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For One Furniture-Obsessed SoMa Resident, a Table Is a Lifetime Commitment

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In a nook behind the table hangs a carved wood-panel door from China.
In a nook behind the table hangs a carved wood-panel door from China.

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A table by Wendell Castle is the centerpiece of Henry Tang and Matthew Barravecchia's condo. Photos via Patricia Chang

Given a cushy budget and infinite time, few people would have trouble knocking out a respectable decorating scheme, or at least hiring a professional to do it. Most of us, though, are left to string together a living space from the twin indignities of Craigslist and Ikea, where so many good intentions (not to mention relationships) go to die. Add in the weird space constraints of cramped San Francisco apartments and you have a high-stakes decision tree that would confuse most actuaries.

For Henry Tang, an operations manager at an accounting firm, everything came down to a handsome Wendell Castle game table with drop leaves that transform it into a console. When Tang and partner Matthew Barravecchia began condo hunting in 2011, Tang was set on finding a space that would suit the table, which he bought on discount during a previous job working in an atelier at the San Francisco Design Center. Tang and Barravecchia passed up on several units they liked very much because of the table. They eventually settled on a one-bedroom in a large SoMa multifamily building, despite its stingy amount of daylight. It was the sun or the table, and for Tang, it wasn't even a decision. "It was an important time in my life, working there," Tang says. "I was given this table, which I never would have been able to afford because this is a seven-thousand-dollar table! So I have to just work. With. This. Table." Tang laughs.
The rest of Tang's decision tree proceeded with other large items: a vintage buffet, then a sofa. The buffet was a compromise—Tang really wanted an antique piece, but for frugality's sake had to settle on something that merely looked old—but its heft makes it a good counterpoint to the Castle table. "I wanted a large armoire or buffet because of the way the room is set up when you walk in—there is no entryway," says Tang. "In order to create the sense that there is an entryway, I needed something to create, like, a foyer space."

At 795 square feet, the condo is one long open room with a small deck at one end and, at the other, a corridor leading back to the bedroom and bath. Tang's palette is more about texture than color. He falls hard for materials in disguise: an embroidered wall-hanging from Vietnam that looks as smooth as ink, a thick red "painting" that, close up, fragments into layers of rose petals, a Joseph Pagano lamp with a just-barely-mottled cerise glass finish.

In the bedroom, Tang painted his own mock-wallpaper with a stencil he bought online. "The problem with wallpaper is it's extremely expensive, very messy, and you can't change your mind," says Tang. Working his way across the wall using a stencil with a built-in level, he covered the entire wall in just three or four hours. "I just went really crazy one evening," he says. To give the pattern a little extra depth, Tang used matte paint for the background color and eggshell for the overlay.

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