San Francisco Arts and Crafts style-home gets a face-lift with contemporary updates through the use of black detailing.
IN 1903, ALEXANDER F. MORRISON, a notable San Francisco attorney, built himself a 6,700-squarefoot home in the Laurel Grove neighborhood of Ross. Originally set on 40 acres, the sprawling Arts and Crafts–style house was built on a hill facing south to embrace the sunlight and views of Mount Tamalpais. With terraced formal gardens and a ground-level library designed to house Morrison’s extensive book collection (since donated to the dedicated Morrison Library at UC Berkeley), the property was an early example of the Marin lifestyle at its finest.
Fast-forward 110 years and this gently updated estate (downsized to a lot of 1.4 acres) is about to undergo a dramatic makeover. The formal rooms and gracious proportions remain, along with Arts and Crafts details including coffered ceilings, large wood-burning fireplaces (four of them), elaborate wainscoting and crown moldings. But other original details feel outdated: multiple stairwells connecting the four levels of the house and formal rooms that can’t accommodate today’s busy families.
Enter Yaél Putterman. A modernist to the core, the Israeli-born designer and entrepreneur confesses she was not interested in living in this house when she first saw it. Over the past 22 years, she has transformed nearly a dozen homes between the Bay Area and Israel, and at the time she had just staged-to-sell a low-slung midcentury gem on Shady Lane in Ross. After the sale of a previous residence, and with little more than two weeks to find her next home, Putterman reconsidered the Morrison estate and was lured by the promise of all that space.
“It was not my style at all,” says Putterman, who needed enough space for her family, including three children, then ages 8, 11 and 13. “It was very traditional and every room was painted a different color — blue, red, yellow. I couldn’t really see my life there, but the rooms were large and I felt like I could do something different with that.”
Working under her tight deadline, Putterman started the clock on a full face-lift of the house — walls were painted, floors stained, surfaces replaced and fixtures swapped out. Putterman chose varying shades of gray and pure white for most of the walls but, notably, she went all-out for her two favorite rooms — the living room and the ground-level library. The latter, lined in Morrison’s original glass-fronted bookcases, was given an all-over high-gloss coat of black, while the living room received a more matte black treatment that extends to the ceiling, where it contrasts against the wooden beams in the coffers.
“I’ve always done black in smaller doses, but these rooms were large enough to handle all-black walls,” says Putterman, who also painted the kitchen’s island black and the other cabinets a high-gloss gray. Citing influences that range from her Jerusalem childhood and the vibrancy of Mediterranean cooking to Yves Saint Laurent and the latest offerings at the Milan Furniture Fair, Putterman describes her contemporary style as more a mentality than an aesthetic.
“There is constant building in Israel; almost everyone starts from scratch when they buy a new home,” she explains. “And everything is made of concrete, plaster and stone so it feels very contemporary and strong. I wanted this house to feel less formal and more cutting edge. I also love to cook and entertain and it just didn’t accommodate that life.”
To open up the entertaining potential, Putterman turned the existing family room into a giant extension of the kitchen, complete with the enormous gray lacquer island, which was shipped from Israel, where it had been custom-designed for her last home there. Throughout, a collection of similarly streamlined and sleek European furnishings sets a decidedly contemporary tone in this turn-of-the-21st-century home.
“It just needed to feel more relevant,” Putterman says. “The house hadn’t been touched in 15 or 20 years, but even if it wasn’t outdated I still might have done most of the work. I need to make every home a place I love to be — I need to put my stamp on it.”
She now makes her signature “stamp” available to the public through Yaél Studio, her new hybrid studio/art gallery in the center of Ross.