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On a spectacular hilltop site in San Francisco, Sean Leffers conjures an idiosyncratic sanctuary

n Leffers’ office/library, a wall swathed in Ralph Lauren gray silk serves as a backdrop for carved wood masks from the Toussian culture of Burkina Faso as well as a Christian Liaigre loveseat and black steel tables by Stephane Ducatteau.
Photos by Christopher Stark.

San Francisco native Sean Leffers’ early childhood memories of the city—exploring its fog-enshrouded forests, devouring Dungeness crab and catching The Nutcracker at the War Memorial Opera House—left a lasting impression. Although his family moved to Indiana when he was 12, “I’ve always in my mind considered San Francisco to be home,” he says. Three years ago, Leffers finally returned. He and his partner are raising sons Julian, 4, and Trey, 6 months, in a residence that has the distinction of being the city’s highest private home above sea level. “I love that my kids have an opportunity to grow up in San Francisco,” Leffers adds.

In the kitchen, Leffers mated Calacatta Oro marble with gray cabinets that exhibit green undertones.
Photos by Christopher Stark.
A 48-inch Japanese paper lantern by Davide Groppi is a standout in the living/ dining room, furnished with lounge and dining chairs by Minotti, cocktail tables by Roche Bobois and a dining table by B&B Italia. Photos by Christopher Stark.

Back in 2005, armed with a literature degree from Northeastern, Leffers initially decamped to Southern California. A job with book publisher Taschen “built out my knowledge of art history, design, visual culture and popular culture,” he says. During that time, Leffers also developed a love for interiors—specifically, reimagining them. He purchased a fixer-upper in Mammoth and served as the owner and general contractor on its transformation. Next, he became smitten with a place in the San Diego area and gave it a much-needed update, too.

In the media room, the Steinway Spirio player piano “is like listening to a live performance from your favorite pianist on demand,” says Leffers. Photos by Christopher Stark.

“I had this idea in my head that I was going to be a house flipper,” Leffers recalls. “But I realized that I wanted to work with people and have my work be a manifestation of their passions. I wanted to make interiors that have diverse and interesting stories.” He launched Sean Leffers Interiors in 2015. In addition to residential projects that deftly layer textures and materials, he completed the design for West Hollywood’s buzzy Pacifique restaurant last year and Soulmate opening in December. He’s currently toiling on a first for him: a private jet, a complicated endeavor given all the FAA requirements, made even more so by the coronavirus pandemic. And 2020 marked his inaugural participation in the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, where he devised a children’s bedroom dubbed Wabi Sabi Wunderkind.

The landing between the main and entertaining levels has a generous hallway that acts as a gallery, with a bench from Mass Beverly and rotating sculptures illuminated by a custom chandelier; an Ammi Phillips portrait hangs on a wall covered in Lithos Design travertine tiles. Photos by Christopher Stark.
“My philosophy with nurseries: They should be really amazing places for adults to spend time in as well,” says Leffers, who appointed Trey’s room with a Charlotte Perriand stool, a Japanese tansu chest and drawings by Sebastian Fierro.
Photos by Christopher Stark.

Among his most ambitious undertakings is his own San Francisco abode, perched on Mount Sutro in the Clarendon Heights neighborhood. The collaboration with John Maniscalco Architecture and Cook Construction resulted in a 7,440-square-foot home that boasts views of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. “It was a major priority to maximize the views and take advantage of the position of the house,” says Leffers, noting that a three-story addition was built to better look out onto the famous suspension bridge.

Leffers’ desk area—sheathed in chartreuse silk moire by Dedar Milano—includes a Pierre Jeanneret chair, Japanese Edo stone garden lantern and mid-century wall sculpture.
Photos by Christopher Stark.
The fabrics on Leffers’ Minotti bed are ever-changing; a textile work behind it is by Francisca Aninat, while the Taino
sculpture on the side table is roughly 1,000 years old.
Photos by Christopher Stark.

The kitchen, living/dining room and Leffers’ office/library occupy the main floor, with four of the home’s six bedrooms above it. A lower level features an expansive entertaining space—where fundraisers for several arts organizations have been held, including a mini-gala for the nonprofit Creative Capital—while the garden level contains Sean Leffers Interiors. With this year’s shelter-in-place orders, the sheer size of the house has proven a godsend. “The fact that we can go to different levels and it feels like an escape, I’m very grateful for that,” says Leffers. It doesn’t hurt that the home’s amenities are numerous, with a rooftop deck and garden that is divided into separate areas, one of which is inspired by minimalist Japanese gardens, and the main garden space, which has dozens of different varieties of rare plants.

Photos by Christopher Stark.

Leffers’ affinity for travel is evident in the decor, which is brimming with artifacts of far-flung provenance acquired during his own travels as well as from various purveyors. “I collect a really eclectic mix of art from cultures all around the world, from ancient to contemporary,” he says. Indonesian batik fabrics, a current obsession of his, appear in the main bedroom draped over the headboard, in Julian’s quarters as a floor covering and in Leffers’ office/library topping the Christian Liaigre loveseat.

The firepit area, adjacent to the media room and with views of downtown San Francisco, can accommodate alfresco entertaining—a perk during the pandemic. Photos by Christopher Stark.

Imbuing a modern edifice with warmth and charm is no simple feat. By tapping into his own experiences and desires, Leffers has managed to do just that. “Comfort and coziness are always my top priorities,” he says. “I have little kids and don’t want them to feel like they are living in a museum. Everything in this house has personal meaning to me, connecting to a memory from a trip or an artist I love or a gift from a friend. When you choose things with your heart, everything works out in the end.” – Anh-Minh Le

Photos by Christopher Stark.