Artistic StatementAuthor:Anh-Minh Le
A singular design vision, showcasing a multitude of talented collaborators, comes to life in Belvedere
On her way to dinner one night in San Francisco, Erin Martin passed the PG&E Embarcadero Substation. “This is it,” she remembers thinking. “I want this.” The St. Helena-based interior designer was struck by the 1973 cast-concrete Brutalist building, with vertical ridges spanning its 171 feet. “Good ideas,” she later shares, “aren’t found sitting down thinking. Thinking is overrated. Good ideas, well…they are discovered while out and about, living it up.”
So it was that a power facility inspired Martin’s residential project in Belvedere. For the living room walls and ceiling, she enlisted TBC Plaster Artisans for a monochromatic striated surface. The gentle arch of the 17-foot-high ceiling prompts comparisons by Martin to “the bottom of a boat, if you flipped it upside down”—apropos for a home idyllically situated along a lagoon.
The starting point for Martin’s namesake firm—including creative head Cael Lanham and partners in design Aileen Cano and Maria Torres—was decidedly more traditional. The living room, for instance, had dark wood beams and corbels. One real estate listing referred to the approximately 5,000-square-foot dwelling as Nantucket-style; in another, the word “formal” appears repeatedly. A complete overhaul was in order for its current owners—a couple with four kids. “They just said, ‘Fix it,’” Martin recalls of the directive from the clients, for whom she had already completed two homes. “I just know them at this point. The team knows them. We had already gained that trust.”
Martin joined forces with Little Dog Construction and also tapped various artists and makers who were frequent collaborators over two decades-plus. Once inside—past the portal with a metal facade that exhibits the talents of Brian Kennedy—“it’s all water,” she says of the view straight ahead. Looking toward the kitchen, however, “it’s earth happening,” with a wall and range hood covered in clay tiles by Kelly Farley. “It’s the natural clay and we let it happen,” Martin continues, describing the 4.5-inch squares. “There’s no finish. It’s letting it do whatever it wants to do and letting Kelly do what he loves to do.”
Even the staircase presented an opportunity to embrace craftsmanship. The connector between
the home’s two stories features metalwork by Chris French, combined with sepia acrylic panels. “The light is bouncing through and it glows,” Martin enthuses. “It has a great feel to it—that warm happy feeling.” The handrail is sheathed in embossed snakeskin leather from Pavoni, and the hide stair runner is by Kyle Bunting.
With the Jada exterior doors and windows powder- coated to match Benjamin Moore’s White Christmas, and the interior plaster walls a custom color based on Benjamin Moore’s Dove Wing, these elements “read as one,” Martin says. After removing a fireplace that was centered on a living room wall, a three-sided version was installed on the far end of the room, near the doors that lead out to the deck. “If you’re sitting on the sofa,” she explains, “you can look through the fireplace to the mountains and the water.” A low screen composed of dowels, by Noah Elias Works, provides separation between the living and dining areas while still encouraging conversations and the passing of drinks, perhaps, from one room to the other.
RMS Designs fabricated the cabinetry throughout, including in the bar, where it is mated with distinct hardware: Mexican modernist Pepe Mendoza sculptural cloisonné ashtrays. “You can use anything for anything if it’s pretty,” Martin suggests. The countertop is the handiwork of Flying Turtle Concrete, which was responsible for the concrete creations elsewhere in the house, too. The material is a practical choice since, as Martin puts it, the occupants “can beat it up.”
She and the clients will next link up on a residence in Mexico. The locale may be on Martin’s mind as she reflects on the collaborative nature of the recent undertaking in Marin County. “There are all these different people,” she says. “You’re just trying to put it into a blender and make sure it tastes good when it’s done. Like a good margarita.”