Susan's Adventure for the Senses

Susan's Adventure for the Senses

Lindsay Tella
Dec 14, 2012

Name: Susan MacTavish Best
Location: Pacific Heights, San Francisco, California
Size: 3,000 square feet
Years lived in: 2; rented

Stepping inside Susan's home is a feast for all of the senses. From the front entry to the backyard, every square inch of her space tells a story, while the delicious aromas of a cooking experiment waft from the kitchen. Susan is an entertainer extraordinaire. She's an expert at bringing together an eclectic mix of people over delicious food, fancy cocktails, and live entertainment, all within a soothing, yet tantalizing environment.

The first time I visited Susan's house it was an unseasonably warm evening in San Francisco. She welcomed me with a gin and tonic, made with a squeeze of fresh orange. Time seems to stand still once you enter her home, and there is never a dull moment, what with all of the cooking activity and visual stimulation. As we stood around the kitchen munching on delectable bites of marinated goat cheese drizzled over crostini, I thought, now this is living. If the food and cocktails aren't reason enough to pop in for one of Susan's parties, the lively conversation and talented musical performances held in her living room provide extra incentive.

As the founder and author of the blog Living MacTavish, Susan writes about everything from food, to fashion, to design and entertaining. She's worldly, well-traveled and the sort of person you could never be bored standing next to. Every piece of furniture, each trinket, photo and work of art in her home is a story waiting to be told. Her space embodies a respect for history, an appreciation for innovation, and a love for good design. It's a gallery of her treasures that appears chaotic, yet intentional. Each room is a new adventure, and Susan herself is the personification of the warm, fun, and unconventional spirit her house exudes.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: My style is to mix up pieces from different centuries and put them next to each other so that the eye is never bored. I might put an Audubon print next to a Calder litho in a room that has furniture from the 1790s and 1960s all on a sheepskin-fur covered floor. Think Royal Tenenbaums in a Scottish country pile with a nod to Silicon Valley.

Inspiration: I cook all the time (I'm working on a cookbook so I have many recipes to test), and entertain friends a few times a week. I've always tried to create a home that makes people want to walk in the front door, that makes them feel at ease and stay a while. I like bringing together eclectic folks who might not know each other otherwise, and encouraging them to meet and talk and be themselves minus airs and graces. Having a home that is inviting makes people far more at ease.

I grew up in Scotland in an old Georgian building in the country, built by Robert Adam. It had massive rooms, yet each room was cosy and inviting and filled with antiques, books and curiosities. That's my inspiration, to recreate that feeling where you want to sit down for a while, and you're never bored.

Favorite Element: My upstairs bathroom is long, very white and has high ceilings. I use it as a gallery (and a bathroom!).

Biggest Challenge: Ostensibly this house is a small Victorian which has lots of little rooms. The rooms have a tendency to feel cramped. I prefer big open spaces myself. The bonus is that you can make each room feel like another scene. The bedrooms in the house are small and dark. I decided to paint my master bedroom deep, war brown, and make it a very welcoming refuge to unwind rather than fight the natural darkness of the room.

What Friends Say: Comfortable, cosy, homey, so much to look at, it's like a gallery. They also tend to say it smells really good, as I'm usually at work in the kitchen. Good food and comfortable places to sit equal very content friends!

Biggest Embarrassment: One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco is SPQR. They've done a fantastic job of keeping the restaurant both open and warm. I noticed they painted their ceiling a deep purple. I tried to copy them and paint my dining room ceiling a deep purple too, but it turned out to be a rather violent purple. Fortunately, my guests are too preoccupied with each other and the food to look up.

Proudest DIY: I hung all of the art by myself in one evening. I love hanging paintings. I like to think about where I'm going to hang art while I'm running. It's a fun puzzle.

Biggest Indulgence: When I was nine, my mother took me to Galerie Maeght in Paris. They were having a show of Walasse Ting and I promised myself that one day I would own one of his works. I've since collected three of them. They are so cheery, and I love his work now just as much as when I was nine.

