Apartment Makeover by the Bay

Interior designer Blair Blincoe turned her San Francisco apartment from a bachelor pad into a coastal-inspired home with a stellar view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
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Packed with natural light, Blair’s great room offers her the perfect place to enjoy conversations with guests or entertain friends over brunches in the dining area. Both zones are arranged in a manner that doesn’t distract from the view.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

In March 2008 interior designer Blair Blincoe took a leap of faith by quitting her Atlanta job, selling her car, packing her belongings into three suitcases and heading west to San Francisco.

The designer recalls, "I came and visited a friend, fell head over heels in love with the city, and knew it was meant for me. San Francisco is a city which once people visit for the first time, they truly don't want to leave. It's a designer's dream; everywhere you look, there's design inspiration from the colors of the sunsets, the amazing architecture and the cool, coastal attitude."

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Interior designer Blair Blincoe stands in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood in front of her 1,200-square-foot apartment.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Interior designer Blair Blincoe stands in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood in front of her 1,200-square-foot apartment.

Although Blair didn't have a job lined up, nor did she have any professional connections with which to find one, her instincts told her that, as a designer in a city packed with so much visual inspiration, this was where she'd thrive. "Back East, I'd strictly worked assisting other designers," Blair explains. "I'd never truly had the opportunity to design 100 percent on my own. Moving to a brand-new city was a way for me to get out of that frame of mind and start developing my own personal style."

After sleeping on a friend's sofa for a few weeks while apartment hunting, Blair finally found the perfect place to consider as her West Coast home. She moved into the Pacific Heights neighborhood, sharing with two roommates a 1,200-square-foot apartment on the first level of a converted house.

In addition to the apartment becoming her new home, it became Blair's first chance to put her personal design skills to the test without the guidance or supervision of a more senior designer. Blair comments, "In many ways, I became my own first client. My apartment had tons of potential, and a few minor challenges which I'd have to work with to create a successful design which would also showcase my personal aesthetic." Unsure of just exactly what her own personal style was, Blair turned to San Francisco itself for guidance.

Coastal Apartment Makeover

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Before: Bachelors Beware

Before transforming the great room into a showplace for her view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Interior designer Blair Blincoe's apartment had an overall bachelor pad style and a space plan that detracted from the view, mostly because of the TV's placement.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

After: Views All Around

With its new space plan in place, Blair created a living room area which allowed her roommates and guests to capitalize on the view from any seat.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Inviting Entryway

Just off the front door, Blair and her guests are greeted by an entryway packed with architectural detail, references to San Francisco, and the designer's newly found personal style. A pair of armchairs were snagged curbside a few blocks away on Franklin Street; a weathered, green side table was purchased for $5 from a neighborhood estate sale just a few weeks after moving in; and, to top it all off, a vintage life preserver is a literal nod to the new city Blair calls home.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Interior Charm

Many of the homes in San Francisco are packed with architectural detail, including the judges paneling in Blair's entryway. To keep the paneling from being too busy, both the molding and the wall itself were painted a neutral shade of taupe.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Frugal Finds

Blair found a white painted-wood Victorian desk on the side of the road not too far from her apartment. She realized it offered concealed storage that was perfect for the entryway she used daily. To give it coastal flair, she distressed it using steel wool and sandpaper.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Original Inspiration

For the design of her historic Villejo Street apartment in San Francisco, Blair took cues from the property's architecture, including the building's original antique brass hardware on its front door.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Floor Planning for the View

Blair's living room was meticulously arranged to capitalize on the spectacular view just outside the window. The designer says, "My view of the Golden Gate Bridge is the most spectacular element of my apartment. When designing my living room, I stayed focused on ensuring every seat in the space had a great vantage point. San Francisco apartments are small, so I stuck with small-scale furniture to fill the space. Two of the chairs are on wheels, so my guests can easily roll themselves around, day or night, to take in the view."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Before: Dark and Dated

In its existing state, Blair's hand-me-down two-seater sofa was the perfect scale for her small living room; however, its original fabric was dated, worn and didn't work well with her personal style. In order to make the piece more streamlined and modern, she would change the fabric and lose the tufted detail on the back.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

After enrolling in a local upholstery class, Blair put her new skills to use by reupholstering the two-seater sofa herself. The designer notes, "Now that I've actually done upholstery work myself, I'd definitely not do it again. Stripping the old fabric is a very painstaking process. It's much less of a headache and more practical to just pay a professional to do it for you. I'm pretty sure I never want to strip another piece of furniture ever again in my lifetime."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

