The Making of a Showcase House

We visited the 2011 Marin Designers Showcase house during its construction to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of this $45 million estate.



When Villa Belvedere, the elegant new 15,500-square-foot estate overlooking the waters of San Francisco Bay, is publicly unveiled this month, ticket holders for the 2011 Marin Designers Showcase — a benefit for the San Rafael–based Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership — will be among the first to glimpse this one-of-a-kind property.

“I knew about this house pretty early on during the house-search phase,” says Nevil Neil, the consulting director for Marin Designers Showcase. “Having viewed more than 50 homes, and lost three in consideration, it all came down to the very first home I wanted; it was destined to be the right project.” Visitors, he says, will see views and more views but also “a wonderfully livable space that hosts a grand production or provides an intimate stolen moment alone. You can’t help but connect with the quality of architecture, design and art.”

Neil says that showcase attendees may notice some of the most striking art collaborations ever presented. “Showcase guests will find themselves immersed in works by emerging and established artists as part of the designers’ interiors,” he says. “This level of artist collaboration is unprecedented for the Marin Designers Showcase.” He predicts that due to its location and the caliber of the participating designers, Villa Belvedere will attract national attention.

The House

The luxury three-story, seven-bedroom residence situated on exclusive Belvedere Island may be a Green Point–rated, solar-powered smart house with remote technology and a living roof over its three-bay garage, but those aren’t the first features most attendees will notice. The big draw is the knockout panorama including both the Golden Gate and San Francisco–Oakland Bay bridges, Alcatraz, San Francisco, Sausalito and Mount Tamalpais.

Developer Jeff Paster knew that the views of the $45 million property would be only part of the home’s consummate appeal. “The buyer of this estate will likely have several homes around the world,” he surmises. “What they will value is a world-class view from a world-class home in a world-class locale, and being able to host hundreds of their friends, family, dignitaries and business associates on their terraces to watch the America’s Cup will be very special for them.”

Paster, who’s completed three other luxury homes in Marin, insisted upon custom-quality and high-end features: a nearly 2,000-bottle temperature-controlled wine vault; a soundproof theater; a spa gym; a professional kitchen and butler’s pantry for the family and a caterer’s kitchen for the 50-foot-long professionally lit art gallery; whole-house sound with invisible speakers; radiant heat; security cameras; a concrete-topped teakwood outdoor kitchen; and a 50-foot-long Bisazza glass–tiled lap pool with adjoining spa and cabana, an elevator and even air-conditioning to cool party guests on a warm summer evening.

Paster brought in Sandy Walker of the San Francisco architectural firm Walker & Moody to design the residence. “He could design a house that fit very neatly into the environment in a classic and sophisticated way,” he says.

-PJ Bremier

The Designers

Twenty-two top design firms from around the Bay Area were invited by showcase organizers to put their finishing touches on Villa Belvedere.

Suzanne Tucker of San Francisco’s Tucker & Marks brings her aesthetic to the living room and adjacent study by taking cues from the same richly appointed and inviting exoticism found in fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s personal residences in France and Morocco. Tucker based her color palette on the warm neutrals of creams, caramels and cocoas and the cool colors of celadon and ocean blue seen outside in the bay, and she chose furnishings from French modernist Jacques Adnet and the Parisian designer Jean-Henri Jansen of Maison Jansen. Several textiles from her own line, Suzanne Tucker Home, appear in the two rooms, including blue-gray silk jacquard draperies and latte-colored silk-and-linen pillows.

Candace Barnes, a San Francisco–based antiques dealer and principal of Candace Barnes Design Studio, also drew inspiration from the waters of San Francisco, but from another perspective. “Looking at the bay and realizing how fortunate we are to live in this port city, and thinking about our connection to other ports, particularly the Middle East, I felt that the room should embody an international spirit and connection,” she says. Textured silk draperies dress her windows and a Silk Dynasty wall covering in a beautiful ivory crackle-on-canvas will adorn the walls. For special pieces, she’s chosen a set of classical Greek-style Klismos chairs to place around a Paul Evans mid-century dining table, a charcoal drawing of a chandelier by Gonzalo Fuenmayor and a free-form bronze sculpture by Adam Gale.  

David Kensington says his goal for the kitchen and family room is guided by his principle of working in harmony with the architecture and natural setting, using natural materials. “As the home is a sophisticated piece of modern architecture, I wanted my furnishings to have the same level of sophistication, comfort and integrity of design,” he says. His eponymous firm is teaming with the internationally recognized New York firm Studio Sofield to create custom furnishings and has chosen impressionist paintings from the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco for the walls. For the kitchen, he’s opted for custom bar stools and a custom line of dinnerware from Heath Ceramics.

Upstairs, Gioi Tran of Applegate Tran Interiors in San Francisco gives the sumptuous 1,300-square-foot master bedroom suite a chic and tailored look. The suite is part of a full wing of the home that also includes an opulent bathroom with his-and-her room-size closets. (Her closet has shelving for 100 pairs of shoes, floor-to-ceiling cabinets, a custom vanity and a built-in refrigerator.) Tran’s design “will not be overly dressed but simplistic with texture, color, pattern and refined details,” he says. “The view of the bay spoke to me, so to keep the serenity there we chose deep grays and aubergines.” He’s selected mostly custom pieces — a four-poster bed, slipper chairs, mirrors and three Nepalese area rugs — for the space and explains: “When I go to a showcase, I want to see something new. Custom pieces make a room more interesting.”

