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Stylemaker Spotlight: Designer’s inspiration sourcebook L4

Golden Gate Gardener: The wrong houseplant L2

Home&Garden San Francisco Chronicle and | Sunday, September 19, 2010 | Section L


Saxon Holt

A carefully tended border thrives at the S.F. Botanical Garden entrance.

THE DIRT By Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan

Secrets to enduring gardens Photos by Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

When we talk (as we seem to do endlessly) about sustainable landscaping, we count water, soil, appropriate plants; we take into account pollution, resources, runoff, impact; we use the Hippocratic principle: First, do no harm. That’s wise but incomplete. There’s a resource all gardens need to keep living, to endure. They need love. Gardening is work. Some of us like the work, but one thing we always grow is tired. Natural is not the same as low maintenance — we’ve changed the world around us too much for that now, especially by isolating our own patches from the contexts in which they could wither and be renewed in cycles too long for human lives to cherish. Even what most of us used to think of as wilderness in California was carefully maintained for productivity, by planning and periodic grooming. Gardens are human artifacts. Garden photographer Saxon Holt wrote, in Pacific Horticulture magazine, “The truth is that there are no gardens without gardeners, and no garden is entirely sustainable without human intervention.” As we’ve witnessed with gardens like Western Hills in Occidental and the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, a garden that lasts must have more than its own wells or droughttolerant plants. When people fall in love with a garden, they bring its best hope of survival and, at least figuratively, of propagating itself. Its aesthetics get spread within its culture; it becomes a model and a mecca by buoying the spirits of people who care for and visit it. It’s almost parallel to evolutionary

The move to a new home gave SF Girl by Bay blogger Victoria Smith the chance to try out “a sophisticated brand of eclectic.”

What’s black, white and fresh all over? Design blogger Victoria Smith relishes the chance to switch up her style in Noe Valley

Yellow cookware tops a classic blackand-white O’Keefe & Merritt stove.

A tabletop in the kitchen nook complements black walls, white wall art.

By Chantal Lamers S P E C I A L T O T H E C H RO N I C L E

While some people detest the burdens of moving, others embrace it as an opportunity to purge, start fresh and, perhaps, redefine their style. That’s the case with Victoria Smith, San Francisco’s iconic decor and design blogger better known as SF Girl by Bay ( Her signature bohemian modern style was feeling a tad stale. So when a friend rang about a 1930s Noe Valley cottage up for grabs, she hurried to packing and put an arsenal of ideas and resources into action. “I’d been craving a change for a Blogger continues on L5

Kitchen nook shelves are filled with dishes in shades of white.

The Dirt continues on L3


By land or by sea, homes showcase Bay Area living S P EC IA L TO THE CHRONI CLE

Sausalito Floating Homes Tour

Gaze at bay views, lush gardens, cobblestone walkways, intricate woodwork and classic architecture in the Bay Area during fall home tours taking place next weekend and extending into October. Four tours covering a range of architectural styles in Oakland, Sausalito and Alameda feature dozens of houses where owners have preserved the quirky character or former grandeur while enhancing with modern comforts:

Now in its 25th year, this parade of the floating community includes seven homes never before on the tour and two that haven’t been part of it in years. With 19 homes spread over four docks, it could be hard to choose what to check out. Among the must-sees are the Ameer, an ark still bearing its original design and the only ark on Richardson Bay; the Oyama Flower, a 4,000-square-foot, three-level floating home designed to resemble a Japanese

By Anabelle Garay

Ric Miller

barn; and the Red Star, a home featuring wrap-around windows and etched glass, said tour committee spokesman Paul Winward. There’s also music by local acts, an art show, plus food and drink at the Marina Green. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 25. $35 advance; $40 tour day. Parking at Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City with shuttle service to Marina Green. www.float (415) 332-1916. Home tours continues on L4

