Some Secrets to Decorating a Rental Just Right

John, why did you retire to San Francisco?

JOHN MAYBERRY: I was based in Hong Kong for most of my career, designing hotels and homes all over Asia. Later, I worked in Palm Beach. I collected art everywhere I went. I’m 71 now, and when I retired, I chose San Francisco because it has the urban appeal of a big city but is relatively small and easy to get around in, even without a car.

ANTONIO MARTINS: But before this, he lived in a 4,000-square-foot house in Georgia. He moved from there to this 900-square-foot apartment — and hung the same number of paintings!

Antonio, how did John end up becoming your client?

AM: A vice president at Hyatt introduced us when John first moved here. Then, whenever I had a photo shoot or showhouse room, I’d force him out of retirement to help me style things. So we were already friends.

To design John’s apartment, you thought two designers were better than one?

JM: When you’re an interior designer working on your own home, it’s easy to second-guess yourself. Another pair of eyes is invaluable. Antonio is younger, so he has different views on things and different references. Sometimes I agreed with his ideas, sometimes I didn’t. But it was always an interesting discussion.

What was the apartment like when you found it?

JM: It’s a rental on the Embarcadero in a typical late-1960s building. It has great views of San Francisco Bay. But it’s a simple box of an apartment. The ceilings are only eight feet six inches, the walls are off-white, the carpet is wall-to-wall oatmeal — and I can’t change any of that.

That doesn’t exactly sound like a designer’s dream project.

JM: The advantages were location, view, convenience and a well-managed building. I go to Europe several times a year. I wanted to be able to simply lock the door and know that everything would be safe and secure.

Back to your stuff — why did you mount your art from floor to ceiling?

JM: I had these boring blank walls — there’s no boiserie, no crown moldings, nothing of architectural interest. So I used my art almost as wallpaper, to give the eye something to look at. It also visually expands the space. After retirement, I started doing Japanese sumi-e ink drawings, which also hang on the walls. Other apartments in the building look smaller, even though mine has a hundred times more things in it.

How did you deal with the carpet?

JM: I went to Pottery Barn and bought sisal rugs with black cotton binding and put them down in every room.

AM: Instead of buying custom sisal — which would have cost thousands — he got standard sizes for a few hundred dollars and put them next to each other. It looks like a million bucks.

John, in what way does this home reflect your current stage of life?

JM: Just as I’ve had an accumulation of years, I’ve also had an accumulation of objects. When I moved here, a lot of furniture had to go, but I kept almost all the art, which I’ve been collecting for 45 years. There’s a story behind every piece — who I was with, where I bought it, and who the subject is. So these things are very comforting to look at and remember.

Best Essential Ingredients of “Jungalow” Style

JUSTINA BLAKENEY: I love pattern. It immediately creates a statement and relieves the need to add a lot of stuff. Look at the bedroom — besides the bed, we literally have no other furniture in there, but the patterned wallpaper and rug make it bold.

You do have that one tree.

Right, but plants fall into the same category as patterns. Adding a plant instantly breathes life into a space, especially a small room. When people ask my advice on decorating an awkward corner, I always say, “Why don’t you just put a humongous plant right there?”

You should have that printed on a T-shirt: “Put a plant on it!”

I’ve yet to find a design conundrum that can’t be solved with plants. That’s why they’re such a big part of the Jungalow look.

Back up — can you explain the Jungalow to the not yet initiated?

The Jungalow is the name of my daily blog and multidisciplinary studio. We design prints and products, like the wallpapers, rugs and pillows you see in my home, as well as an upcoming furniture collection with Selamat. The word comes from a combination of bungalow and jungle — it’s all about coziness and vivaciousness. If I had to boil it down, Jungalow style really consists of four ingredients: color, pattern, plants and global finds.

It also feels family-friendly.

Yes, and the compact size and layout of this particular house helps. The kitchen is right in the middle of everything — it’s the heart of our home. You’ll often find my husband in here cooking, me working at the nearby dining room table and my daughter playing in the adjacent living room. The proximity creates a triangle of conversation between the three of us. I’ve lived in bigger houses, but this one feels just right for our family.

The wall between the kitchen and dining area is painted in Breakfast Room Green by Farrow & Ball. The Silestone countertop is from Lowe’s.

