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.