Best Advice: Create a home that you love coming back to at the end of the day. It is, after all, your home. You should feel entirely yourself in it.

Dream Sources: I subscribe to foreign design magazines. Any auction catalogue (Sothebys, Christies, Bonhams), Marie Claire Idees, Vogue Living Australia, Maison Francaise.

Resources of Note:


    • My hallway is very wide. I treat it as an extension of my living room. I have a wide leather couch from Restoration Hardware that I always flop down on when I come home.
    Pablo Light: San Francisco Light Designer.
    • Mirrors: bought at a Bonhams auction. They open up the hallway, making it much brighter and seemingly larger, and let you glimpse art in the living room. You can find these at estate auctions. I like that they are mismatched.
    • Walt Disney original cartoon from my mom on my third birthday. My mom gave me a piece of art for my birthday every year growing up, which was such a fantastic tradition. I was allowed to sell them when I turned 21 but of course I never have sold any of the pieces.
    • The WASP cartoon: I have a blog called What Would A Wasp Do and so I love this.


    • Sheepskin Rugs: Lawson Farms
    • French portrait: late 1700's from auction at Bonhams.
    • Chaise: Restoration Hardware
    • Books: They make every room cosier and I think are such an extension of ourselves. I suspect as more and more people read digital texts, books will become seen more as art.
    • Sheep's Head: Chelsea Antiques in Petaluma, on Main Street
    • Kidney shaped table by Adrian Pearsall: Inherited from my grandmother. You can find them on 1stDibs.
    • Plastic rocking chair: Kartell
    • Portrait of my grandmother. On my to-do list is to get a portrait done by Kimberly Brooks, a super talented portrait painter based out of LA. (She's also the founder of the arts section on HuffPo, and the wife of Albert Brooks).
    • Stool my friend made with logo on it. He started a company called Spoonflower that prints fabric and wallpaper on demand.


    • Light: Chelsea Antiques in Petaluma
    • Pheasants: Given to me by the owner of Period George, my favorite store! (the art of dining).
    • Big, massive silver spoon: Period George. There was a second one at Period George that Thomas Keller bought.
    Danese Milano jigsaw puzzle of animals: I've had this since I was a baby.
    • Spode Blue Clipper China. I grew up with this. (easy to buy online anywhere). They appear to have stopped Blue Clipper but I'd go to Gumps to buy china, such a fantastic selection.


    • Blackboard for menus: Billyboards
    • Labels for all my food: Designed by Gershoni
    • Old clock I've had since I was 3, so retro!: 1stdibs
    • My craigslist TV poster. I work with craigslist so it makes me happy to see the poster and the stories that have come out of that project.
    • All my photos of my friends. I use smugmug to store and print them.
    • Cookbooks: I use old dated cookbooks for inspiration. Your local library will probably have a sale at least once a year and that's a good place to find them.


    • California King bed (I'm tall and it's very high up so dogs can't
    jump up!): Restoration Hardware
    • Painting by my grandfather. He was born in Northern Maine but spent his life mostly in Toronto. This painting looks like Maine!
    • Painting by his son, my father. My father died when I was very young so I really treasure this and like to see it when I wake up in the morning.
    • Poems by my maternal great grandmother that are framed.
    • Audobon print: Arader Galleries.
    • Skull: Bonhams has occasional Natural History auctions and this is where I found the skull.
    • Cream velvet curtains: Pottery Barn
    • Light by Pablo


    • School photos from sleepaway school at St. Leonards in Scotland and from uni at Oxford. People often think I've bought them, they don't realize I'm actually in them!
    • Guest book: Papersource. I love reading the comments from the guest book after a party.
    • Lollipops: Tootsie roll lollipops are very popular when I leave them in a bowl in the bathroom.

Thanks, Susan!

(Images: Lindsay Tella)

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