Designer I Love: Stephen Brady — City Retreat, Domestic Bliss
EXCLUSIVE TO THE STYLE SALONISTE: Come with me to meet the wonderfully talented designer Stephen Brady and learn how he has created his own private retreat, a peaceful realm near San Francisco Bay. This week we visit Stephen at home in Mission Bay, San Francisco, to capture his tips on interior design and find ideas in his tailored apartment. It’s new, and has never been published. You see it here first. You’ll discover how Stephen designs for his own pleasure. For the last twenty years, he has been designing GAP Inc. international flagship stores and retail concepts for high profile Banana Republic and Old Navy stores and new acquisitions like Athleta. Recently he has been traveling often to China where the company is expanding. Stephen has also designed several highly successful San Francisco restaurants, including the popular Spruce in Pacific Heights, and Café des Amis, on Union Street. I’ve written about Stephen rather a lot over the past two decades. And yet you won’t find him featured in design magazines…but you will find his influence on thousands of retail stores around the world. If you leap over to your library and flick through some of my earlier books, you will find him. His rustic house at Stinson Beach is in ‘Seaside Interiors’ one of my Taschen books (or was it ‘California Interiors’?) His city house is in ‘San Francisco Interiors’ where he is definitely on Page 129. Let me know if you find him in others. His beautiful garden was featured in Garden Design magazine (I was one of the founders) and ‘The Garden Design Book’ His private work is personal, graphic, classic, old-school, and always wonderful to photograph. Stephen has just completed decorating his new San Francisco apartment, and I shot it with David Duncan Livingston to give my readers the first look. The Mission Bay apartment is in a superbly designed new complex in the newly developed Mission Bay district, formerly a tumbleweed area along the bay, east of the city. (Think former railroad yards, warehouses, an industrial area time had passed by.) Stephen’s new two-bedroom apartment is chic, relaxed, and immensely comfortable. It’s his perfect weekend escape. Come for a visit. As a special extra treat, I’m included below a list of design tips and ideas from Stephen. You’ll find them inspiring. Who is Stephen Brady Stephen Brady has devoted his life to interior design and interior architecture. He is the Executive Vice-President Creative Services at GAP Inc. and recently celebrated his twentieth year with the company. If you’ve walked into a new Banana Republic flagship store in Shanghai, Rome, London or Paris or New York, you’ve seen the work Stephen and his team have created. He directs and collaborates with highly talented teams for high-profile GAP Inc. stores, as well as Banana Republic and Old Navy. Stephen put his imprint on many stores including glossy Banana Republic interiors on Regent Street, London, the Champs-Elysées, Paris, and in Tokyo and Rome. In other words, Stephen is devoted to style—and he is always traveling long-distance to finesse and fine-tune bold new retail concepts. In San Francisco recently, he took six months to find his ideal apartment, a two-bedroom, 1,600 square foot south-facing residence that feels spacious, and gets sun much of the day. His apartment is both a private refuge from a busy life, and a clubby retreat where he likes to entertain friends with impromptu dinners and casual gatherings. And perhaps because his very early career was at Britches, the venerable menswear store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, he has a deep love of menswear fabrics like suede, tweed, linen, wool, cashmere, cotton oxford, and patterns like herringbone and houndstooth. That’s a great habit to pick up. Oh, and his bed is upholstered in tan faux ostrich. “I was looking for a two bedroom apartment to acquire, and heard about new construction in Mission Bay by a top Canadian developer that specializes in high-quality design,” said Stephen. “I went to check out floor plans and finishes and materials when the building had barely broken ground. I love real estate and was attracted to this new neighborhood fifteen minutes from my office, and twenty minutes from SFO. I liked the refined floor plans, the fourteen-foot ceilings, and the well-considered design. My favorite floor plan had a quiet sheltered terrace where I could enjoy breakfast in the morning.” The neighborhood he discovered has been developed over the last decade, from a neglected former drive-by area to a thriving community of top research hospitals, and low-rise apartments. “Today’s glamour should be seductive, personal, comfortable, and just a little bit eccentric. These concepts were the motivation behind my new apartment,” said Stephen. That’s the driving force for Stephen whose new apartment suggests the nuanced colors and connoisseurship of Coco Chanel, the quiet sculptural refinement of Jean-Michel Frank, and the wildly confident passion for art in thirties Paris. Tobacco-colored suede club chairs, softly faded Aubusson rugs, mirrored black lacquer screens which refract shards of sunlight, and a panoply of portraits and iconic black and white twentieth-century photography whisper of the intrigue of Paris salons and the designer’s worldly travels. A handsome eighteenth-century French painted chinoiserie chest, a shimmering pair of mirror-topped brushed nickel cigarette tables, and a sleek glass and nickel Art Deco coffee table, along with voluptuous twenties and thirties bronze figures on tables and shelves show Stephen’s knowledgeable and discerning eye. “Eclectic antique and art collections are always an important part of my rooms,” said Stephen. Essentially, the furniture is overscale. This approach makes his rooms feel more expansive, more comfortable, and certainly grander. Furnishings in a chiaroscuro of dark brown, black and off-white create a background, a mood, and a frame for the paintings, photography, and objects he has collected over many years. Brady has made it his practice to create mood, individuality and mystery in his rooms. For his work, Stephen Brady is always on a plane or on-site or in his studio in San