Decorati + PayPal: From Start-Up to Finish
It’s a rare designer who uses the term “data points” when asked about her sources of inspiration. But Shane Reilly is a rare combination of right-brained creativity (studying art and American history as an undergraduate at Stanford University) and left-brained logic; she got her MBA after putting in a few entry-level years during the dot-com era, then launched Decorati, an online resource connecting designers with product showrooms and potential clients.
With one foot firmly in the tech sector, it’s no surprise that one of Reilly’s biggest clients is Peter Thiel, former PayPal CEO, early investor in Facebook and current president of Clarium Capital, a hedge fund dedicated to supporting the next frontier of technology. According to an article featured on the cover of the February issue of Forbes, the 40-something tech entrepreneur has financially supported a host of unconventional ideas, like life extension, floating colonies and private space travel. Thiel’s 10,000-square-foot San Francisco home is his place of refuge, his headquarters and the site of private events for as many as 200 guests.
The house—originally two side-by-side residences that were combined by a prior owner—has two dining rooms, which Reilly furnished in matching tables and chairs for versatile entertaining.
The living room was furnished to comfortably seat anywhere from 8 to 14 guests, or to be reconfigured for larger speaking events. Shane Reilly (above) helped her client build a collection of paintings that includes a work by Raimonds Staprans over the sofa.
Acquaintances from concentric Stanford social circles, Thiel hired Reilly to help furnish his first SF apartment in 2003 and since then, she has outfitted all six of his homes in SF and New York City. The process is usually the same: “I get a phone call and he asks, ‘Can you start next week?’ The timeline is set, and it’s a quick process from start to actual move-in,” says Reilly, who gets free rein when it comes to creative decisions. “Peter’s always been hands-off about the process. He wants me to make it look really good, make it comfortable and interesting, but not too weird,” she says. And in the course of their working relationship, the designer has come to know what her client (and by now good friend) requires and what makes him happy. In fact, she’s got it down to a simple formula: “He offers a few data points—‘I really liked when you did X’—so I just do more of X.”
Reilly designed the small guest bedroom around Marcie Bronkar’s dramatic Capri wallpaper.
For the master suite, the designer chose a citrus yellow for the walls and furnishings in pale blue and gray
The lightening-fast timeline for the most recent project was four months. Thiel had rented this particular house a few years prior to buying it, so Reilly had given it a temporary overhaul during his first tenure. For most designers, such a tight deadline would be a reason to decline the commission, but fast turnarounds happen to be Reilly’s specialty. “It takes knowing how to get stuff done quickly. Sure, I would love to have a year to design this house. That would have been fabulous, given the size and the budget,” she says. “Maybe it’s the practical part of me, but that just wasn’t the reality for this type of project. I wouldn’t be a good designer if I didn’t deliver the job on time.”
The idea for Decorati was, in part, Reilly’s solution to her round-the-clock work hours not matching up with the business hours of traditional showrooms. Having a collection of all of the showroom catalogs on one site allows designers to virtually shop and send in quote requests at any hour. As a bonus, launching the site has helped Reilly make a name for herself in the design community, so a late-night email from her is something that showroom managers will likely prioritize. “It seems the interior design industry is one of the slowest, so Shane’s entrepreneurial approach and inside knowledge is critical,” says Thiel.
For the latest Thiel project, there were two added complications that exacerbated Reilly’s time crunch. First, the house needed some remodeling work before the furnishing stage could begin. Reilly had attended some of the receptions and guest lectures that Thiel had hosted in this home when he was renting, so she knew which elements needed to be tweaked to suit her client’s lifestyle. The entry, for instance, had a view of the kitchen, so Reilly added a wall to create a foyer, where guests could circulate on their way to the living room. She reoriented the door to the first floor bath; originally, the powder room was accessed from the living room, and guests had to queue up in front of the entire party. And the top floor, the space Thiel and Reilly called “the penthouse,” needed a complete overhaul. The second dilemma was that Reilly was newly pregnant when she took the job, which meant that job-site visits when the house was filled with fumes or particulates weren’t something she could endure.
