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Creative Director Channels 1970s NYC in her SF Apartment

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Welcome to House Calls, a recurring feature in which Curbed tours lovely, offbeat, or otherwise awesome homes in the Bay Area. Think your space should be featured next? Here's how to submit.


Photos by Patricia Chang
↑ On Instagram, Elizabeth Olson identifies herself as "a New Yorker figuring out San Francisco." Looking at her life, you can see there's a lot to consider: She has a newish job (creative director at AFAR), a new home, and she's six months pregnant with her first child. With all the unfamiliar in her life, it makes sense that she would channel a childhood memory when furnishing the Bernal Heights apartment she shares with her husband, Preston, and her dog, Oscar.


↑ Olson grew up in New Jersey, but some of her fondest memories include visiting her grandmother's apartment in New York's Upper Eastside. Marian Piantini (seen in the framed photo above), was not a traditional grandma. She took Olson to the Metropolitan Museum of Art nearly every weekend, designed all of her own clothes, and was impossibly chic. She had a groovy apartment where art hung salon-style in every room. As Olson looks at her own art-filled walls, she speculates that her career and decorating decisions were likely influenced by those memories.


↑ "She covered every wall, floor to ceiling, with art in mismatched frames," Olson remembers. "That piece with the strong yellow lines hung in her apartment, and I inherited it. It was the first thing I spent serious money on when having it framed."


↑ Olson's art wall is adjacent to a plane accented by a strong wall covering. The idea for the colorful print was sparked by a photo on Olson's Instagram feed. "I'm obsessed with Kindah Khaliday's art," Olson says. "One day, she posted a photo of her paint palette. I loved the image so much, I purchased a high res scan from her and had it made into this wallpaper."


↑ The living room is dominated by music and an oversize dollhouse. The fact that there's room for both is a revelation to a former New Yorker. "To us, this apartment seems very large," says Olson. "It's the most spacious home we've ever had together." When Olson and her husband moved from NYC (where she was an art director at Bon Appétit) to the Bay Area two years ago, they lived in Berkeley for 12 months before spotting this two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit on Craigslist. "Living in New York, we weren't shocked by the rent prices we'd have to pay," she says. "But what did surprise us was how quickly rents went up from the time we moved to the East Bay to the time we rented this apartment."

The dollhouse was a NYC flea-market find. "Pretty clearly, it was made by hand, and maybe pieces of old furniture were used to craft it," Olson says. "Right now we are using it to display objects, but it could find a home down the line in the baby's room."


↑ Olson had a console custom-designed to hold the couple's vinyl collection and turntable. "I love everything about vinyl records, the sound, the feel, and the jacket design," she says. "I stole my parent's collection when I was a teenager, and we have all the great 1970s albums."


↑ Behind the headboard in the master bedroom is another accent wall engineered by Olson. "I wanted a particular kind of blue, so I went down to Lowe's and found some paint chips as a starting point. But then I kept asking the guy in the paint department to adjust it, adding more black until we got it exactly right. It took a couple of hours," she says. "I don't think he'd ever had a customer like me, and he seemed amused."


↑ A fancy peacock chair, an iconic seat from the 1970s, has a home in the bedroom. Olson had wanted one since she was a child.


↑ Olson says she doesn't know for sure, but she suspects the kitchen was designed by New Yorkers used to dealing with petite spaces. "I love this kitchen because it's incredibly efficient. It's set up just right for cooking and the storage is really smart," she says. Although the tile, countertops, and appliances were installed before she arrived, Olson adds her own flair with vintage orange-and-yellow flowered canisters and cookbooks.

The baby's room is the next project, but you can be pretty sure it won't be decked with brand new furniture. "I really like California flea markets, and I enjoy looking for things there," she says. "But lately, I've been shopping my own collection of things. We already have some items I'm considering for the nursery, like some huge letters from a sign."

The baby's room, just like the baby, is waiting to be born. But we are sure Olson will continue to figure it out.


· AFAR [Official Site]
· Kindah Khaliday [Official Site]
· Bon Appétit [Official Site]
· House Calls [Curbed SF]