Francisco overlooking the bay. His job is intense, highly collaborative with many specialist teams, and very rewarding as he sees stores designed, built, polished, perfected efficiently with his specialists, and then opened. He had previously worked in top design positions for Ralph Lauren and for Calvin Klein. Stephen has done city chic in Manhattan, a Stinson Beach beach cottage, and a sleek Palm Springs retreat. In the Hamptons his shingled saltbox weekend house is all cushy sofas, down pillows, open doors, and sunny terraces. When he first arrived in San Francisco from New York in the early nineties, he created richly-detailed rooms in an Arts & Crafts house near Buena Vista Park, complete with a redwood paneled sitting room and a romantic formal living room with hand-plastered walls. That apartment is in my book, San Francisco Interiors. Stephen is a serial apartment lover. Returning to Manhattan in 1995, as a design director for Ralph Lauren Home, he shaped his French-accented art deco townhouse in the East Village. Heading uptown to Sutton Place, he designed a glamorous art deco apartment overlooking the East River. “There’s a thread between the various California and New York City apartments and co-ops I’ve lived in,” said Brady, who heads every spring to celebrate his birthday in a rustic cottage in St Bart’s. “Everywhere I go, I find antiques, sculptures, paintings, and my rooms have a mix of eccentric and rare antiques from London, Paris, New York, or Morocco. I like diversity. I like pieces that have odd proportions that show signs of age and wear. They all live with my collections of black and white photography by Angus McBean, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, and Horst. In all his dwellings, Brady selects console tables, hall tables, chests, dressers and cigarette tables on which he arranges vignettes of gilt-framed portraits, crystal lamps, antique silver candlesticks, arcane design books, flea market collections of tortoiseshell boxes, along with French silver vases filled with tulips and garden roses, and antique Murano and Daum glass vases. To give his living room a feeling of pure luxe, and to enhance its apparent size, Stephen kept the window shades ultra-simple. “I wanted a romantic, Paris salon-style apartment overlooking trees and a quiet park,” said the designer. “For me it has a New York sensibility, and the interior could also be in Paris.” His rooms seduce the senses with soulful paintings, wax-buffed hardwood floors, gestural sculptures, French art books and fragrant candles (Cire Trudon and Diptyque.). “My collections have come together over decades,” said Brady. “When I return home in the evening, there’s an air of tranquility. It’s very quiet and meditative. It’s a bit formal, but I entertain very casually. I don’t stand on ceremony.” In composing rooms of quiet beauty, harmony and elegance, he has also painted a very artful portrait of himself. Weekends with Stephen... “On a Saturday morning, it’s very quiet and private here,” he said. “I may go up one flight of stairs to the gym. I could swim at the Olympic-size outdoor pool. Or I might go over to Dogpatch and meet a friend for lunch at Piccino. There’s the Mission Rock Resort, with fantastic views over the bay. I can drive to the Ferry Plaza for lunch with friends at Bouli Bar on Sunday.” In particular he said, he likes the simplicity of life here—after the excitement of working on a glamorous new flagship in Shanghai or Paris or Tokyo. Hot Tips from Stephen Brady: Interior designer Stephen Brady’s decorating ideas are cool-wherever you hang your hat. COOL COLORS — Keep your color scheme uncomplicated and fresh. Brady loves timeless blue and white fabrics, and white walls. He’s also a fan of charcoal, dove, off-white and black…very Chanel…for a color scheme with an edge. Black is his go-to color. DOUBLE DUTY — Versatile furniture makes life simpler. A large upholstered ottoman can also be used as a coffee table topped with a tray. A day bed instantly becomes an extra guest bed. (Dress it with a selection of throws, blankets and wraps.) PRACTICAL UPHOLSTERY — Stephen loves fabrics that look like men’s haberdashery--tweeds, wool herringbone, checks, slubby linen, and flannel. For his country house on Long Island he uses slipcovers in natural off-white denim, or indigo washed denim feel good against bare skin--and can be thrown in the washing machine for instant cleaning. CANDLELIGHT — Keep a stock of natural beeswax candles--tapers, columns and votives. Dozens. Candlelight helps everyone relax. NO HARSH LIGHTING — In the evening, banish overhead lights. “They should be taboo,” said Brady. “Overhead lighting is harsh and unflattering.” CUT A RUG — Choose carpets (like rush matting) that you can pick up, shake out, and change at will. Faded, somewhat tattered Oriental carpets are especially hardwearing even outdoors. They can turn a patio or terrace into an outdoor room. TABLE OF CONTENT — Select a very generous, sturdy dining table-to use for everything. It’s the perfect family gathering place all day, children can do projects on it on a cool day, and it’s ideal for a buffet. CREDITS:Photography exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE by David Duncan Livingston. ABOUT DAVID DUNCAN LIVINGSTON: David Duncan Livingston is an interior and architectural photographer working throughout the country from his Mill Valley, California studio. Interior designers, architects and publishers work with Livingston to create photos of interiors for portfolios and editorial, along with the people and products that reside within them. Livingston brings a cohesive vision to his assignments by carefully overseeing the art direction, styling and post-production of his photography. His editorial style creates photos that are inviting, with a natural light-filled feeling. David Duncan Livingston is the photographer of six books of interior design among them: Shingle Style, by Rizzoli, San Francisco Style, California Country Style by Chronicle Books. Hawaii a Sense of Place, by Mutual Publishing, and by Taunton Press; The New City Home, Patterns of Home. www.davidduncanlivingston.com415-383-0898 All images used with permission from the photographer, David Duncan Livingston.