This Colorful San Francisco House Is Like a “Victorian on Acid”

updated Feb 21, 2020
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Name: Allison Muir and family
Location: San Francisco, California
Size: 2,000 square feet
Years lived in: 8 years, owned

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When Allison bought her San Francisco home, she’d often look out the window and daydream about the people who previously lived in it. They lived through the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, she thought to herself [the home was built between the 1890s and 1904]. “I despise the current trend of attempting to turn these iconic San Francisco row houses into modernist glass-staired shells,” Allison says. “I thought about the house as if one family had lived here continuously since 1895 and kept layering with each generation.” It was this respect for the home’s rich history that shaped her design point of view, and resulted in a bright and exuberant style that Allison describes as “Victorian on Acid.”

The inspiration for Allison’s home are two defining eras of San Francisco: the lavish Victorian period and the nonconformist Summer of Love. This is clear in every room of her two-story home, from the patterned wallpaper and ornate chandeliers illuminating each space, to the framed posters of Joan Didion and Sly Stone. In Allison’s home, each room has a visual surprise and a story to tell. “I was in film and television, and then became an interior designer to support my fiction writing,” Allison says. “I think all those visual and storytelling crafts are reflected in my home.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic, humorous, narrative.

Inspiration: I let the age of the house guide me. I love minimalist design, but in context.

Favorite Element: The decks and views. I also love the photo of Elizabeth Taylor with her hair in a pink towel. I placed her over the toilet in the main bathroom next to a frilled pink shower curtain. Male guests come to me all the time and say that Liz is telling them, “Hey Mister! Get outta my bathroom!” If women want to reinforce our demands, let’s not neglect that space.

Biggest Challenge: The small size of the rooms. It’s often hard to find furniture properly sized for the dimensions of Victorian rooms. I did splash out for a custom-sized small pink sofa from Mod Shop. Anything bigger was going to make the room feel crowded. I also went for teen lines from Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn a few times as they’re a bit more diminutive. Also, the construction process when we did the addition wasn’t easy. I learned that when you don’t have a dining table, you can feed your kids on a yoga mat because food wipes up easily afterwards.

What Friends Say: They say it’s like a Wes Anderson movie that hasn’t been filmed yet or like a little Madonna Inn.

Biggest Embarrassment: The countertops, cabinet bases, and fixtures in the older bathrooms. I just haven’t updated those yet.

Proudest DIY: The long headrest pillow in the guest room that I sewed so I could be comfortable sitting up to breastfeed. The fabric reminded me of the psychedelic hippie floor pillows my grandma used to have.

Biggest Indulgence: The cabinetry. We want to stay in the house for a long time and to restore some of the Victorian craftsmanship to the home, so we chose Clive Christian to do our dining room, office, and closet woodwork. It’s beautiful. It made the addition feel like it was there all along and made the house functional. Before it was installed, I had nowhere to put a broom or vacuum.

Best Advice: Design is a story. Rooms are characters. Room adjacencies create narrative arcs. Start with “What’s my story?”

Dream Sources: I went to Bali and came back with new suitcases full of treasures including a Javanese wedding crown and a discarded Hindu temple hanging made from old Chinese traders’ coins that had been sitting semi-broken and covered in soot in a weavers’ workshop. They became my favorite pieces in the house.


Kitchen Cabinets — Valspar, Weathervane
Walls House — Benjamin Moore, Superwhite
Dining Room Wallpaper — Flavor Paper, Celestial Dragon
Family Room Wallpaper — Flavor Paper, City Park
Family Room — Valspar, Ivory Lace
Living Room/Music Room — Flavor Paper, Elysian Fields, Power Plant
Kids’ Room — Benjamin Moore, Pretty Pink, Tricycle Red
Master Bedroom Wallpaper — Big Patterns “Paola” by Mr. & Mrs. Vintage
Master Bedroom Wallpaper — Omni Spatt, Timorous Beasties
Master Bedroom Ceiling — Benjamin Moore, Blue Bonnet

Sofa — Custom from ModShop
Jocelyn Coffee Table — Ethan Allen
Side Table — Etsy
Rattan Chair — Wayfair
Indian Pillows — Import store and from a head shop on Haight Street
Rug — Anthropologie
Bourgie Table Lamp — Kartell
Chandeliers — From Murano, Italy
Bar — From vintage shop in San Francisco
Lucite Side Tables — CB2
Chaise — Custom from ModShop

Trousdale Dining Table — ModShop
Goldfinger Dining Chair — ModShop
Cabinets — Clive Christian Furniture Co.
Modo Chandelier by Jason Miller — Roll & Hill

Industrial Tool Chest Console — Restoration Hardware
Cambridge Sofa — Restoration Hardware
Victorian Chest Side Table — Vintage
Mantle — Craigslist (salvaged vintage)
Maharaja Chair — Home Depot

Modo Pendant by Jason Miller — Roll & Hill

Jenny Lind Beds — Crate & Kids
Jenny Lind Dresser — Crate & Kids
Rag rug — Crate & Kids
Curtains — Handmade with fabric from Sew Mama Sew
Cupcake Toy Box — Limited art object from the Netherlands

Meurice Chandelier — Jonathan Adler
Womb Chair — Knoll (original from 1950s)
Painted Tabouret Chair — Anthropologie
Refinished Antique Desk — When Modern Was in San Francisco
Assorted Pillows — Anthropologie and handmade
Tasseled Bedspread — Anthropologie
Throw Blanket — Head shop on Haight Street

Quincy Bed — Ethan Allen
Marseilles Dresser — Restoration Hardware
Vintage French Desk Chair — RH Teen
Stool — RH Teen
Pink Turkish Overdyed Rugs — Anatolian Studio via Etsy
Leopard Tray — Dana Gibson
Throw Pillows — Christian Lacroix
Tinsley Lamp — Serena & Lily
Antique Staffordshire Dogs — One Kings Lane
Velvet Chair — Anthropologie
Maison Bookcase — PB Teen

Sailor Lounge Chair — Tidelli
Painho Chairs — Tidelli

Thanks, Allison!