What was most important to you in remodeling your kitchen?

When we moved in, the house had a galley kitchen, but we worked with our contractor to demolish and rebuild. We went bold with the tiles and added a window behind the sink, which makes the space feel airy and light. We love looking outside while washing dishes. And talk about bang for your buck: The window cost about the same as an expensive chair, and I’ll take a window over a chair any day.

The dining room is equally eye-catching.

We designed it around a set of iconic Verner Panton chairs I inherited from my grandparents. I grew up eating bagels and lox on those chairs! I have so many memories of them. Now, they’re part of the modern Jungalow vibe.

You seem fearless when it comes to mixing styles.

The secret is color. I use it to tie disparate things together that might not jell otherwise. For instance, in the dining room, the white chairs are balanced by the white console-slash-secretary desk. I work with white a lot because I love contrast — when it comes to layering textiles, it’s easy to go overboard. White helps a space feel relaxed.

What inspired the blue room?

You mean Bluhemia? That is our little lounge, where we watch TV and wind down. Since it’s on the other side of the house from my daughter’s room, we don’t have to worry about waking her up when we’re in there. It also doubles as a guest bedroom, thanks to the sectional sofa that comfortably sleeps two.

The Moroccan-inspired lounge, which Blakeney has dubbed Bluhemia, is wallpapered with Aja in Teal, one of her designs for Hygge & West. The sectional is from Jonathan Louis, and the faux sheepskin is from Target.

Was it challenging to find furniture that works in these petite rooms?

In small spaces, it helps to seek out furnishings that not only fit the space, but also maximize its function. If I can’t find the perfect piece, I’ll have it made — like our bed, which has built-in night tables and a headboard that rests seamlessly on the wall, so not an inch is wasted.

No wonder you didn’t need any other furniture!

The first night we slept in our new bedroom, between the sparkling glow of the pendant lights and the gold of the wallpaper, we felt like we were staying in a fancy hotel. Since there’s no stuff — no dresser with a ton of photos, and no tchotchkes, which I usually have — it’s a respite from the chaos of daily life.

But wait, where did all of your stuff go?

I took a deep breath and let it go. We sold a few things and stored the rest in the garage, where each item is waiting for its turn to be swapped into the house. Like our family, our home is continually changing. If you come back here in a month, it’s going to look different.

Best Bedroom Design Ideas From a Professional Stager

Between sleeping, reading and, quite simply, relaxing, it’s likely you spend a lot of time in your bedroom. It makes sense, then, that you’ve also spent a significant amount of time turning it into your own personal oasis.

Now that you have your (sweet) dream bedding, wall decor and furniture, it’s time to take a serious look at how it’s all arranged.

Meet home stager-trainer, interior designer and Emmy Award-winning television host Cathy Hobbs. Here, she offers four simple layouts (think of them as your cheat sheets) for organizing a comfortable retreat.

Whether your bedroom is small, large or shared, read on to learn the four go-to designs for a practical and well-styled room.

A conventional bedroom layout is anchored by a bed with a nightstand on either side. Across from the foot of the bed, a dresser should be situated below a mirror.

Resist the temptation to add more furniture. You don’t need it.

“Some people buy two nightstands, the chest, the dresser, the mirror and a low table, but that becomes too much,” says Hobbs.

For a simple, clean design, stick to the golden rule:

One bed + two nightstands + dresser + mirror = success.

If your room has ample space, however, consider creating a lounge-like atmosphere.

“A cavernous room ideally lends itself to an opportunity to have a sleep zone and a lounge zone,” says Hobbs. “A lot of people use the lounge zone for reading, morning tea and relaxation in general.”

To create a separate space for daytime relaxation in your bedroom, situate two lounge chairs across from the foot of the bed with a side table in between them. If you have a particularly large amount of space to work with, consider a small sofa with a coffee table in front of it.

Keep the rest of the bedroom as you would in a conventional space, anchored by a bed between two nightstands. Rather than situating the dresser across from the foot of the bed, however, arrange it on a side wall with a mirror above it.
In tiny bedrooms, perhaps a child’s room or a guest room, it’s especially important to make use of the side walls and mirrors to open up the space.

