Most interior decorating processes are litanies of delays -- the desired damask won't arrive from France for six months, the perfect tiles aren't in stock and last-minute changes of heart. This, on the other hand, is a decorating story of speed and efficiency.

A couple of years ago, Honolulu residents Mary and Peter Steiner were spending a few days with friends in Pleasanton. One afternoon they decided to visit model homes in the luxury developments springing up in the area. "I fell in love with one of the models," Mary recalls. She and her husband wasted no time. They made an offer and soon found themselves with the keys to a dignified, spacious residence.

"I'm from California, and I have friends here. I used to live in Foster City and Redwood Shores before I moved to Hawaii and met my husband there. So I wanted to have a base in California, and I really like Pleasanton." The Steiners move around a fair amount, dividing their time between their beachside house on Oahu and another house in Vancouver, but Mary Steiner looks forward to spending more time in Pleasanton. "Maybe it will be a permanent residence, eventually. In the meantime I want to use it."

When they took over the property, the lavish furnishings of the carefully staged model home were gone. Although there were a few remnants of the splendor some wall-to-wall carpet, some paintings and window coverings there wasn't a chair to sit on. They needed to do something, and they wanted to do it fast. "I'm not good at waiting," Mary Steiner confesses. "We've had several places, and I have a tendency to dig right in and get it decorated."


They were off to J. Hettinger, a large furniture and interior design store in Danville. "Do you have any chairs?" they asked Robineve Cole, one of Hettinger's interior designers. Then they glimpsed what Mary Steiner described as "the perfect sofa." One thing led to another, Cole started showing them more things, and they were off and running on a high-speed process to transform and personalize the new house as quickly as possible.

Within a month lightning fast in the normal pace of decorating three areas of the house were comfortably furnished and the rest of the house, guest house and pool house were underway.

It helped that Mary Steiner had picked out a single color scheme that would be continued, in subtle variations, throughout the entire house. Her choice was a soft blue combined with a palette of browns, ranging from rich dark chocolate to muted taupes to warm beige. The quiet colors seem to flow naturally from the taupe stucco on the exterior of the house.

The repetition of a single palette of colors might seem to be a formula for monotony, but Robineve Cole has given each room in the house a distinct personality, thanks to her use of textures. Cole, a former textile designer who spent some years running her own fashion manufacturing line, used fabrics from silk damasks and satins to sturdy cottons and added trimmings like deep fringe or sparkling crystals to define the relative formality of each area. Mary Steiner recalls, "We worked really well together. She showed me a lot of fabrics, and I'm pretty good at making decisions."

One of the quirks of the house is the little library right off the living room. Although it was going to serve as Peter Steiner's working office, his wife didn't want the room's function to be clearly visible, nor did she want to curtain it off. "I didn't want all those things shredders, printers, cords and so forth out where you could see them." The office mechanics are now built in behind dark, glossy paneling, without an errant cord to be seen. The effect is so sleek, says Mary Steiner, "My husband was a little taken aback. He said it felt like the President of the United States should be there."

Not only did the Steiners want the house decorated fast, they wanted a complete turnkey job, so that they could walk in and have everything from sheets and towels to soap dishes and napkins in place. Cole went to work, helping them select blue and white china and cut-crystal glasses. She ravaged Macy's linen department, buying so much at one time that it took three dollies to move it all out to a truck. The attention to every detail turned out to be a lucky break, when Mary Steiner took a fall and had to spend a month convalescing at the new house. Shelves were stocked with tissues, the soap was in the bathrooms and all the smallest comforts of home were in place, just in time.

J. Hettinger Interiors