New Use for Old Things

Blair adds, "I'm obsessed with shelter magazines. To keep them organized and nearby, I simply roll them up, then store them in a vintage soda crate. The weathered finish fits in perfectly with all of the coastal elements of my apartment’s decor."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Rolling Around

Now that casters have been added to a pair of horseshoe-shaped armchairs Blair found at a flea market, her guests can easily roll their chairs around to different vantage points to take in the spectacular view.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Easy to Tuck Away

Blair, an avid entertainer, often hosts parties in which guests pack the living room. In order to instantly add more standing room, she chose an old farmhouse cart as a coffee table so she can easily roll it out of the space before guests arrive.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Flea Market Finds

Due to her limited budget, Blair was unable to purchase art from galleries or directly from local artists. Instead, she hit up local flea markets to curate a collection of different mediums, including type font, acrylic on porcelain, taxidermy and a poster of an elephant in a traditional gold frame.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

The Golden View

Blair designed her living room and dining room around her spectacular view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. In creating a space plan focused on enjoying the view, she made sure every seat in the living room offers a great vantage point thanks to proper positioning and by adding casters to chairs for mobility.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Cityscape

In order to offer guests an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the city, Blair incorporated a telescope into the design of the living room.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Blair often hosts brunches for friends. To create a chic, coastal-inspired dining room that wouldn't compete with the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, she opted for a color scheme of white with sky-blue accents that pick up on the blue tones just outside the window.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

A set of six transitional-style dining chairs was picked up at a local consignment store for $125, then updated with white paint and new fabric. Blair advises, “Reupholstering seat cushions is pretty easy. All you need is a little bit of patience, a staple gun, scissors, a tape measure and fabric. I chose fabric with a large pattern repeat, which means there will be more waste, and that you have to spend some time matching up the pattern. Overall, I would say to estimate spending about a half hour on each chair when using a large pattern repeat, and only 10 minutes with solid fabric."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Pendant Lighting

In its original state, Blair's dining room lacked ambient lighting. To illuminate the space from above, she bought basic, white paper empire lampshades from a retail store, taped off the bottom with painter’s tape, added a 4-inch band of taupe around the bottom with latex paint, then attached the shades to the ceiling with pendant kits, swag chains and swag hooks.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Refurbished Furnishings

The very first piece of furniture Blair purchased for her apartment was a Queen Anne-style sideboard. Although she loved its white hand-painted finish, it was adorned with red floral hardware that she didn't like. Blair recalls, "The old hardware was red and formal, not my style at all. By simply replacing the drawer pulls with four different pastel-toned glass knobs, not only did the piece truly represent my style well but it also goes with the Victorian style of the building."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Food and Cocktail Cart

To make serving guests easier, Blair lays food out on a vintage flight attendant cart that was given to her by a local lifestyle editor friend.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Blair's Bedroom

Although tight on square footage, Blair made the most of her bedroom by opting for a full-sized bed, then pairing it with clear acrylic side tables that don't take up any visual space.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Bold Walls

To add graphic impact to her bedroom, Blair had the wall behind the bed striped horizontally with paint. The designer adds, "Although it's not too hard to figure out, striping my walls took forever because the walls aren't perfectly straight. This adds a ton of time to measuring and taping off the stripes."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Small-Space Solutions

Clear acrylic is an excellent choice of material when selecting furniture for spaces that are either cramped or that have great views that should remain unobstructed.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

In order for the view to remain the main focus of the apartment, she decided to draw inspiration from it while also keeping the space light, airy and neutral. To capitalize on the view, she incorporated small-scale, low-profile furniture. The designer states, "Everything about my apartment is San Francisco-centric: The main focal point is the Golden Gate Bridge, most of my furniture pieces were found on the side of the road in Pacific Heights, plus they're Victorian in style, similar to many of the city’s historic homes. My accent colors are drawn from the tones seen in the city’s sunsets, and I've even got relics from the city itself which were used as literal references in the decor."

In its existing state the apartment's great room had a jaw-dropping, unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet its bachelor pad decor and space plan were not only a disconnect from the stellar scenery, the placement of the TV totally distracted from the view. "Overall, my intention was to make room for that amazing view. It's probably one of the best views in the city," Blair adds.

To turn the bachelor pad-style interiors into the designer's first portfolio piece, Blair stuck with a budget of $4,500 and a timeline of approximately three months. Her to-do list included: creating dining room and living room space plans which would keep the view as the main focus; incorporating the colors seen outside the windows into the interior; adding lighting above the dining area; decorating her teensy-weensy 8-by-7-foot bedroom without it feeling cramped; dressing the great room's windows without distracting from the view; adding seating and storage to her entry; re-upholstering flea market finds; and working in lots of aged, weathered textures throughout the apartment.

