vintage Lucite candleholders by modernist designer Dorothy Thorpe and a pseudo-zebra rug under the coffee table
The designer s love for black and white is expressed in the living room by pillows in different textures, vintage Lucite candleholders by modernist designer Dorothy Thorpe and a pseudo-zebra rug under the coffee table.
Don't throw away that lamp that's been slanguishing in the basement. That grandmother clock you saw at an estate sale? It could be the find of the century. That's the advice of interior designer Luke Vahle, who expresses his basic approach to design in a few words, "You start with restraint, and then you add things that are more ephemeral. The details are the things that make us happy."

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.
Living room with Frida Kahlo poster
Vahle kept things simple in the music room, dominated by a grand piano and lit by a resin-coated yarn sphere from Moooi, casting delicate shadows on a Frida Kahlo poster that s the only bright color in the space.
" The original moldings are painted a glossy white, so that they stand out like sculpture against the invisibility of the walls. The effect, he says, is both cozy and theatrical. Then Vahle started adding accessories to lighten the austerity of the background. Some details repeat the black and white color scheme. A zebra-patterned rug lies under the coffee table, white pillar lamps stand out against black walls, and even the weights of the door chimes have been painted a shiny black. The occasional jolts of color - the red shawl in a poster for a Frida Kahlo exhibit, the deep pink of lilies, the green of artichokes in an arrangement of vegetables and flowers on the dining room table - are so carefully applied that they give each room a charge of electricity.
Dining room by Luke Vahle
In Luke Vahle s San Francisco dining room, a white light fixture from West Elm hangs above a table by Dutch designer Tord Boontje, featuring a swirling design ink-printed on the underside of the glass top. The black plates are from Crate and Barrel.
There's humor as well; the hooves of a carved wooden carnival horse is propped up against a banister so that the steed seems to be watching the comings and goings on the stairs.

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.
Chinese wedding chest in red pillows with teapot drinking set

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

Past Perfect


Satin Moon Fabrics