A Modern Family Home Where Past Meets Present
Interior designer Will Wick blends a California-cool aesthetic with age-old European details.
Flip through—or scroll down the pages of—any interior design magazine and chances are you're greeted with a sea of approachable interiors, filled with plush sofas, gauzy drapery, and Americana furnishings for a West Coast by way of the Hamptons feel. "There's nothing wrong with that—it's comfortable and looks good—but I was really trying to push another look," says San Francisco–based designer Will Wick of the family home he recently completed in Woodside, California. "[The homeowner] had about 200-300 tear sheets of really traditional houses that were sort of Robert Stern-esque. I liked them but thought we could create a more modern, transitional blend between what she was thinking and what I was thinking."
Inspired by the new-build construction—"the hole for the house hadn't even been dug yet," he says—and frequent trips to Antwerp to stock his San Francisco antiques shop, Battersea, Wick conceived a design rooted in a modern Belgian farmhouse aesthetic, and worked with the house's architect to bring it to life. "I had been doing a lot of day trips into the countryside and found that some of the best antiques houses were set in these old manors," he recalls. "They would style the showrooms so beautifully—they felt like homes with a specific point of view."
So he set about bringing the look stateside, translating some of that historical context for a contemporary West Coast home. He purchased a pair of stately oeil-de-boeuf window panes (the round porthole-style ones found on so many traditional Belgian roofs) and turned them into mirrors that now reside in the master bathroom; they overlook a weathered marble soaking tub retrieved from a French château, a piece that's so heavy it had to be installed with the help of a crane. The antique Belgian cobblestones that line the house's front drive also make an appearance in the wine cellar, which is hidden behind a pair of 250-year-old iron doors picked up from Wick's shop. "We really went for it," he says. "We wanted to bring in antique architectural elements to make the home feel aged and substantial."
But while the goal was to lend a sense of historical reference, Wick maintained a sense of modernity throughout. "It's always important to make a house feel cohesive," he says. "The point is to make sure you don't step too far out of certain parameters but not be so linear that you can't have fun." To unite the rooms and varying styles, the designer introduced a monochromatic white color palette that he saw in Paris: "It's very soothing to the eye," he says. In the dining room, an 18th-century farmhouse buffet that, in Wick's words, "defines that part of the room," blends seamlessly with a slick bentwood table and a collection of rustic cane-backed chairs. In the living room, custom windows inspired by the old leaded panes of English manor homes look out on an eclectic riveted-metal cocktail table and a pair of Midcentury armchairs by Billy Haines. "We used architectural pieces to make the house feel more noteworthy," Wick says.
Perhaps the most interesting detail in the home can be found in the library, a moody chamber with coffered ceilings and herringbone-patterned wood floors. "The idea behind that room was a men's suiting aesthetic," says Wick. "I wanted it to feel dandy yet refined, and the crisp gray sofa and leather details combining with the softness of the wood paneling." In fact, wood paneling and wainscoting appear throughout the house, but here, a cerused finish—achieved by shooting walnut shells at the wood to make it grainy and porous—subtly elevates the room without overpowering the space. "It required building floor-to-ceiling walnut paneling offsite that was ⅛ of an inch too big, and the contractors were saying it wasn't possible," Wick says. "The owners were worried, but I was adamant about it, and it turned out great."
That display of trust demonstrates the collaborative exchange of ideas and give and take that occurred between Wick and his client when it came to down to major design decisions. In the kitchen, the homeowner insisted on a table where her family could gather for casual meals, while Wick preferred to install a counter-height storage island. "I was hesitant because I didn't think it'd be functional," says Wick. But eventually he relented. The result is a hybrid island-table raised halfway between counter- and dining-height. "It's perfect and works so well—it makes the house feel like a home," he admits. The same could be said of all of the timeworn details he introduced. "It was a beautiful house from the start," Wick says. "We just made it more special."