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BEFORE

Photo by: Loree

Loree

BEFORE

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AFTER. Before transforming the living and dining room area of her San Francisco apartment, Blair first had to rid the space of its lackluster, bachelor pad style and create a furniture plan which would capitalize on the view. With its new space plan in place, Blair created a living room area which allowed her roommates and guests to capitalize on the view from any seat.

Photo by: Loree

Loree

AFTER. Before transforming the living and dining room area of her San Francisco apartment, Blair first had to rid the space of its lackluster, bachelor pad style and create a furniture plan which would capitalize on the view. With its new space plan in place, Blair created a living room area which allowed her roommates and guests to capitalize on the view from any seat.

First up was acquiring the proper furniture for her space plans. Blair comments, "Part of the reason I was able to work with such a small budget is because I found the majority of my furniture on the side of the road for free — yet another sign that I was meant to move to San Francisco!"

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BPF_Original_coastal-chic-apartment_lifesaver-entrance-vignette_h

Just off the front door, Blair and her guests are greeted by an entryway packed with architectural detail. A pair of armchairs were snagged curbside a few blocks away on Franklin Street, a weathered, green side table was purchased for $5 from a neighborhood estate sale just a few weeks after moving in, and, to top it all off, a vintage life preserver is a nod to coastal style.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Just off the front door, Blair and her guests are greeted by an entryway packed with architectural detail. A pair of armchairs were snagged curbside a few blocks away on Franklin Street, a weathered, green side table was purchased for $5 from a neighborhood estate sale just a few weeks after moving in, and, to top it all off, a vintage life preserver is a nod to coastal style.

After just a few days in the apartment, both Blair and her roommate Joanna came across antique pieces that were on neighbors' curbsides. The designer adds, "San Francisco is packed with flea markets and estate sales, which makes it pretty easy to furnish homes affordably. Since my entire entryway is now packed with furniture I didn't pay for, I was able to spend more on furnishing the living room, dining room and bedroom."

Using her found pieces as a starting point, Blair noticed a few recurring design elements between them: traditional lines, Victorian touches and weathered, coastal finishes. The designer comments, "This whole process helped me figure out that my personal style is casual, classic and airy, with a slight touch of farmhouse. I like things to feel pretty and streamlined but also warm and lived-in."

While most of Blair's found pieces were discovered with existing weathered finishes, she put her own do-it-yourself skills to the test by refinishing some of them herself using steel wool and sandpaper. The designer gives a few tips: "When refinishing furniture yourself, keep in mind that sandpaper is great for flat surfaces and perfectly straight edges, but it's not ideal for curves and pieces with lots of nooks and crannies. That's where steel wool comes in; it works great for rounded corners and on surfaces with ornamentation."

Blair put her skills to the test in several other ways when designing the apartment. First up, she created custom lighting for the dining area by outfitting basic, white paper empire lampshades with swag pendant kits and adding detail with paint. Blair explains, "There was no lighting in my dining room. I didn't want a chandelier or anything substantial to detract from the view. I made the pendants with $12 swag kits from the hardware store. I got a custom look without the custom price by screwing swag hooks into the ceiling, and using painter's tape and a quart of taupe latex paint to add a band of contrast to the bottom."

Some of Blair's other do-it-yourself upgrades included: adding casters to a pair of armchairs, replacing heavy hardware on her sideboard with pastel-toned glass knobs, reupholstering a two-seater sofa and adding horizontal stripes to her bedroom walls.

When asked about lessons learned from her first San Francisco design project, Blair replied, "I think the best way for people to figure out their personal style is to find a few key pieces they're drawn to, then look to texture and color to make them work together. Since most people aren't attracted to only one particular design style, there's got to be breathing room to allow several different styles to exist harmoniously. Plus, you've got to accentuate any architectural details or existing characteristics of your home."

Now that Blair is settled into her beloved new city by the bay, she's not only adapted to life on the West Coast, but also is a fully-employed design professional. Blair notes, "I'm coordinating design projects for a fabulous San Francisco design firm called Tamara Mack Design. My place helped prepare me for everything I deal with on a day-to-day basis." While the designer has gotten used to the gorgeous year-round weather and living a lifestyle that doesn't require a car, there's one thing that she will never fully get used to: morning coffee with her unofficial roommate, the Golden Gate Bridge.

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