The work of two Marin firms, Cecilie Starin Interior Design and Sunrise Home, are spotlighted in two guest room suites that, like others in the house, have walk-in closets, full bathrooms and, of course, gorgeous views. “Bella Vista,” Starin’s guest room, represents the intersection of classical and modern with a color palette of warm and cool neutrals and lights and darks to evoke a sense of tranquility. She silver-leafed the ceiling, washed the walls in a weathered gray and trimmed them with a crackled-linen wall-border accent to give the impression of an old-world patina. For furnishings, she chose a sleek wrought iron four-poster bed wrapped in diaphanous linen, a classically styled desk and an antique tufted chaise along with mid-century modern artwork from Bay Area abstract expressionist Walter Kuhlman.

Catherine Coy and Alison Wilson are a design duo from Sunrise Home, the home furnishings and accessories store in San Rafael. The two combined rough-hewn woods; fat, textural wools; thick mohair; and raw silk to create a guest room that honors the sights and sounds of the local waters. Their favorite accent is a reclaimed ship’s propeller found in rural Louisiana that has been artfully used to create the base for a console table. “It’s a one-of-a-kind piece perfectly suited to a home on the bay,” says Annie Bowman, owner of Sunrise Home.

Outside, San Francisco landscape designer Stephen Suzman of Suzman & Cole Design Associates took on the challenging plot. “We wanted something elegant, striking and suitable for the site, which is sunny and exposed to harsh winds,” Suzman says. “Most of the excitement comes through the foliage rather than the flowers, and it’s a fairly limited plant palette.” Suzman chose the glossy evergreen leaves of boxwood, correa and Magnolia grandiflora trees to lend a quiet shimmer to the garden and, for flashes of color, Leucadendron “Safari Sunset” and red trumpet vines. Citrus, choisya and star jasmine, all with shiny foliage, were selected to introduce fragrance and the blue-green foliage of aloes, agaves, succulents, fan palms, lavender and Hardenbergia subtly refer to the waters below.

-P.B.

The Property’s History

In 1981, realtor Olivia Hsu Decker sold the property to Verna Harrah, widow of Bill Harrah, the erstwhile owner of Harrah Hotels and Casinos in Las Vegas and Reno. After moving in, Harrah met neighbor Jerry Ganz, the highly successful Midwestern entrepreneur who was the original mass-marketer of automobile seat belts.

Three years later, Ganz bought Harrah’s art deco home, which sat near his on nearly an acre parcel along Belvedere’s south-facing shoreline with spectacular San Francisco and Sausalito views bookending a full-frame portrait of the Golden Gate Bridge. “I think I paid around two million dollars for it,” Ganz says. Shortly thereafter, and according to a variety of recountings, Ganz demolished the existing structure and applied for a permit to construct a new home. “It was for my daughter,” Ganz remembers. “Then she didn’t want it.”

“Getting a permit for Ganz’s house took more than five years,” recalls San Francisco architect Andrew Skurman. “We finally got approval in 1994.”

Former Belvedere Mayor Connie Wiley has a different recollection of the time involved. “It seemed to go on for forever,” she says. At the time, Wiley was serving on the Belvedere planning commission, and Ganz, who by then owned additional parcels along Belvedere Avenue, had established himself as a cantankerous if not combative landowner.

Local realtor Nan Allen remembers the lengthy struggle to permit Ganz’s proposed 16,000-square-foot home. “Jerry brought out five Chicago attorneys, all of them in dark suits, to argue his case,” Allen recalls, “and around midnight, after it was finally approved, he walked over to Connie Wiley, smiled and unexpectedly said, ‘I just want you to know, I’m never going to build that house.’ ” And he never did.

Fourteen years later, in 2008, realtors Lydia Sarkissian and Bill Bullock listed and sold Ganz’s vacant property to Marin developer Jeff Paster for close to $10 million. In 2010, Paster’s 15,000-square-foot residence — the location of this year’s Marin Designers Showcase — was permitted. Will Jerry Ganz, currently visiting his daughter in Marin, be among its many viewers? “I plan to drop by,” he says.

- Jim Wood

The Cause

 “We kept looking around, but we really wanted to have our annual fundraiser at this house,” says Linda Davis, CEO of the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, about Villa Belvedere, the Marin Designers Showcase home. “This year’s event is going to be just spectacular; we knew we wanted this location ever since we first saw it.”

While its annual benefit is usually held earlier in the year, the center decided to push it back to when the Villa Belvedere estate would be finished. Each year the center hosts other events, such as Heart of Marin and the Marin Human Race, to raise funds that go toward harnessing the effort of more than 10,000 volunteers, holding some 80 workshops and providing training and services to 700 nonprofit groups, but its annual showcase is the only event that directly benefits the center itself. (Proceeds from the home tour’s ticket sales will go to the center.)

-Daniel Jewett

The Tour

The 2011 Marin Designers Showcase tour takes place February 1 to 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Shuttles leave from Tiburon Boulevard at Beach Road in Tiburon. General admission is $30; seniors are admitted for $25. Lunch is served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and costs $20. Thursday evening wine tastings (February 2, 9, 16 and 23) take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets for the wine tastings are $40.

The event launches with a gala from 6 to 9 p.m. January 31 ($150 per ticket); see RSVP Hot Ticket on page 20. The house will also be available for private parties.

Savvy shoppers can snap up many of the designer furnishings and accessories featured in the house during the public sale of furniture from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on February 27. Admission is $5 with a Showcase event ticket. For information, call 415.479.5710 or visit marindesignersshowcase.org.

-P.B.

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