“One space-saving technique is to put the bed against the wall, with a single nightstand,” says Hobbs. “Some people even use built-ins to create a captain’s bed or Murphy bed.”

Mirrors are particularly crucial in small bedrooms.

“Mirrors can act as windows, so as a stager, I use them to widen the room, especially if it doesn’t have a lot of windows or light,” says Hobbs. “You’ll definitely want to use the opportunity to have that reflective surface above a dresser.”

One handy technique: Hang vertical mirrors in a series to resemble windows.

The goal with a shared space should be to create separate “zones” so your children — or whoever else is sharing the bedroom — can feel as though they have an area of their own.

To do this, arrange two beds with a single nightstand in between. Allow for space against the wall for a bookshelf or built-in that each child can decorate and personalize to make it their own.

“This arrangement is a little more private than the option of just, say, bunk beds,” says Hobbs. “Each child has their own private side of the room, a good configuration for sharing.”

Know More About The Rules of Colorful Decorating

Designer Celerie Kemble finds the playful side of sophisticated colors in a Manhattan apartment that’s refined enough for the urbane parents but rambunctious enough for high-energy kids.

KATHLEEN HACKETT: Four school-age children live in this New York City apartment. Who would have thought?

CELERIE KEMBLE: They have wonderfully stylish parents, whose aesthetic is an ideal combination of assured and devil-may-care. They want their kids to live in a home that telegraphs what’s important to them: art, humor, playfulness, beauty, comfort, confidence. The intention is for this house to last a lifetime — and to get better with age. My colleague Caroline Irvin and I chose colors, textiles and furnishings with a high degree of detail and patina. It all sustains wear and tear in such a way that scuffs, dings and smudges don’t look like flaws, they look like they’ve been there all along. “Crisp and new” is difficult to maintain, even if there are only grown-ups living in a house.

So it wouldn’t faze the owners if a toddler left handprints on the dining room walls?

Ah, the dining room. It does have a gravitational pull. The walls have seven or more coats of lacquer on them — I lost count. They’re like mirrors, and what child isn’t fascinated with his or her reflection? We landed on that claret shade after trying several other colors, from a Billy Baldwin–esque egg yolk to a stuffed-animal brown. The red wine walls are flattering, warm and lively. You’re meant to feel like all of the best conversations happen here. But so do children’s chess games and homework.

I wish I had been in the room during the color discussion with your clients.

The wife wanted the spaces to be pretty but not fussy, good-looking but not arrogant. She loves an ambience that has flair as well as soul. The color schemes reflect that.

The entry hall certainly announces that this home is anything but stuffy.

The wallpaper is blooming with the clients’ favorite plants — royal poinciana, acacias, orchids, geraniums, kumquats — hand-painted on faint sky-blue tea paper. It’s as if a mad botanist lives here! It’s a sophisticated yet playful solution for an interior room. Every day begins and ends with a stroll through a lovely garden.

Some rooms feel breezy, others cocooned. How did you work out the transitions?

I usually steer toward light colors and use bold ones as accents. But this time, several rooms — the study, the dining and family rooms and a boy’s bedroom — called out for deeper shades to project a feeling of warmth and envelopment. That said, all of the rooms are designed around comfort and graciousness. There are shared colors throughout, but the real connection is an ethos: spaces that are casual and generous.

The living room sofas look relaxed, but they’re white! Are they really kid-friendly?

They are covered in a mohair velvet the color of vapor. The fabric is easy to spot-clean and can stand up to tons of abuse, which was key because so much entertaining happens here. It’s a wonderfully welcoming room, not least because the walls look like the inside of a conch shell and give off a pretty glow. Warm cocoas and cream — the buttery shade of mashed potatoes — are so deeply satisfying that everyone feels at home.

There’s no shortage of seating choices. Why so many chairs?

The house is full of people all the time! The wife has that enviable mix of humor and grace that makes it easy to stop by. She had a real desire for the space to seem pretty without veering toward the saccharine, which is why most of the seating — and the other furnishings in the room — is rounded or even serpentine. There’s not a chair you’d be afraid to sit in for fear of ruining it or being uncomfortable. In this home, you are at ease setting your drink down and eating out of your hand, or a napkin or off a great plate. It’s all acceptable.