San Francisco Chronicle and | Sunday, September 19, 2010 |



Black, white and fresh all over Blogger from page L1

long while,” says Smith. “It’s what I do. I live somewhere for about five years, and then I get the itch for a new place to offer up a design challenge. Maybe I’m trying to grow up a little and go for a more sophisticated brand of eclectic.” Smith’s former residence, a Victorian flat in Pacific Heights, was a composition of crisp white with traces of girlish pastels in the way of pillows, art and cluttered collections as well as some natural wood tones from an anthology of beloved midcentury furnishings. From there, the plan was to reimagine her home without parting from the upbeat delights that reflect her style best. “It’s still very eclectic and a mix of midcentury modern and vintage finds, coexisting with a few brand-new pieces. I’ve been inspired by a lot of black and white lately, and Scandinavian design,” she says. ‘A new look’ To build upon her existing style essay, she added of-the-moment industrial bends and some intoxicating coats of matte black chalkboard paint. “I’d been wanting to paint some walls in my old place black and was worried about the commitment to something so dramatic, so when I was able to move into this new home, it was the perfect opportunity to try out a new look.” The dining room felt a bit dark at the onset, but Smith wasn’t deterred from experimenting by saturating one, then eventually four walls, in the rich, ebony hue. To delineate the black walls, she erected a shallow white fireplace mantel. She topped the shelf with a collection of castoff pottery, glass beakers and silver trophies (some she repurposed into succulent planters). A modest silver wine rack is mounted in place of logs. In the center of the room, a hearty antique European table (a handme-down from her mother) holds court. But Smith, to no surprise, adds her own vintagemeets-modern twist by scooting in a collection of white tulip chairs and black bistro seats. The room offers a striking juxtaposition to her feminine panache. Smith opted to give the kitchen nook the same black chalkboard treatment. But here, the idea was to make it a playful backdrop for scribbling menus and grocery lists. In this corner of the house, the cool blackened walls also provide an unorthodox setting for a sunny corner that’s transformed by an industrial stainless steel cart serving as an indoor garden. A bounty of lush herbs shoots from a cluster of mismatched terracotta pots. An arched, built-in shelf also situated in the alcove provides Smith an opportunity to play with her display genius. The polished white shelf is bedecked with pottery and dishes, most of which are white, glass or cream-colored. A bit of a maximalist at heart, she successfully grants her collections a minimalist appearance by sticking to a subtle color scheme. The outcome here, and throughout her home, are liberal collections that don’t feel crowded or excessively edited.

Photos by Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

Snapshots and other images hang from a curtain wire over a white couch on which Lucy, Smith’s dog, lounges.

Style shakeup Here are Victoria Smith’s tips for making a style transition: De-clutter your collection: “As far as purging, I just tried to keep what really meant something to me, or I really loved the look of. I started a vintage Etsy shop, Le Petite Flea, ( so I could share some of my discarded treasures with readers. That way, I knew they were moving on to a good home.”

Above: A low, white mantel over the fireplace helps delineate the dining room’s dramatic black walls. Right: In the kitchen nook, wire baskets filled with magazines sit in front of a chalkboard used for scribbling tasks and menus.

Smith was slightly taken aback by the inexplicable combination of yellow and burgundy tile in the kitchen. Nevertheless, she weaves a picturesque, European-style story in the light-filled space. Lots of plants along with yellow, white and stainless kitchen electrics and accessories top the counter. While Smith was eager for a bit of refinement, she wasn’t about to make things super serious. That unfussy anthem is repeated throughout the house and the living room is no exception. This space, which beckons guests most, is airy and ultra comfy. “People seem to be drawn to the living room, which is nice, and what I’d hoped for. “I like an eclectic look, and I was going for more of a Scandinavian feeling, with lots of white and a mix of vintage eras with modern classics.” That translated to a cushy white sofa decked with frolicky-feeling pillows. Seating options The gracious nature of the space is palpable thanks to an abundance of seating options: a pair of midcentury lounges, a tufted-and-tapered legged bench, a duo of white and black Eames rockers, and a solo butterfly chair. The chit-chatty venue is anchored by a George Nelson crisscross pear pendant and a neat little Saarinen coffee table atop a coiffed white rug. For cooler occasions, a corner fireplace is on standby. Throughout the house,

Smith uses black or white as the base colors and “gives each room a personality with a mix of accessories and artwork.” “I get great sunlight in just about every room in the house. I also love having room to spread out. I used to have my dining room, living room and office all in one big room. I like being able to have a room for each and decorate according to the purpose of the room.” In her bedroom, Smith deliberately held back by limiting the adornments in hopes of evoking sleep-filled nights. “I started here first because I was certain of my decor plan. I wanted a room that felt peaceful and relaxed and to highlight the beautiful light from the windows in the room,” she says. “I don’t sleep well, so I wanted a cozy space, but nothing too fussy.” The final touch For the most part, that meant a simple black tallboy dresser, paired with an ornate, gilt mirror (she plucked for $20 from an Urban Outfitters fixture sale). For the final touch, she ornamented an overhead light with Tord Boontje Garland Fixture, a sweet transition to her bird-andbranch print Dwell Chinoiserie bedding. On her blog, Smith has documented a good measure of her process for decor wrestling as well as the big and the small design victories scored in her new cottage. Stay tuned. There’s more of that to come, she says.

“It’s still really a work in progress. I tend to jump in and try things, and then sit back and wonder if I made the right choice. The good news, it’s always changeable. Nothing is forever when it comes to decor.”

Find a source of inspiration: “I love the blog Door Sixteen ( for inspiration, and (the writer) Anna (Dorfman) has given me countless new ideas. She has amazing style and her DIY projects are so well carried out.” Start a design journal: “I love European design magazines, like Living Etc. I miss Domino but have all my old magazines and look through them all the time. I tear out images I love and keep them pasted in design journals for future inspiration.” Virtual pinboard: “I also use Pinterest (www.pinterest. com/home) a new online visual bookmarking tool. You can create virtual pinboards on any theme, like bedrooms for instance, and when you see something inspiring on the Web, you can pin it and save the image and its original source on pinterest.”

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— Chantal Lamers


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Victoria Smith,  

Story on the Noe Valley home of Victoria Smith of In the San Francisco Chronicle.

Victoria Smith,  

Story on the Noe Valley home of Victoria Smith of In the San Francisco Chronicle.