2020 Showcase Design Award: Martin Kobus


At the conclusion of a design show house, it’s not uncommon for the recently transformed rooms to be deconstructed—the ideas and efforts by the designers (usually done for charity) purged. So perhaps it’s the ultimate compliment when the residence’s owners opt to keep your scheme intact, from the furnishings right down to the finishes. That was the case with the recital salon devised by Martin Kobus for the 2019 San Francisco Decorator Showcase, which marked his third time participating in the annual event. “They bought everything in the room,” says the Marin-based designer. “That’s very rare.”

Photo by Christopher Stark.

Kobus was tapped to overhaul a music room and chose to preserve its purpose. While he immediately recognized that the existing oak, with its yellow undertones, was not ideal, he did retain the architectural elements throughout, such as the pediments and columns. By painting them a charcoal hue—C2 Paint’s Stout, which was also used on the walls—“the lights fall on the details of the carvings,” he says.

Photo by Christopher Stark.

Introducing a dark palette was among Kobus’ earliest decisions. The jumping-off point for his concept was a handpainted wallpaper by de Gournay. The aptly named “Symphony” envelops the coved ceiling, which peaks at 14 feet and features a chandelier by Kobus. The fixture, fabricated in Morocco in collaboration with Tazi Designs, resembles a quintet of musical notes. “The idea was to create falling notes from the sky and play off the abstract wallpaper that’s in the Cubism style,” he says.

Additional surface transformations were also game-changers. The herringbone oak floors were stripped down to the raw wood and covered with a matte clear coat to achieve “an old French apartment look,” as Kobus describes it. The marble fireplaces were cleaned up and are now joined by a series of angular marble tables of his design. The picture-frame molding’s faux pink marble treatment has been banished; the memory of this previous decor choice elicits laughter from Kobus, who installed colored lucite mirrors in patchwork sections over the pink faux finish to create the illusion of a larger space.

Photo by Douglas Friedman.

Within the roughly 300 square feet that he had to work with, Kobus carved out multiple areas to hang out, listen to music, chat and enjoy a cocktail. The latter is abetted by a handsome brass bar. Custom corner banquettes as well as a settee in the center of the room beckon. During the Showcase, an electric cello provided a melodious backdrop, rounding out a deftly composed scene that hit all the right notes. – Anh-Minh Le