The last weekend in April was all about home tours in The Bay Area! The Previously Owned by a Gay Man team saw the Oakland/Piedmont Heart of the Home Tour, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase house and the Kitchens in the Vineyard tour in St Helena. Each one showcased unique beauty and creativity, but one home really caught our eye. Naturally the Showcase House spotlights some stunning, high impact, aspirational design, but it always begs the question; could anyone really live here?
After four days of visits, our collective design minds were overflowing with ideas and inspiration. One home really stood out as being truly representative of the Previously Owned by a Gay Man joie de vivre. It was redone to be sure, but it incorporated small details and nuances that told us someone with a great and unique eye had done the home as a labor of love for themselves. We were delighted to learn that indeed it was done by a local business woman (yes, we love Gay men but are inclusive!) who is a Realtor in the East Bay. We reached out to Julie Gardner immediately to learn more…
As a Realtor you are surrounded by homes day in and out, and you obviously have an unusual gift for rehabbing them – how did you decide what part of the industry you would pursue professionally?
I grew up in a real estate family (my father was a broker in Sacramento), and my sisters and I painted and cleaned homes on the weekend from a very early age, so I swore I’d never work in real estate when I grew up. However, when my husband and I bought our first flat in SF, a “fixer” was all we could afford, so we bought it and fixed it up. A few years later, after the birth of our first son, that home’s profit parlayed us into the next opportunity and then the next, and then the next. Selling residential real estate was a natural progression of that journey. Plus, once we moved to Piedmont, my husband felt strongly that the boys should not be moved every few years while I pursued what had become, by that point, a real passion. That meant that I’d need to help others find the vision . . . For me, it’s easy to “talk the talk,” because I’ve “walked the walk,” and done it more than once. Additionally, I truly believe in the concept of home ownership. I think everyone should have a place to call home; a place that sustains and fulfills them.
How many homes have you renovated from top to bottom? What is your favorite part of the process and what about it do you loathe?
Calmar is our sixth home and our largest undertaking by far. It’s the first project we took down to the studs, and then the garden was a year in the making as well, so it was BIG. Our first flat was essentially a kitchen and bathroom remodel; the second home was a converted duplex that we returned to a single-family home; the third house, we expanded, etc., etc., etc., so each “fixer” became more involved as I became more proficient at it. BTW – we lived through them all, with the exception of this last one. I’m not sure that’s a course of action I’d recommend for most people.
Your home has a perfect mix of professional design elements and one of a kind finds. How do you get that just right?
Thank you, and I suppose it’s trial and error, to a large extent, coupled with years of flea market finds – and some judicious pruning along the way. I’m not a trained decorator, but I do believe your home should reflect your personality, which means that it should take chances, but you should also be willing to evolve. If something doesn’t work, change it, donate it, and pass it along. Mix old with new and don’t worry about an item’s provenance. I’ve found items at estate sales, in my neighbor’s garage, online or at Target. If it works, it works.
I love your use of wallpaper. Does that ever feel like too big of a commitment? How do you decide where to paint and where to paper?
Well, I grew up wallpapering, so to me, there are few things that change a room as dramatically – or as easily – as wallpaper or paint. While I love the idea of monochromatic design, the truth is that when I live in one-dimensional spaces, they seem boring to me. I mean, if you’re going to wallpaper, you might as well be bold about it, right? Plus, wallpaper and paint aren’t forever choices; they can be stripped or changed with far less expense than a wall can be moved. I love wallpaper in just about any room, but if you are new to the concept of wallpaper, it’s magical in a powder room where it tends to make a BIG impact for less expense. It’s a good starting point, rather than committing to a much larger space, like a master bedroom or a hallway for instance.
I have bumped into you at the Alameda Antiques Fair so I know you are a regular!
When you go, do you have a particular agenda in mind or do you just hope to discover something fabulous? I am a regular and I usually DON’T have an agenda, although a few months ago I said to a friend, “I don’t need anything, so don’t let me spend a dime . . . unless we come across a fabulous pair of corbels,” and about five aisles into the market, we did! I do have Rules, however, that my friends poke fun of, which are: scan and move – don’t doddle; and if you love it; buy it (it won’t be there when you return a half hour later.) I don’t stop at clothes, jewelry, or smalls. (I’m definitely not into dusting little things.) While others will spend a whole day at the flea market, the flea market is almost an aerobic activity for me. I usually have less than two hours to commit to is as Sundays are often a working day for me and I need to prepare. If you’re someone who likes to stop at every booth and take your time, let’s synchronize our watches and I’ll meet you at the front gate in a few hours!
If someone is working within a budget, where would you encourage them to spend and save?
I would encourage them to think practically about their appliances, tiles, faucets, fixtures and cabinets. Yes, you can spend a fortune on high-end fixtures, but there are other companies that offer quality products for a fraction of the cost; ditto for tiles, appliances and windows. Use stock cabinets and customize them by adding crown molding, and substitute upper cabinets with open shelving. It’s less “matchy” and far less expensive. Finally, if you can do some of the work yourself, do it. I painted my first three houses and I’m still papering them myself, and I do a good deal of the gardening on my own time. Conversely, DON’T take on jobs that licensed contractors and subs should be doing – like plumbing, electricity and roofs!
When you move on to a new home do you wipe the slate clean or take things from the last home?
I’ve got favorites that move from house to house to be sure, although Cliff and I sold several furnishings with our last sale, which allowed me a new start on this one. That was fun and it gave me the opportunity to approach this home and the design with fresh eyes.
Do you have a fantasy project?
Yes, I’m still hoping for the all-level Mediterranean built around a courtyard with an outbuilding or two for guests. If it’s near the beach, that’s my idea of heaven. That will be my final project if I ever come across it.
What are your favorite pieces on Previously Owned by a Gay Man and how would you use them in a project?
Oh there are so many!!! I’m not sure that I can pick a favorite, but I build my designs typically from the floor up, so I’d start with carpet and let that inform the rest of the choices in a room. However, lighting is my favorite element in any space as it immediately sets the tone. Like paint, it’s also easily changed so nothing updates (or dates) a house more than the lighting fixtures within it. If you want a quick refresh, change the lighting!
I can easily see myself using:
Learn more about Julie Gardner.