Vahle uses jolts of color, whimsical juxtapositions of objects, unusual materials and a touch of humor to give personality to pared-down settings. If the objects are as varied as an oversized tic-tac-toe board to a light fixture made of a web of wires, they share a boldness of scale and simplicity of form. It's more important that each object has an impact than that it is precious or costly. He takes the same approach to accessories as he does to furniture. "Fewer, larger pieces make a small space feel luxurious. It's about choosing the most meaningful pieces. Three or four big pieces, and you're done."
When he moved into a Bay Area Edwardian, he decided to transform the interior from the cozy, cluttered look of the previous owners, a family with several children "and all that entails" to crisp and sophisticated, with a little formality to match the architecture. "I had never lived in an Edwardian house, and I was struck by the gorgeous details and the beautiful moldings.
The family's scheme of bright red and green and tartan patterns detracted from these fine decorative elements, so he turned to a neutral color palette to allow the details to shine. The living room became cool white, warmed up by shelves of books. He painted the dining room a matte black that he chose after brushing three different samples on the walls. "It was the one that looked like a hole in the wall, as if the wall had dropped away and you were left with beautiful details.
Vahle's search for these delightful details is far-ranging. "I combine things from near and far. I like to support local artisans, but I also use things I find on line. In San Francisco, I like places like Past Perfect on Union Street, which has different vendors who have rented spaces. I keep my ears open for Bay Area estate sales, and I even find great things at garage sales. I also tell people to shop their attics for something that just needs a little help. I recently found a grandmother clock that I had lacquered in baby blue with hot pink accents, and it's going add a bit of whimsy to an otherwise modern loft.
He points out that old lamps can often be transformed by replacing tired and mediocre shades or by dressing up an existing shade with fresh trim. In San Francisco, he's a fan of the Ribbonerie, a Sacramento street boutique that's piled high with thousands of ribbons and trims, and Satin Moon, the fabric store on Clement Street. Vahle's clean, fresh approach is attracting lots of attention attention. He was recently named a finalist for Fashion Group International's Rising Star Awards.
Luke Vahle Design
Satin Moon Fabrics