On the second floor, a fourth bedroom serves as Thiel’s boardroom when needed. Reilly had the existing wooden casework painted blue with red accents. Furnishings with nautical notes reference the nearby marina.
“I dive in and ask questions later,” says Reilly, who admits to making trade-offs from day one due to the time constraints. “It’s a balance—what’s the best design I can do in this time period?” Though some things had to be sacrificed—fabrics on back-order were scrapped, and “cheesy” built-ins were painted to blend into the walls rather than ripped out—Reilly insisted that the light “almost pink” oak floors be stripped and stained. This meant that the entire project had to be choreographed down to the hour, so the back staircase would be dry just in time for furniture to be installed on the second floor. As the front stairs were stained and the rooftop gutted, Reilly filled the house with furniture that would suit her client’s everyday needs as well as catered dinner parties and standing-room-only events.
The new foyer is furnished with a striped hide-upholstered Holly Hunt ottoman, so the traffic circulates directly into the living room, which has comfortable seating for 14. Shallow built-ins along the back wall of the living room are perfect for setting down drinks during a lecture. Knowing precisely where the guest speaker would stand or the bar would be set up, Reilly filled those pockets of space with furniture lightweight enough to be easily carried out of the way. The dining rooms—there are two—offer the same flexibility: Altura
Furniture’s Nexus table in the formal dining room has leaves that create three different lengths, and a smaller version in the adjacent, less-formal dining area can also shift should Thiel need a round food station or an oval dining table. Streamlined Dessin Fournir side chairs can be used in either room.
Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and a library, or what Thiel calls “the boardroom.” The master bedroom, which has a more private office en suite, is painted a vibrant yellow. “The room is so sunny, with huge windows and Bay views. I knew this color would work, and Peter trusted me, but we had to tone it down with furnishings in gray and light blue,” says Reilly. The other bedrooms are for guests—one is small and a riot of color and pattern, while the other is larger and more subdued but stylish. The boardroom was originally filled with wood paneling and built-ins for a standard library look, but Reilly painted everything a muted blue-gray that plays off the water views.
The top floor, which is reached by a spiral staircase, caused the most nail-biting during the remodel. The penthouse had been built out in the 1990s with outdated, three-feet-deep media cabinets and a dramatic illuminated ceiling installation that didn’t fit with the rest of the design. After a few efforts at incorporating the cabinets, Reilly chose to gut the entire room and create an airy day-to-night lounge. “A house this spectacular really needed an oh-my-goodness moment, and this was it,” says Reilly, who was asked to build a hot tub on the roof but had to ditch the plan when time ran out. “The downstairs living and dining areas are sophisticated and perfect for hosting a speaking event or having a few friends over, but this level is definitely for a party.” Outside on the deck, the plentiful outdoor seating virtually disappears at night in the presence of the glowing Palace of Fine Arts and twinkling bridges.
The “penthouse” was gutted and remodeled with a fireplace and bar before Reilly added a huge sofa and a silver leather ottoman. The versatile seating was meant to go from media room to party lounge.
The roof deck—the perfect site for a hot tub with wind-proof views of the Golden Gate Bridge—was instead made into an indoor-outdoor lounge to accommodate a crowd. But when her client is ready for another invasion of contractors, Reilly says the project is ready to resume.
“I can rely on Shane to design a house I want to live in, even with my time limits,” says Thiel. The final touches—grouting and tiling the penthouse bathroom—were being finished one day before he moved in. “That was insane! Only for a good friend!” says Reilly, who had a chance to see her work appreciated by 150 of Thiel’s friends at a party in August.
Go behind the scenes of this lightening-fast, high-profile remodel for Peter Thiel by Decorati's Shane Reilly. Watch the video:
Originally published in the March issue of California Home+Design