Frances Merrill likes a challenge. So when her clients, a couple with four kids, bought a 1929 Tudor-style three-bedroom home in the Silicon Valley enclave of Woodside, Calif., that was in dire need of an overhaul, she didn’t couldn’t resist. For Merrill, the Los Angeles-based founder of Breathing Design who is known for her predilection for vibrant colors and for mixing patterns – it helped that her customers’ purchase had charming ceilings with redwood beams and a charming cedar shingle roof, among other details, and was not one of the soulless, newly built McMansions endemic to the area.
“I like the idea that they bought something impractical that had an innate story because they found it more interesting,” Merrill says. The family wanted a home with authentic character and quirks that reflected the joyful chaos of their family life. Merrill likens her job to cooking, and for a project that required many reconfigurations, she brought together the ingredients of a family recipe with an elegant, understated palette inspired by the lovingly tended garden left by the previous owners. Merrill set out to bring that magic indoors: “The blues, watery greens and pale purples of the garden were fresh, especially with all the browns of the wood in the house.”
First, we tackled the biggest project – the addition of three bedrooms for the children – by transforming the unfinished and sprawling attic into a suite of spaces that also includes places to relax, offices and generous window seats tucked away in the skylights. . Merrill inlaid the paneled walls of the attic with wallpaper by Pierre Frey in a pattern with intricate graphic flowers that pleasantly tease the eye and, with the addition of white oak, contribute to a more modern effect.
This philosophy of bringing the past into the present with imaginative reinvention is what has drawn customers to Reath Design. “Frances is impeccable in interpreting authenticity. It’s a kind of witchcraft! one of them said. She has a “fearlessness of combining your grandma’s weird old oil painting with a sculptural Italian couch and making it feel like it’s been forever, but somehow current.”
On the ground floor, the structural work consisted of opening up the floor plan while respecting the integrity of the house. Instead of blowing out the space, Merrill created new archways that gracefully lead the eye from room to room. Although Merrill admits that the living room – a long rectangular space – was difficult to furnish, she adopted its original parquet floors, exposed beam ceilings and the simple brick-framed fireplace, now flanked by sculptural linen Servomuto sconces. . A daybed with a pleated skirt covered in Pierre Frey chintz anchors the room in the Old World, positioned next to a pair of Frank Gehry Wiggle stools.
“Frances is impeccable in interpreting authenticity. It’s a kind of witchcraft!
She also redesigned the kitchen, which was small and closed, into an open space with a custom-made walnut butcher block table. In the adjoining breakfast room, Henning Kjærnulf’s ‘razorblade’ chairs around a Jean Prouvé table are upholstered in Michael Smith for Jasper fabric and subtly echo the green marble worktops. To balance the colors and natural light, and to highlight Heather Evans Smith’s striking photograph of a child, Merrill used 10 different enveloping cream shades.
Although not large, the main floor bedroom is a sanctuary for the couple. With details like the custom-carved wooden headboard, inlaid with a Maharam mohair accent inspired by an old photograph of a French chateau, it offers even more visions of what a Tudor home might look like if it was built today by someone who is not. afraid of fantasy and breaking a few rules. “It was nice to create a family piece that was elegant but not overly precious,” says Merrill. “I never want to feel like everything was bought at once. I prefer it to look more like an evolution,” she adds.
One of the customers recounts a “hilarious compliment” about a good friend’s house. “She said, ‘It’s like really, really good plastic surgery. It’s nice. You know something has changed, but you can’t tell what. “If Merrill is known as the best plastic surgeon in interior design,” she said, “I’ll take it.
This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE