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Inside a Historic San Francisco Mansion Where Art and Design Reign Free

Especially daring is Marino’s treatment of the mansion’s north façade. In Polk’s day, sweeping views weren’t so prized by owners or architects as they are now, so that side of the building possessed only a smattering of windows, just enough for light and ventilation. Today that insular, impassive stucco plane has been replaced with four stories of glass that take in a cinematic view of San Francisco Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and a panoply of landmarks.

“The entire back of the house is open,” Marino says. “It’s insane.” Entertaining spaces, both grand and glamorous, now face the water. One is a sun-splashed dining room where a giant Damien Hirst dot painting meets a graphic 18th-century inlaid wood floor that once paved an Austrian schloss. (The architect will place antique parquet floors in the Long Island museum that he’s currently planning for his own art collections.)

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Another Hirst hangs in the dining room; 18th-century Austrian floor.

Douglas Friedman, © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2020

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The living room is sheathed in neoclassical boiserie; the painting is by Gilbert & George,
and the custom sofa is upholstered in a Prelle fabric; Maria Pergay coffee tables. 

Douglas Friedman

Another is a Moroccan-style after-dinner fantasia that was inspired by a 19th-century French mantel in the Orientalist style. Marino complemented the mantel with walls of inky woodwork that were carved in Marrakech by the same artisans responsible for the Moroccan Court at the Metropoli-tan Museum of Art. The paneling was then shipped to San Francisco to be installed (“by men in white lab coats,” the wife recalls in a tone of delighted disbelief) and inset with large panels, some made of finely handwoven black leather and others fashioned of textured stucco that is composed of resin, wax, and plaster. The same craftsmen also devised the room’s opulent carved ceiling and the shimmering brass bar.

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One of the house’s new spaces is the wife’s bath, which marino clad in white cloud onyx and striped with mirrored pilasters; the vanity is surfaced with silver leaf.

Douglas Friedman

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Antique Anton Lorenz chairs and a vintage Jacques Adnet floor lamp in the family room.

Douglas Friedman

“I so believe in bringing artists into projects because they have a different vision; nobody thinks like they do,” Marino continues. For the San Francisco house, the talent pool that Marino called on is particularly impressive. Among it is the French superstar Jean-Michel Othoniel (inventor of acclaimed works for Marino’s Chanel boutiques as well as Château de Versailles and the Paris Métro). He conjured up the guest suite’s surreally overscale mantel, which was made by another of Marino’s essential sources, Venice’s Venini glassworks. Johanna Grawunder, a designer and artist with offices in the Bay Area and Milan, created the undulating light installation that roofs a staircase like overlapping silver scales.

Yet another talent works on Marino’s staff; call her the marble whisperer. “She’s a quiet, unsung young woman who photographs every slab and spends hours arranging the images before the stone is installed,” the architect says admiringly. That includes the white cloud onyx that was hand-selected for the wife’s bath, a snow-and-silver space where mirrored pilasters pour down the walls like rivulets of mercury.

Locals still refer to the mansion as the Rosekrans house, which is fine with the current owners. “I think of Dodie all the time,” the wife says of the reinvigorated, reconfigured, but, in many ways, strangely unchanged premises. “I always imagine she’s up in heaven, drinking martinis and looking down at us. I hope she’s happy, because we love it as much as she did.”

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