The New Traditionalist
Chinoiserie cabinets, dip-dyed curtains, taxidermy in the living room: Interior designer Chloe Warner fearlessly decorates her own family home
Motherhood teaches you many things, not the least of which is to trust your instincts. For Chloe Warner, this is a motto that has stood her in good stead. The San Francisco interior designer was seven months pregnant with her second child when she and her husband, Andrew, decided to put their two-bedroom apartment on the market. But when it sold much more quickly than expected they had to embark on a speed-round search for a new home. Their desired location: Oakland, the city just across the Bay Bridge, where the couple found a 1920s-style three-bedroom cottage surrounded by lush plantings. It took Warner a single walk-through to know the house was right for her growing family. “I remember seeing it, liking it, and then I owned it,” she says.
Such decisiveness comes naturally to Warner, a native of Montana who studied architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and opened her firm, Redmond Aldrich, “practically the day after I graduated.” Filled with color and pattern, her interiors balance the tried and true with an inherent sense of fun. “There’s a big [element] of tradition, with an architectural sensibility, in the way I decorate,” she says. Her love of offbeat elegance and flair for punchy accents were in large part inherited from her grandmothers, one of whom had a house in Maine with a library designed by the legendary 20th-century decorator Sister Parish. “I loved visiting there—just being inside was a transformative experience,” Warner says. The same can be said of Warner’s own home, with its quirky twist on classicism that’s surprisingly well suited to the dynamics of raising a family.
“I used to tell clients with kids, ‘You’re in charge,’” Warner says. Now in the trenches herself and raising two highly active children, five-year-old Ferris and three-year-old Lily, she knows who the real bosses are. “I’m like, I get it, kids totally ruin your sofas!” she adds, laughing. Still, Warner—who is the kind of mom to pair distressed denim and slinky gold bangles—isn’t likely to turn her house into a bouncy castle anytime soon. Instead, she stuck to a high-low strategy, placing delicate pieces above waist level and those that can withstand wear and tear (and perhaps look the better for it) closer to the ground.
In the dining room a Roger Mühl painting is displayed on one wall, while porcelain vases sit high on a glossy white Regency-era cabinet found in Palm Beach. The Mies van der Rohe Brno chairs around the walnut dining table have been in Warner’s possession for years and “can easily be wiped down in case of spills,” she says. A striped DwellStudio rug adds energy to the space. Suspended above the table is a light fixture whose shade, by San Francisco printmaker Erin Roberts, is bedecked with calligraphy-like swirls of gold paint.
Numerous pops of sophistication in unexpected places convey a sense of wonder and discovery. In the foyer, Warner commissioned California artist Tim Balon to create an abstract mural on the barrel ceiling that expands outward from a brass-globe pendant lamp sourced at Remains Lighting. Behind the shelves of the built-in bookcase in the den, Warner had Roberts paint a geometric pattern in blue and gray tones, lighting up what would otherwise be a forgotten surface. Even the mismatched antlered heads that flank the living room fireplace add a refined yet rustic touch—the bighorn sheep was a gift from her zoologist father, the antelope she unearthed in a taxidermy shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Of course, nothing imparts patina quite like family heirlooms, and Warner seamlessly integrated some of her own into the mix. The cast-bronze floor lamp in the entrance originally belonged to her great-grandmother, who found it—as well as the Chinese screen in the dining room—on a tour through Asia. Other well-worn objects have been stylishly repurposed, such as the antique console in her son’s room, which once served as his changing table. The chaise longue in the couple’s bedroom was originally meant for a client who then decided against it. Now it’s the spot where Warner curls up and reads with her kids. “I like to create moments in a room that let you imagine and dream a little,” she says.
And where would Warner’s reveries lead if not to unusual design choices? When picking out paint colors, for example, she noticed her tendency to pick soft eggshell hues of blue, pink, and beige—and thus for her bedroom, she challenged herself to go with Calke Green from Farrow & Ball. Similarly, she had initial doubts about the dip-dyed curtains in the living room but then realized that they injected just enough creative tension when offset with a Chinese cabinet and wicker peacock chair. All in all, this is one family home that tosses the less-is-more approach out the window in favor of something more joyfully imagined. As Warner says, “I’d rather be lively than boring!” Somewhere Sister Parish is smiling.