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Nob Hill Condo with Crucifixes, Nunnery Desk Has the Most Spirited Decor

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Antique Duncan Phyfe chairs were painted to match a new table. Dinner parties can hold up to 10 people.
Antique Duncan Phyfe chairs were painted to match a new table. Dinner parties can hold up to 10 people.

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 via Patricia Chang

When you're the owner of a century-old piano that absolutely must fit into any place you live, open houses are an especially important part of the home-buying process. Paul Ybarbo was in exactly that situation when he was purchasing his one-bedroom condo at Nob Hill's Clay-Jones building. He'd bought the piano from its second-ever owner, who then became his piano teacher, and there was no way that he was willing to part with it. Instead, he came up with a creative solution to determine if it would fit in a space. "I would bring a paper cutout of the piano's shape and lay it out on the floor at every open house," he explains. He had been in a number of units at the Clay-Jones before he finally settled on one where the layout truly worked for the piano. Ybarbo, a broker at Sotheby's International Realty, placed the piano in a prime position in the living room and then began building the rest of his new home around it.

An antique nun's desk sits next to a global crucifix collection.
Although the piano is the biggest piece in the apartment, which Ybarbo now shares with his partner, Roger Heuss, the most eye-catching element would have to be the crucifix collection hanging above the living room door. The collection began when Ybarbo found a broken French crucifix and has grown to around 40 pieces. He collects crucifixes from his travels around Central America, South America, Europe, and the United States. Sitting right next to the collection is an antique desk that Heuss brought to the apartment when he moved in a few years ago. The desk previously belonged to his mother, and before that it was in a nunnery in Iowa.

Nearly everything in Ybarbo and Heuss's apartment has a bit of history behind it. The rug in the living room is an antique that was in the house of a friend's mother just around the corner for 40 years. It was part of that apartment's design, done by famed interior decorator Sister Parish, whom Jackie Kennedy enlisted to help her redecorate the White House. The rug suited Ybarbo and Heuss's place perfectly because its orange hue is one of their favored accent colors.

Heuss and Ybarbo used a magnifying glass to read the inscription on this pediatric ward tray that they now use as a liquor cart.
In the dining room, what looks to be a sleek liquor cart was actually a tray used in the pediatric ward of the Letterman Hospital that once stood in the Presidio. A close examination of the cart shows that the words "Labor and Delivery" are still inscribed on its surface.

These ink drawings were from a family store and date from around 1915.
Family history is also woven throughout the condo. When Heuss moved in, he and Ybarbo had to combine their things, most notably their art. "We decided to just create a puzzle-piece wall with everything," Ybarbo says. The pieces that now hang there range from an image of the Clay-Jones building from an old TWA Airline menu to a picture of Heuss's grandmother as Miss Iowa 1927. Hanging over the bed are ink drawings from around 1915, found in an attic, advertising Heuss's grandfather's clothing store, Hart Schaffner & Marx.

The kitchen cabinets have their original warranty sticker.
When Ybarbo bought the condo, the kitchen and bathroom were in their original (and now retro) states. The kitchen cabinets even have their warranty stickers on the inside of each door. Ybarbo had originally planned to renovate but then realized he didn't have to. "I decided to enhance what was already there rather than changing it," he says. That meant adding black paint and, in the kitchen, a collection of masks from around the world. He moved a light fixture from the dining room to the bathroom and kept just about everything else. The house also has original touches throughout, from its doorknobs to its hinges. "It's like walking into a model home that's 100 years old," says Ybarbo.


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Clay Jones

1250 Jones Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

The Clay-Jones

1250 Jones Street, San Francisco, CA 94109