A formerly Mediterranean-style house in Sausalito received a complete makeover courtesy of John Lum Architecture and designer Nicole Hollis.
Photo: Douglas Friedman

A Minimalist Revamp Transforms a Home Overlooking San Francisco Bay into a Modern Marvel

Designer Nicole Hollis teams up with John Lum Architecture to create a house that’s as bold as it is reserved

San Francisco designer Nicole Hollis is well-known for interiors that are rigorously spare, favoring neutral palettes of blacks, whites, and grays. Yet her rooms never feel stark, thanks to a dexterity with distinctive materials and welcoming textures that’s matched by her keen eye for high-impact contemporary art and unique furnishings, often specially commissioned from noted artisans and makers. 

Her boldly sophisticated style has made her a favorite among clients in tech and finance, including one who recently returned to Sausalito after living for years on the East Coast. His passions extend to social entrepreneurship, art, and the outdoors, and he wanted a home overlooking the bay where he could entertain friends and spend time with his grown daughters.

In the living room, cocktail tables by Nakagawa Mokkougei nestle between a Christophe Delcourt sofa and a Vincenzo De Cotiis table on one side and a pair of midcentury Italian lounge chairs flanking a Blanche Jelly table on the other; next to the minimalist marble fireplace, a Markus Haase sconce offers a visual jolt. Photo: Douglas Friedman

He found a house that checked most of the boxes, but its Mediterranean styling wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. So he turned to Hollis, who worked in collaboration with the San Francisco firm John Lum Architecture, to give the place a sleek, modern makeover, inside and out. The goal, Hollis says, was “to pair a feeling of serenity with the spectacular view. We wanted to simplify but with good materials—taking it down and then bringing it back up.” 

A bronze work by Eva Rothschild stands amid terrace plantings overseen by Arterra Landscape Architects. Photo: Douglas Friedman

A formerly Mediterranean-style house in Sausalito received a complete makeover courtesy of John Lum Architecture and designer Nicole Hollis. To the skylight above the second-floor landing, Hollis added a screen that casts striated shadows across a Jim Lambie wall installation of colored sunglass lenses; a Tomás Saraceno geometric sculpture hangs in the hallway. Photo: Douglas Friedman

Structural changes included moving the stairs to create a strong, more central architectural element. The team also removed some first-floor walls to open up a spacious, free-flowing living and dining area, where Hollis installed limestone flooring and finished the walls in warm white plaster.

“We wanted to simplify but with good materials”

Nicole Hollis

Inset into one of the living area walls is a minimalist white marble fireplace and floating hearth that Hollis describes as the room’s “star.” That space’s confident mix of furnishings is anchored by a curvaceous Christophe Delcourt sofa and a pair of midcentury Italian lounge chairs, with two burl-wood cocktail tables by Japanese master craftsman Nakagawa Mokkougei nestling between them. Side tables by Blanche Jelly and Vincenzo De Cotiis are striking complements. Equally eye-catching is the onyx and bronze wall sconce by Markus Haase, while outside on the terrace, visible through a nearly floor-to-ceiling window, is a towering stack of bronze spheres by artist Eva Rothschild.

A David Weeks Studio chandelier fans out over the custom-designed table by Hollis and chairs by Jean-Michel Frank and Adolphe Chanaux from Ecart International; a large tapestry work by Pae White hangs above the TV cabinet, also by Hollis, and a lamp by Studio Henry Wilson. Photo: Douglas Friedman

Holly Baxter & Associates advised on the art acquisitions, including the Pae White “Smoke” tapestry that overlooks the dining area. Hollis designed the fumed-oak table, keeping in mind her client’s desire for it to serve double duty as a spot for poker games and meals. She also conceived the rift-cut, white oak cabinet with textured panels to accommodate a pop-up TV. As with so much of her work, the forms and compositions are crisp and edited, but there is richness in the materials and details.


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Vincenzo De Cotiis wall lights accent the kitchen, where Hollis-designed stools fit neatly under the island’s counter. Photo: Douglas Friedman

One step up from the dining area, the kitchen is outfitted with oak floors and low cabinets, so as not to interrupt the view. Murano glass and silvered brass wall lamps by De Cotiis break up the room’s strong orthogonals, while walnut stools with angular backs by Hollis tuck under the island’s counter.   

In the client’s office, a Viktorie Langer painting in bold reds and blues stands out amid the room’s predominantly dusky color scheme. (Hollis’s fondness for inky hues led her to paint the exterior of her own family’s 1870s Pacific Heights townhouse pitch-black.) The office’s bronze and leather desk, designed by Hollis to move up and down as the client wishes, is surrounded by matching hand-carved chairs by Rooms and stands on a Christopher Farr carpet in dark charcoal silk.

A painting by Viktorie Langer lends a splash of color to the office, where Hollis devised the desk with a lift that enables it to move up and down; the chairs are by Rooms, the wall cabinet is by Damien Gernay, and the rug is by Christopher Farr. Photo: Douglas Friedman

In the entry hall, at the foot of the open staircase, Richard Artschwager’s sculpture Exclamation Point (Yellow) injects a playful pop of exuberance. The stairs lead to a second-floor landing with a rectangular skylight, to which Hollis attached oak fins that filter sunshine and cast graphic shadows across the gray plastered walls. Adding to the play of light are a Jim Lambie wall installation of colored sunglass lenses and a geometric hanging sculpture with tinted acrylic panels by Tomás Saraceno. 

A Richard Artschwager sculpture punctuates the entrance hall area beneath the open staircase. Photo: Douglas Friedman

Also on the second floor, the serene primary bedroom features a custom-designed bed and otherworldly sculpted-plaster pendants by Rogan Gregory. The adjoining bath is just as cool and collected, with oak cabinets, travertine countertops, and, flanking the custom mirror framed in blackened steel, a pair of minimalist lights by Michael Anastassiades.

Hollis says that her client was deeply engaged, while “trusting our vision, which made the project so enjoyable and collaborative.” She notes that the art of creating restrained interiors is far from simple or easy. “It’s about gently chiseling away the unnecessary, without leaving a home feeling barren and cold,” she says. But when Hollis does it, the results seem effortless.

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2021 Summer Issue under the headline “Style to Spare.” Subscribe to the magazine.

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A Minimalist Revamp Transforms a Home Overlooking San Francisco Bay into a Modern Marvel

Cover: A formerly Mediterranean-style house in Sausalito received a complete makeover courtesy of John Lum Architecture and designer Nicole Hollis.
Photo: Douglas Friedman


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