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Design Spotlight: Maximal Effect

by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Atop a Safar rug are Christian Liaigre sofas and coffee table. Cowtan & Tout drapery was fabricated by Dawson Custom Workroom, while art from the client’s personal collection hangs astride a faux-finish fireplace by Willem Racké Studio.

With complementary approaches to life and design, Vernon Applegate and Gioi Tran strike a fruitful balance.

It’s one thing to work with your spouse. It’s another to live where you work.

This has been the creative case for Vernon Applegate and Gioi Tran. The designers partnered in 1998, opening San Francisco–based Applegate Tran Interiors, which today spearheads projects coast to coast from a 10,000-square-foot Mission District warehouse, transformed a decade ago into a downstairs office and entertaining space along with upstairs living quarters.

“The pandemic was a tough thing, but at the same time we got to step back and reflect on ourselves and sort of reinvent ourselves even further — with how we want to live our lives and what we want to do,” says Applegate from Boston, where he is finishing up one project and embarking on another in New York. That reinvention includes a current remodel to their home as well as an expanded showroom for Poliform San Francisco, the Italian furniture line franchise the design duo also owns.

A brand-new 7,000-square-foot Design District showroom will debut this fall and also showcase some of Tran’s large-scale artwork on canvas.

A Foscarini pendant matches the floor lamp in the entry, painted Benjamin Moore Dark Burgundy.

The designers are no strangers to big undertakings and find the seeds of inspiration in the possibilities. When a recent Atherton project required a complete gut of a French country kitchen to accommodate the homeowner’s long-standing dream to go red, Applegate was more than game: “I’m definitely not afraid of color,” he says. “I’m wearing lime green pants right now,” he notes with a chuckle. “She grew up outside of Paris and wanted that fun, more modern Parisian feel.”

For the client’s daring vision, it was clear that Applegate would take the lead on the project. “After all these years, that division of clients and projects comes second nature, and it is an intuitive process,” shares Tran. “Vernon tends to be far more eclectic, colorful and edgy than I am, so he pushes me to another level. At the same time, I tend to be more of a minimalist, so balancing is like yin and yang, where we find a happy middle ground within the juxtaposition of our personal styles.”

To modernize the Peninsula home for the couple and their three children, Applegate was given a strict palette — purples, reds, blues and grays — and told what to avoid altogether: yellows, browns and the cream tones that characterized the original design. A wall between the family room and previously closed-off kitchen was opened up, while the river rock façade fireplaces in the family and living rooms were replaced with Venetian plaster, finished by Willem Racké, who also did the drawing of the homeowners’ son for his skater-themed bedroom.

Bold balance: Benjamin Moore Vermilion, Kartell dining chairs and a William Platner table.

In addition to complementing the client’s preferred aesthetic and pop art collection, color was also used strategically. “The back of the house is very bright and light,” says Applegate. “And the front half of the house is very dark because there [are] these big, massive oaks and it’s north facing. The entry was very dark — so to play off that we again brought in rich colors.”

As a recent yin project to Applegate’s maximalist yang, Tran envisioned the principal closet and dressing suite for May’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase, New Perspectives. “Our first thought was the concept that the dressing room is no longer a utilitarian space; it can be a sophisticated and luxurious space within your home,” says Tran, who created bespoke Poliform pieces for the virtual design. “Dressing is an art, and fashion deserves to be showcased with the same luxury that we live our lives.”

When each designer is asked respectively for the secret of their success as a team, the answers are endearingly similar. “We come together when we need to bounce ideas off one another, but we never step on each other’s toes,” Tran says. As for Applegate, “We’re always bouncing ideas off of each other. It’s been 23 years and we’re still in love with what we do — and each other.”

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