-rock console. It represents everything I love…. plaster, raw silk, shell, classical engravings, nature, with a flash of gold.”

Painted wicker chairs from Janus et Cie provide a sculptural playfulness with the table and soften the edges.

“I have a weakness for drama, of the good kind, of course,” said Dhong. The shades of bone backed with antiqued brass provide a rich finish that warms up the room. I also like a little eccentricity in a room. This faux-bois side chair from Myra Hoefer Design is certainly witty.”

Son’s Bedroom:
This room by Dhong is a modern ode to a classic boy’s room — with stripes and nautical themes. The wallcovering is cashmere from Rose Tarlow.

He took blue and white mattress ticking, paper-backed it, and covered the ceiling with it. A pair of Chesterfield headboards takes on a more gentlemanly feel with grey velvet.

A white lacquer West Elm desk provides a dash of white against all the grey/blue textures.

“I added a pair of distressed blue mirrors from Wisteria and now you're aboard Captain Nemo's Nautilus,” said Dhong. “The lamp is the son's favorite piece in the room, with it's stainless steel shade. It's the ‘sports car’ he's always wanted. The phrenology head is my nod to John Dickinson.”

Daughter’s Bedroom:
“I call this "spending summer at Grandma's house,” said Dhong. “There's something very cozy, nestlike, and summer-by-the-lake about its design.”

He cloaked the walls in a mohair-like wallpaper from Rose Tarlow.

“Everyone forgets the ceiling when selecting wallpaper,” noted Dhong. He chose a hand-blocked green striped linen from Carolina Irving to give the room a trip back into the past with it's almost ticking pattern. The hand blocking gives it an imperfect waviness.

“This room was challenging for bed placements, so I selected a pair of headboards with exaggerated wings — the effect is to give each person their own little private compartment,” said Dhong.

Guest Bedroom:
The bedroom is surrounded on three sides by the garden. For the designer, it was a challenge as the only place to put the bed was adjacent to the bay window.

“I designed a sleigh bed to make it feel more like a cozy nest,” said Dhong.

He made a wallcovering from a fabric embroidered with branches. The room is a golden glow.

The guest bedroom room is an essay in layering textures to make things interesting and cozy. Fabric walls, linens, whitewashed wood, antique brass, white plaster, velvets, natural wovens, flash of gold offer contrast and harmony.

“I'm a fan of all things Giacometti,” said Dhong. “His zig-zag lamp is a special favorite. I added a custom velvet shade. I like the combination of plastery white with a sumptuous velvet.”

Today the pool house looks as if it has great bones, but it was actually sad and forlorn. “When we found it with its plain white walls. It needed texture and character,” said Dhong.

He covered the walls with his favorite faux-bois wallpaper from Nobilis. It gives instant character.

“We added drama with this enormously tall wooden cabinet,” said Dhong. “Guests walk in and gasp. We added over scaled ginger jars to gild the lily and to anchor the dining area. I love the metal edge detail on the table.”

“The rafters of the room remind me of the barrel-vaulted ceiling of my favorite church in Venice, the sixteenth-century Chiesa Santa Maria dei Miracoli,” said Dhong. “It resembles a boat. Now, the room feels like a chapel so we anchored the far end of the room with a dreamy painting by Wade Hoefer. We ganged six inexpensive floor mirrors to create a wall of mirror that reflects the pool. The metal frames add an industrial element to the room.”


All interiors designed and styled by Benjamin Dhong, San Francisco:

Lisa Romerein
Santa Monica, CA

Photo shoot produced by Doretta Sperduto, Interiors Editor, House Beautiful.
This photography first appeared in House Beautiful.


ArchitectDesign™ said...

Love this - great details! And it feels like it has a sense of humor.

Windlost said...

Wow Diane, what a stunning home. I am a major fan of Benjamin Dhong but this house knocks it out of the park. I think I understand what works in interiors, but then I see masterful spaces like this, so beautifully composed from disparate elements, and I am so deeply humbled and inspired! I have always loved fine, elegant spaces but Benjamin brings this organic warmth and yet crispness to them. I honestly don't know how he puts it all together. It's like a finely composed delicate masterpiece!
Lovely post. I've pinned all the images for future study! Perfection.

Hope you are well Diane. Warm regards, Terri

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I totally agree. It's so rich with detail…and you are right that Ben has a great sense of humor and wit in design.

Lovely to hear from you--DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Terri-

I hope you are having a mild winter.

I love your comments and your insight! One of the reasons Ben's design is so enchanting (as you noted…) is that many of his ideas are very 'do-able'…such as the been tufted bench in front of the fireplace, of the old gold mirrors, or the wild-mild toile pattern of the green wallpaper. Note that he repeats some themes--gilding, railheads, natural fabrics, neutral tones with strong accents, and mixes of chairs. Any one of his ideas can me extrapolated…and used in any room, anywhere. I love his comment and idea of 'use all corners of a room'…which he does with a corner banquette, for example.
The decor is endlessly interesting and full of detail.
Ben is also a fantastic stylist--and some of his styling ideas (small brass objects, great lamps, white plaster, interesting pillows) can also be picked up and used for inspiration.
Terri--as always a delight to hear from you. I'm so happy this gave you such delight. I'll tell Ben…he will be thrilled.

my best DIANE

Leonard said...

Diane, you never disappoint! Nor does Benjamin! Uber chic!