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Among Folk Art and Devils, Making a Home at Grace Cathedral

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<span class="credit">Moose, reclining.</span>
Moose, reclining.

Welcome to House Calls, a new feature in which Curbed tours San Franciscans' lovely, offbeat, or otherwise awesome homes. Think your space should be featured next? Drop us a line.

Photos via Patricia Chang
Standing in the kitchen of his diminutive apartment on the third floor of the Chapter House at Grace Cathedral, John Gruenig shows off his collection of devils. Above the fridge there's a trio of them looking out with simple black-dot eyes from a painting, next to a fierier specimen in profile. And on the fridge, a giant red devil with white markings. "I turned this one into a refrigerator magnet because why not," Gruenig says of the piece, which, like the other two, is the work of the folk artist R. A. Miller. "Though it's difficult to get food."


Gruenig moved into the Chapter House—the office building on Grace Cathedral's grounds—nine years ago, when he became building operations manager for the church. The cathedral has three apartments total: two for staff and one for guests. The devils are a contrarian touch, given that Gruenig makes his home in the shadow of the church. "I refuse to buy angels," he says. "They end up being too cutesy. I like the play on the church and the devils rather than angels, which are the more obvious choice."

One of Gruenig's wooden folk-art trees (right), this one decorated with birds.
Though for years he worked for a Dallas interior designer and antiques dealer, where he sold English and French pieces from the 19th century, Gruenig's personal taste favors the eclectic. He mixes flea market objets with folk art, tramp art, and rigs of his own devising, such as a wooden folk-art tree he decorated with birds and, for Christmas, another he festooned with monkeys. "I spend my whole paycheck on—bibelots," he says, having first used a less polite word and then volunteering a substitute.


From his living room—or really, from the entire apartment, since the whole place can only be about 300 square feet—Gruenig has one of the most privileged views in the city, looking straight onto the cathedral. When he moved in, the walls were white. Gruenig went over them in Martha Stewart Paper Bag paint and, with the help of his friend Katie Salvador, who runs the San Rafael interior design outfit Bohemia Luxe Interiors, found a wallpaper featuring maps of England. "It has cathedrals, of course," he says.

The bathroom wallpaper is more of a cheetah print, in honor of Gruenig's cats, Moose and Gertie, who, from their perch in the window sill, also have an unrivaled view. Well, almost. "If they would just tear down the Huntington Hotel, I would be very happy," Gruenig says with a laugh.