“I have a busy life, so I try to avoid the mishigas of decorating,” says Jonathan Adler, using the Yiddish word for craziness. “But this client and this house were so delightful, it was irresistible.” Adler is one of the world’s most celebrated designers, with more than a dozen namesake stores and a seemingly endless roster of collaborations, not to mention an ongoing slew of media appearances and book launches. Understandably, he picks his decorating projects carefully. Yet it’s easy to see what drew him to this particular property, a grand turn-of-the-century residence in San Francisco’s Nob Hill that’s filled with rich architectural details. And then there were the clients, Gerine Ongkeko and her husband, Jorge del Calvo, who thoroughly charmed Adler with their jovial and daring mindset. “They are bold, free-thinking, and self-made,” he says. “She wanted something memorable and surprising, and that’s how a good decorating project should be.”
After becoming empty nesters in 2016, Ongkeko and del Calvo decided to move from their longtime home in Silicon Valley to the city where they’d started their professional lives in the early 1980s. “Student loan payments took up most of our income back then, and we stretched to pay $700 a month for a very run-down apartment in San Francisco,” she remembers. “We would often end our work days by walking up Nob Hill and peering into the tony courtyards of the neighborhood, never envisioning that we would ever have a home there.”
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Three decades and several successful career moves later (she’s a working board member at several cultural institutions; he’s a corporate lawyer), and the couple were ready for a new sort of homecoming. They hired Adler to transform their recently purchased 1915 property into a fun and inviting home that felt “like a breath of fresh air,” all while respecting its Beaux Arts architecture. Adler’s first decision was to paint the entire 4,600-square-foot, four-story space in Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, brightening carved-wood panels, elaborate ceiling moldings, and turned balustrades. He then imbued the space with his signature élan, pairing whimsical pieces from his own collection with handpicked vintage items from admired designers such as Verner Panton, Gio Ponti, and Jindrich Halabala. “I curated an eccentric, eclectic, and luxurious assortment of pieces,” he says. “I wanted to reflect the client at her most glamorous.” In the grand living room, which features a stately fireplace topped by an ornately framed mirror, Adler kept a mostly alabaster palette interrupted by bursts of purple and fuchsia. On one end, he placed two of his billowy Ether Cloud settees and high-sheen Alphaville cocktail table; on the other, a Halabala chair upholstered in Tibetan lambswool next to his tufted Baxter sofa. It all comes together in a way that’s chic, modern, and just a little bit over-the-top. “He doesn’t take things too seriously, but puts a lot of thought behind it,” Ongkeko says. “He’s brilliant.”