If there’s one thing you can count on Jonathan Rachman for, it’s pulling out all the stops. The San Francisco designer did just that at this year’s SF Decorator Showcase, crafting a scene-stealing, maximalist living room inspired by England’s historic Houghton Hall. In addition to making the room’s existing architectural elements feel like a seamless part of the design, Jonathan also managed to make the room’s massive footprint feel intimate and cozy. Whether you’re looking to turn your living room into a maximal fantasyland, need floor plan inspiration, or simply want to make your living room feel more layered and alive, we’ve assembled genius takeaways from Jonathan’s space to help!
It was a night at England’s Houghton Hall that ultimately provided Jonathan with the vision for his room. “The house is grand and elegant. The evening was glorious, but more importantly there was a room called the Cabinet Room with a chinoiserie wallpaper that was originally installed 200 years ago.” Lady Rose, the chatelaine of Houghton, handed off the paper to the wallpaper purveyor de Gournay, who in turn created replicas of it in new colorways, one being the vivid cerulean version that Jonathan selected for his living room. Rife with birds, blooming branches, and lanterns, the wallpaper gave Jonathan “a plethora of inspirations, from colors to patterns to motifs.”
A massive room footprint (this year’s showcase was held in an SF mansion known as “Le Petit Trianon”), meant that Jonathan needed to be smart about his furniture layout. The first furniture addition was a blush, 15-foot custom sofa, which he strategically placed across from the 15-foot Calacatta-faced fireplace. The oversized sofa creates a larger-than-life conversation pit, which Jonathan filled with a colossal blue velvet tufted ottoman. He then bookended it with two pairs of Mid-Century chartreuse-colored chairs. To differentiate the room’s annex (which Jonathan nicknamed “the jewel box”), he painted it a high-gloss cobalt and hung curtains which create a theatrical stage effect.
It’s impossible to talk about the living room without talking about the pink hottie in the room (by which we mean the 15-foot camel back sofa covered in a creamy fuchsia De Gournay silk and trimmed in passimenterie by Samuel & Sons and Colefax and Fowler). The sofa is a tone-setter for the the entire space, possessing both traditional and eccentric notes. Other furniture in the room (i.e. the chartreuse bucket chairs and purple tassel-shaped ottomans trimmed in horsehair) echo the same dramatic flair.
When it comes to accessories, Jonathan unabashedly describes his style as ‘when more is never enough’. While some might be daunted tricking out a room of this size, Jonathan was enthralled with the challenge of making the cathedral-size space feel cozy via layers of accessories. To keep things cohesive, Jonathan repeated motifs from the room’s wallpaper in the accessories. Birds and apothecary urns (both motifs pulled from the wallpaper), as well as Neoclassical busts (present in the room’s original millwork) all factor heavily into the accessory line-up. When used on repeat, they help to unify the large space.
5 Pro Takeaways From the Space
1. Pick a Widespread Inspiration
When you’re looking to create a theatrical room like Jonathan’s, selecting an inspiration piece with layers (like an intricately-designed wallpaper) is key. “I wanted to layer the room to cohesively complement the wallpaper,” Jonathan explains of his design. “Therefore, the repeat in patterns—be it in the curtains, the sofa, the accessories—they all support the wallpaper.” Selecting an inspo piece with maximum dimension and detail gives you the widest range of colors and motifs to play off of.
2. Balance Existing Architecture
Your living room may not have an annex, beamed ceiling, and 15-foot fireplace, but chances are it has some existing architectural elements. While it can be tempting to ignore elements you’re not thrilled with, Jonathan’s room makes a strong case for validating them via symmetry. For instance, Jonathan elected to balance the room’s ceiling beams with a dramatic ombre treatment. Similarly, Jonathan installed a built-in banquette and bar (once owned by Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart!) on the far end of the room to balance the visual activity generated by the annex at the room’s other end.
3. Don’t Fear Mixing Eras
While traditionalist elements may prevail in Jonathan’s living room, it’s the juxtaposition of a few modern pieces that give the room its true oomph. One of the most impactful modern touches is the Lex Pott’s “Tree of Life” chandelier. Regarding his choice to use such a modern chandelier, Jonathan noted, “The contrast between the wallpaper and the modern light fixture create a stunning juxtaposition. Yet they still support each other since there are branches in the wallpaper, which mirror the chandelier’s branches.” If you’re thinking of how to make traditional elements play nice with modern ones, consider Jonathan’s holy design trinity: “texture, color and scale.”
4. Integrate a “Palette Cleanser”
Jonathan’s living room feels restful despite its riot of color, shapes, and motifs, thanks to a secret weapon: the 15-foot calacatta marble fireplace. “I see this marble feature as a neutralizing force for all the colors and textures in the room,” says Jonathan. “It makes the room feel airy and spacious.” In a maximalist interior, the power of a visual resting place should never be underestimated. That said, don’t think you have to go totally cold turkey on all pattern and color. As Jonathan’s choice of Calacatta marble proves, a bit of subtle texture is always welcome.
5. Don’t Compromise On “The Perfect Piece”
If every piece in Jonathan’s living room, from the photography to the bird objets, feels like a perfect fit, it’s because it is. “You must love and find the perfect object for everything,” says Jonathan. “Do not compromise with yourself – be as neurotic as you can be! Go out of your way to shop in person or online. I love Chairsh to find vintage and antique items that no one else has,” he says. While it can require a bit of tenacity, refusing to settle for a piece that’s just “good enough” can make a room feel less prescriptive and totally one-of-a-kind. Above all, Jonathan says, “have fun in the process; do it from the heart!”
Video: See How It All Came Together!
All photos by Suzanna Scott