According to designer Michael Hilal, the allure of a new apartment in a new city proved quite intoxicating for his client, Rebecca La Prade, who moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles last year to complete a Ph.D. program in psychology. This city, of course, has a long history of bewitchery, casting a spell on transplants with its cultural and culinary temptations. La Prade, however, admits that since her rigorous study schedule prohibits in-depth exploration of our metropolitan gems, it was the eye-popping design possibilities for her one-bedroom rental in Mid-Market’s Nema building that she recently found most thrilling.
“She was like a kid in a candy store,” says Hilal, “wanting every piece to make a statement.”
As a part-time style blogger, La Prade’s tastes are on trend: She likes strong, angular geometry; a powerful black-and-white color palette; and the confectionary, baroque trappings seen in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.”
“But real living spaces don’t work like movie sets,” says Hilal, who was paired with La Prade through Homepolish in San Francisco, an on-demand home-decor service that is, according to a recent New York Times article, “akin to online dating”: The site pairs clients with emerging design talent. Services range from decorating advice to full-scale home installations, all at a standard rate of $130 an hour. “Every piece can’t, and shouldn’t, be ‘wow,’” Hilal says. “I think this is one good reason to hire a designer — to help curb this tendency. It’s those seemingly uninteresting pieces that ultimately provide depth to the design, as if the pieces have been collected over time.”
A vast living-room wall practically dared Hilal, who daylights as the director of monetization at the travel website Hipmunk, to unleash a striking expression upon it that would require the rest of the room to unfold more subtly. Using La Prade’s suggestion of thick stripes as inspiration, Hilal transformed the perennially popular motif into a more compelling Greek key graphic, echoing the three adjacent full-height window panels in size and shape. (The robustness of the design belies its simple application and removal: A couple coats of primer and paint would easily return the wall to its original blank-slate glory if La Prade moves out of the apartment.)
As a counterpoint to the wall, Hilal introduced soft curves and plush textures into the tableau in the form of a gray velvet Chesterfield-style sofa from Z Gallerie, a mottled shag rug, and domed copper lamps by Tom Dixon. Whether the space is anchored by the wall graphic or the muscular, obsidian Bernhardt coffee table is up for debate. The latter was certainly a point of contention. Hilal felt strongly that a table occupying the center of the room was an opportunity to unite the furnishings with the bold wall motif. But La Prade says: “I envisioned something less bulky and a little more elegant, maybe with a metal frame. But I don’t know what I was thinking. I can’t imagine anything else there besides that table. It just really works.”
In the bedroom, another wall became a focal point, this time with a solid, matte-black treatment. Memory diverges here; while La Prade claims she was all in for the impenetrable varnish from the start, Hilal recalls her dubiousness. “She worried that it would make the room too dark and suggested gray instead,” he says. “At that point, I just told her to trust me.”
A bejeweled bull’s skull by Vanessa Mooney is a glimmering moment on an otherwise lusterless surface. Even the CB2 four-poster bed, chosen for its black powder-coated iron frame, seems to disappear into the wall’s powerful pigment. With another set of full-height windows in the space, La Prade’s alleged concern about a rayless room, though understandable, was always a non-issue. But just to (literally and figuratively) lighten the mood, Hilal installed a pair of mirrored Hollywood Regency-style nightstands and a charming Dalmatian-print armchair, found on One Kings Lane.
Despite her apartment’s glamorous design, La Prade confesses that other than her mother, not one visitor has had the opportunity to behold the beautiful space. Cooking is not in her repertoire; in fact, her kitchen cupboards store a collection of Nike sneakers, and she uses the clear-acrylic dining table, flanked by Restoration Hardware black-leather riveted chairs, as a place to spread out her textbooks and study. “You must think I’m the most boring person alive,” she says, chagrined, not realizing that dreaming up such a cosmopolitan dwelling fundamentally requires a level of taste and imagination that seems native to only the most nonboring people alive.