Monday, April 3, 2017

Nob Hill Pied-a-Terre: Angela Free

When a client with an international focus acquired a new apartment on the peak of Nob Hill recently, San Francisco interior designer Angela Free turned her own cosmopolitan background to stunning advantage. 

Working closely with San Francisco architect Ira Kurlander, she fashioned an Art Décor masterpiece, with every detail exquisitely custom-crafted. Come with me to meet Angela, to take a tour, and to see what worldly perfection looks like. Oh, and to learn her sources.

Rigorous and restrain in the decorating process. That’s the uncompromising point of view of San Francisco interior designer Angela Free who has built a highly successful two-decade career on editing, designing, polishing and perfecting every millimeter.

“Design is a discipline that I approach quite formally to get the best results, and my appraisal starts with a wide open consideration of the full range of possibilities,” said Free.” I collaborate closely with my clients throughout as we move forward through the design process. I continuously refine and question and review. My clients learn a lot in the process and we become a great team.”

In Free’s impressive portfolio of houses all over California is a range of styles, from country style to city chic, and all impress with her professional dexterity and attention to detail.

Free recently turned her appraising eye to an ultra-polished apartment in a classic twenties building on Nob Hill. It features an exquisite collection of French Art Deco furniture, and fabrics that frame views from Alcatraz to the Golden Gate Bridge. She worked on it for over a year with architect, Ira Kurlander.

The Design Process

“In my design work, each item in a room, whether it’s a rare textile, lighting, a small table, an antique mirror, a piece of furniture, is given a frank but friendly evaluation as to its worthiness and value in the scheme,” said Free. “Our ongoing review keeps the mind receptive and flexible. The result of this focus is rooms that feel polished, effortless, and pleasing to the eye.”

Free places a high value on fine craftsmanship

“Quality handmade pieces — ironwork, a custom-crafted dining table, hand-loomed carpet, hand-woven fabrics — play a big part in my decor,” said the designer. “It’s also important to balance new pieces with an antique, or contemporary art with perhaps a twenties plein-air painting. A vintage piece or an antique doesn’t necessarily need to be costly but it must be compelling and very well made.”

Creating and Collaborating

Free has created a large file of cabinetmakers and artists who paint decorative finishes among her team.

“I love to see the hand of an artist, a craftsman, an artisan, and there are many devoted people in Northern California,” Free said. “A one-of-a-kind piece, perhaps a hand-carved and gilded mirror, will give a room soul and make it feel warm and comfortable to the eye.”

And while Free is an expert at appraising antiques and incorporating them in her décor, she dissuades clients from pursuing a ‘look’ or one style.

“I don’t do period rooms,” she said. “Nothing seems more stale and unnatural to me than a room which looks to be of another era. Rooms have to have a sense of today, of freshness and life.”

First, Correct the Architecture

The recently completed apartment on the peak of Nob Hill is a case in point. The homeowner approached her with a vision to restore the 3,000 square foot space, which has iconic north /northwest bay views and expansive east, north and west light from many windows.

“Our commission was to transform it from its rather mundane rooms back to its original splendor – with a very glamorous Deco yet modern feeling,” said Free.

In partnership with the San Francisco architect, Ira Kurlander, she started by perfecting the interior architecture. They modified the interior floor plan to create a formal entry and opened up the living room, dining room and kitchen to create one large space. From a series of ordinary rooms, they created three bedrooms each with en-suite bathrooms. The apartment now houses a wine-tasting room.

The new entry gallery floor has a classic white and black marble checkerboard pattern laid on the diagonal.

“The Art Deco direction was brought alive with refined ebonized and mirrored Deco-style interior doors with mirrored etched-glass architraves, custom-made in Northern Ireland,” said Free. 

Interior Architecture: Perfect It First

Free insists that the most successful decoration begins with well-proportioned interior architecture.

“Architecture informs my design, whether it is starkly modern, ornately classical or something in between, that is always my starting point when beginning a project,” Free said.  “We strive to create the very best possible version of the homeowner’s desires and dreams. Sometimes we have a very open minded client who is looking to create an entirely fresh start. This can be a very liberating artistic exercise.”

Free’s worldly approach to decoration is influenced by her life. She was born and raised near Tokyo, lived in England, and arrived in America at age eighteen. She later lived with her husband and son in Indonesia and the Philippines, then back to San Francisco.

“My early exposure to a broad range of cultures with unique stylistic art and cultures has been highly influential in shaping my own personal design aesthetic,” said Free.

She seeks projects that are a little out of the mainstream. She has been working for the past two years on a Sonoma estate in the Moroccan taste, complete with elaborate gardens. She's also immersed in a 1922 Presidio Heights residence for an art collector, and an St Helena country retreat.

“I love the challenges of design and generating fresh ideas with each client,” Free said. ‘This is a golden age of design. We are so fortunate to be living in it.”

From Angela’s Source List

Furniture and furnishings were a mix of glamorous Art Deco-style items such as the 'Duke' bar from Ralph Lauren, Lalique lamps, plaster pendants and sconces crafted by Steven Antonson in New York, and the stunning Lalique 'Masque de Femme' console. 

“I mixed in modern pieces that relate to the twenties era’s exuberance and interest in technological progress, such as the Roche Buboes 'Astrolabe' glass and steel gear dining table,” said Free. In the master bedroom she mixed an 18th century Italian gilt wood chair and French Louis Philippe mahogany five-drawer writing desk with leather top and brass mounts, circa 1840 with a custom leather and beveled mirror bed fabricated in California.

Lined and interlined curtains are Colefax & Fowler’s opulent' Wisteria' embroidered fabric hung on custom Deco-inspired Iron Art polished nickel Metropolis edition hardware.


In all of her projects, Angela Free works with specialized craftspeople from around the world including weavers, embroiderers, rugmakers, carvers, lighting designers, antiques dealers, upholsterers, marble specialists, along with fine decorative artists like Katherine Jacobus in San Francisco, and mirror crafters, cabinetmakers and 

For the Nob Hill project, here are Angela Free’s top five product sources:

1) Mark Nelson Designs – custom wool/silk tufted rugs in Living Room and Dining Room

2) Baroncelli – Living Room “Saturno” ceiling pendant with ring of Cristallo trihedrons

3) Magni Home – “Metropolitan” counter stools in high gloss Macassar ebony and black mohair

4) Roberto Barahona Upholstery – custom leather and mirror bed in Master Bedroom and Moorish headboards in guest rooms

5) Nanz – American Moderne-inspired door hardware


Where to find Angela Free:

Angela Free Design
44 Retiro Way
San Francisco, CA 94123
Phone: 415-885-4193

R. Brad Knipstein
instagram: @rbradleyphoto

Ira Kurlander


carrps said...

Absolutely lovely! And evocative of Art Deco without being a slavish copy. I adore those embroidered wisteria drapes.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


lovely to hear from you.

yes...the crunch and texture of the wisteria silk curtains...fabric by Colefax and delicious.

You are right...this is Art Deco with a light touch.

The location is wonderful too...afternoon light and morning light...Nob Hill. So glad you liked it...DIANE

carrps said...

Oh, the location! My perfect location. Either that or a little bungalow in Ojai. Can't decide which I'd prefer. In my ideal world, I'd have both.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Paula-

Yes, Nob Hill is is very quiet with for the occasional clang of the cable car...very romantic...
It is also very central...all directions...and the view of the bay are chic and there is always fog coming or departing...and the light is mesmerizing. is a happy pied-a-terre for this accomplished and very cosmopolitan could. I'm happy you liked it--DIANE