Design Spotlight: French Quarters

By Carolyne Zinko

Under the artistic eye of San Francisco’s Studio Mortazavi, the lodging for Villa Albertine San Francisco’s artists in residence comes to inspiring life, from a paint palette largely influenced by Wayne Thiebaud to creative use of shape, such as the circular oak dowels that make up a couch by Yves Béhar. The industrial designer is shown here in one of the apartment’s two bedrooms, with wallpaper made from a detail of JR’s “The Chronicles of San Francisco.” | Photo courtesy of Sabrina Bot.

A hillside haven for artists furnishes the ultimate vantage point.

It’s a room with a view — and a place for expanding one’s horizons.

“It” refers to Villa Albertine San Francisco — an artist-in-residence program with an apartment for international creatives that’s tucked into the French Consulate’s residence on a woodsy Parnassus Heights hillside. The perch’s corner window offers sweeping vistas of downtown, Golden Gate Park and even Mill Valley’s Mount Tamalpais.

Part crash pad and part ideas incubator, it’s an arm of Villa Albertine, a cultural exchange created by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs that operates in 10 cities, from New York to California. “It’s a bridge between France, Europe and the U.S., connecting artists with communities to spark debate and exchange ideas about questions that drive the world,” says Sabine de Maussion, France’s cultural attaché in San Francisco.

Villa Albertine San Francisco is the only one in the network with its own living quarters rather than a hotel or private home, and its playfully chic interiors are the work of San Francisco’s Studio Mortazavi, whose founder, Amir Mortazavi, cofounded Canopy workspaces with industrial designer Yves Béhar.

“My concept,” Mortazavi says, “was to give inspiration to the French artists coming to the Bay Area to create their best bodies of work.” Initially, the 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and one bath was “all beige,” he recalls, “lacking any soul or character.” His three-month redo, with colors and elements of American and French culture, breathed energy into the lackluster space.

Photo courtesy of Sabrina Bot.

Walls now burst with vibrant pinks, yellows, oranges and dusty blues, drawn from Wayne Thiebaud’s palette. A print of the late California painter’s “French Pastries” (1963) hangs in the living room, as does an image from French filmmaker Agnès Varda’s 1968 short film, Black Panthers. Faces peer out from closets, and a bookcase features French artist JR’s 2018 digital work, “The Chronicles of San Francisco,” made into wallpaper. France’s Nathalie Du Pasquier, a founding member of the Memphis Group, created bold color schemes for the bedrooms, and vertical black-andwhite stripes visually separate living and dining spaces, a nod to French painter Daniel Buren.

Nestled among redwoods, the apartment is “like a treehouse,” says Mortazavi, who commissioned wood pieces by local artisans: Brancusi-inspired pendant lights by Jay Nelson; a dining table and chairs by Yvonne Mouser; stools by Jonathan Anzalone; and a coffee table from a fallen Golden Gate Park tree by Jesse Schlesinger. There’s also a couch of circular white oak dowels with soft backrest bolsters by Béhar, who describes it, in part, as “a California signature element that is lightweight and casual.”

Renovations were completed in 2020, funded by France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and advisory board members Chris and Audrey Allexandre, Dolly and George Chammas, Mélanie Desliens-Flint and Pete Flint, and Tom Horn. As Dolly Chammas says, “We felt Villa San Francisco’s mission could bring together Francophone artists and Bay Area talent and create melting pots of open and diversely rich cultures.”

Early in the pandemic, U.S. artists participated in the residency. In January, artists began arriving from abroad. Recently, radio journalist Aude-Émilie Judaïque, immersive experience producer Chloé Jarry and border scholar Anne-Laure Amilhat- Szary met with local museum directors about their interactive, international traveling exhibition, Exploring Borders. The show, sparked by the global migrant crisis, is slated for 2025. As a window on the world, both literal and figurative, the residency gave the trio much to think about. “What can we say?” says Judaïque, pointing to the panoramas that beckoned through the glass. “We’re privileged.”

Villa Albertine

French poet and sci-fi author Alain Damasio will visit in May. Villa Albertine’s annual Night of Ideas is set for May 17 in San Francisco. For details, see

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