Coming of Age: Antonio Martins Creates a Sonoma Getaway That’s as Elegant as it is Rustic


This is a story about making history—from scratch. Not the stuff of headlines but rather the kind of sophisticated, tangible tale that results when one resourceful San Francisco designer and his two eclectic clients skillfully assemble a selection of vintage and salvaged pieces for a 1937 cottage in Sonoma.

“When my partner and I bought the cottage two years ago, it had too many quirky and dated elements,” says Ryan Carter, a Bay Area school counselor, of the 1,500-square-foot dwelling’s past renovation (circa 1970). “Orange-peel-textured walls had been painted yellow, ceilings were paneled with knotty pine and the passageways were narrow, which really inhibited the flow of the space.” The couple’s vision for the three-bedroom, two-bath
weekend retreat—a sunny departure from their fast-track lives in the big city—was inspired by a photo in Elle Décor of an elegant Washington, DC townhouse designed by Darryl Carter (no relation). “When we chose that look—a timeworn tableau of chalk-white walls, sumptuous textures and gorgeous antiques—we affirmatively decided against modernizing the cottage,” says Ryan Carter.

The couple hired Antonio Martins of Antonio Martins Interior Design in San Francisco to update the space by banishing all traces of the 1970s in favor of a fresh, blank canvas. The original oak floors were stripped and stained ebony as a stark contrast to the clean white walls. “The idea was to soften the black and white with the warmth of rustic pieces,” says Martins. “It’s a perfect look for Wine Country.”

Keeping in mind a palette of basic earth elements—wood, rock and metal—Martins and the homeowners embarked on a quest to tastefully age the newly refreshed house. The team spent four months sourcing unpolished yet captivating accessories from a range of vintage depots in the Bay Area and beyond—including the famed Alameda flea market, the now-shuttered X21 on San Francisco’s Valencia Street, salvage yards in Petaluma and Sonoma, on eBay and even such far-flung destinations as Portugal, Brazil and Zimbabwe.

“Often a designer will meet with clients two or three times a month for product approval,” explains Martins, a native of Brazil who opened his design business in San Francisco in 2005. “We show them what we’ve found, and they say yes or no. That wasn’t the case with these guys.” The homeowners—antiquing novices—were initiated into the Bay Area’s treasure-hunting tradition with sunrise shopping trips to the Alameda flea market, guided by Martins.

There, the trio acquired vintage linen grain sacks from Romania—monogrammed with farmers’ initials—to upholster a pair of wing chairs in the living room. They also found a set of metal hanging scales (now on display in the kitchen) and a cumbersome old carpenter’s workbench from Hungary. The provincial wood structure, which serves as the living room bar, was not well-received by all members of the renovation team. “The contractor basically thought it was garbage,” says Martins.

“It’s ancient and kind of bulky, but we thought it was beautiful,” says Carter. “And we enjoyed giving it a new purpose.” The unexpected applications of the scavengers’ finds don’t stop there: Vintage wooden bobbins found in a Petaluma antiques shop now act as supports for the salvaged-wood shelving in the kitchen. Old Balinese railroad ties balanced on stones form the living room’s massive coffee table (its sheer size tempered by its low profile), and an antique metal machine functions as a sink base in the master bath.

Many of the decor’s steel elements—burnished with a warm patina to enhance the home’s new rusticity—were hand-forged by Scott Adkins of Redwood City’s Profab Metal Design. In the den, Adkins situated a new steel fireplace surround over the old brick hearth to avoid an expensive, time-consuming demolition. In fact, not much was changed in the cottage architecturally—only a few doorways were widened, and the stairwell leading to a pair of second-floor guest bedrooms was raised.

Adkins also created a simple organization system of metal shelves for the master bedroom’s walk-in closet, as well as a metal-framed dining table, which is counterbalanced with an earthy salvaged-wood top. The Mies van der Rohe cane-and-chrome dining chairs—sourced from Glo in Miami—are yet another chic example of the home’s prevailing warm-cool juxtapositions.

Martins chose works of art to play up the decor’s pastoral ambience. In the entryway, a tall pencil-and-pastel sketch of a peasant girl reiterates the home’s agricultural surroundings. A flag painting, acquired from Bonhams & Butterfields, adds a touch of Americana to the bar area, as does a rope sculpture in the den made of old gray and red Coca-Cola bottle caps.

“That piece is actually from Brazil,” says Martins. “When I told the clients about it, they were like, ‘Bottle caps? How stupid.’ But when they saw it installed in the space, they really liked the punch of color and the unusual shape.” Some of the rooms’ other puncuations include folksy living room floor pillows covered in graphic red-and-black suzani fabric from Uzbekistan and a geometric sculpture on the coffee table by an artist also from Brazil. “I like introducing my clients to artists from my home country,” says Martins.

Of all the rooms in the house, the master bedroom is the one space that is, by design, fairly unadorned. “Relaxing is difficult for me,” says Carter. “I didn’t want any distractions in there—no TV, no major artwork, nothing that would prevent me from unwinding.”

Fresh white walls and linens provide a simple backdrop for the surroundings—a peaceful landscape of wild grasses and mature oak trees that create an ever-changing play of light and shadows. New French doors and a raised ipe-wood deck lead to a serene side garden, further blurring the distinction between the indoors and outdoors. “We came out to Sonoma to find tranquility, simplicity and privacy,” says Carter. “And I think we did pretty well.”

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