Masters of Atmosphere

AubreyMaxwell chronicles the process of creating a successful Showcase space
PART ONE
All photos by John Merkl

AubreyMaxwell’s highly evocative bedroom for the 2024 Showcase House.

It’s always a joy and a privilege to work with Robbie McMillan and Marcus Keller of San Francisco interior design firm and art advisory, AubreyMaxwell, who are unfailingly kind, thoughtful, and generous of spirit, as well as enormously talented. Here they chronicle their journey to Showcase 2024, from designer tour to installation day. They share their process of selecting a room, applying, designing custom pieces and installation, with all the nimble adaptations and pivots required along the way. Robbie and Marcus view interiors through the lens of art, so there is always thoughtful dialogue between the two disciplines.

This room also attends to all the senses – from their attention to a delicate sound of the shade to the warmth of sun on bedcover. Featuring art inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, verdant wallcovering, and poetic light, this room is truly one for new Romantics.

(L to R) Cofounders Marcus Keller and Robbie McMillan and Senior Designer Caleb Morris.


Deciding to pitch, selecting a room, concept board & submission

12.15.2023

Today was our first tour of this giant old mansion on Broadway and Baker. We always go in to Showcase with an open mind, not knowing if we will actually apply to design a space. You gotta feel it out to know. But having been a part of the previous two decorator showcase homes, we couldn’t help but feel excited to investigate the possibilities. We were immediately drawn in by the entry into the large living room, with its truly incredible views of the Bay and the bridge.

There are so many nooks and crannies and special spaces in a home like this, so we hit every one, waiting to be inspired. When we reached the very top floor, we responded immediately to two small rooms at the front of the home. The beautifully shaped windows and almost attic-like feel of the rooms really drew us in, and we knew this was the spot.

Keller and McMillan’s original concept boards submitted to Showcase Design Review.

We set out to propose a guest bedroom and adjoining sitting room for our showcase presentation. With only one week to assemble our proposals, we went to work designing, sourcing and reaching out to vendor partners, artists and makers. And all of this during the week before Christmas! As we began to conceptualize the design, we all gravitated toward an ARTE wallpaper on our boards. The weathered green floral motif on a textural linen-like ground just felt right for this home. It would be the spark to set the rest of the design in motion.


Scouting art, sourcing final design elements, and landing on another custom design opportunity

Mid-January through February 2024

One of our key design strategies coming into showcase this year was to choose a space that required very little renovation. Our bedroom allowed us to hit the ground running pretty quickly after some minor demolition of old built-ins and drapes, as well as the old carpet. A neighboring designer down the hall was working with Amber Flooring out of Oakland to replace their carpet with wood flooring for a screaming deal, so we connected with them as well and landed on a European Oak 5” plank flooring. Other vendors had already approached us, but we took the offer that provided the best design with the biggest discount. A showcase budget can quickly balloon if you’re not careful.

The installers of that old built-in shelving / daybed unfortunately cut away portions of the original picture rail and baseboard trim to make way for their structure. We’ll have to replace all of the picture rail with a new profile because the old rail style would have to be custom milled. That’s both cost and time prohibitive. For the baseboards, we’ll patch the missing pieces in the bedroom by stealing the same old baseboard profile from the closet, and then install a whole new, complimentary baseboard profile in the closet. 

We’ve decided to create a bespoke stereo cabinet. The design has been finely detailed, and we’re passing it off to Sebastian Parker in San Francisco to source the wood and start the building process. On a trip to Da Vinci Marble, we landed the most exquisite piece of Cippolino Verde Marble with a honed finish. The spectacular swirling motion in this stone will partner nicely with the rich Claro walnut of the stereo cabinet frame. All other materials and electronics for the cabinet are now in hand, including the retro VOX fabric that will cover our speaker compartments.

“On a trip to Da Vinci Marble, we landed the most exquisite piece of Cippolino Verde Marble with a honed finish. The spectacular swirling motion in this stone will partner nicely with the rich Claro walnut of the stereo cabinet frame.”

Ever since we had a studio visit with Rafi Ajl at The Long Confidence in Berkeley, we’ve wanted to find a way to work together, so we approach Rafi with designs for a pair of pedestaled bedside tables. We agree on reclaimed Elm as the primary material and give Rafi license to make artful interventions to the surface of both pieces along the way. We like to work with artists / craftspeople in a collaborative way that keeps the design somewhat malleable throughout the process. 

Clockwise L to R: Material swatches and a detail of the Gemma table lamp by InCommonWith. A gorgeous Cippolino Verde Marble slab at Da Vinci Marble. The Russet Handloom Cashmere Blend high pile rug from The Rug Company. Fazzo table lamp by InCommonWith.

From the very start and throughout the development of our showcase design, artists and art have been churning in the back of our minds. Having a sense of the artwork along the way helps us to make design decisions that will support that art. And for this showcase and this home and this design concept, we knew we wanted to feature the work of artists who use contemporary photography as a vehicle for their message. Art with a deeper meaning that provokes the viewer to think and ask questions is a mainstay of our practice.

“Art with a deeper meaning that provokes the viewer to think and ask questions is a mainstay of our practice.”

Having seen the arresting installation of Erica Deeman’s Emerging States exhibition at Anthony Meier Gallery a few months before, placing that work in our room was an early goal. Using self-portraiture combined with cut and layered translucent materials, these works show vulnerability and confrontation at the same time. The series is a powerful examination of the artist’s own experience as a queer, transnational, and Black diasporic becoming a British-Jamaican and the liminal and transitory states of Black selfhood. Installed directly opposite the bedroom entry and viewable all the way down the common hall, the outward gaze of this work will command attention.

Richard Mosse is an artist of Irish descent working in a documentary style but conceptualizing it through the lens of contemporary art. We discovered his work at Altman Siegel Gallery back in 2019, and the piece we’re installing at showcase is from that exhibition. Using discontinued Kodak infrared film, Mosse is taking a tool traditionally used for military reconnaissance in conflict zones and instead using it to document a more intimate view of war torn places and the people immersed within. The piece to be installed over the bed is entitled I Shall Be Released which is part of a series documenting the decades long conflict and fight for control of vast natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An internationally recognized photographer, Todd Hido is known for capturing extraordinary, cinematic images of suburban moments of life. The photograph we will install in our showcase room this year depicts a large tree isolated in the foreground of a snowy and grey landscape. A hawk has just launched itself from a branch and almost appears to be diving towards the ground. The image was captured through the windshield of a car, a technique often employed by Hido, and drips of melting snow on the glass create patches of blur over the scene.

These three works require pause and introspection. Even in the midst of a lavish design event in a storied home on a very wealthy street, we think it’s important to reflect and acknowledge the breadth of human experiences in the world right now.

“These three works require pause and introspection. Even in the midst of a lavish design event in a storied home on a very wealthy street, we think it’s important to reflect and acknowledge the breadth of human experiences in the world right now.”

Clockwise L to R: A Map to the Door (2023) by Erica Deeman; #10192 (2011) by Todd Hido; I Shall Be Released (2015) by Richard Mosse


Flooring installations

02.29 – 03.01.24

In the middle of painting the closet space, our contractors had to stop and let the flooring folks come in for their installations. Showcase transformations happen in a very condensed period of time, so you have to be prepared to shift gears on the fly to ensure everything gets done. Getting the floors in is a big deal because it allows us to install the original baseboards back in place, finish all the priming and painting, and get everything prepared for the next milestone…..wallpaper installations.

Image left: The work in progress; ceiling color is a custom green mixed by Sherwin Williams. Flooring is Coswick oak plank flooring through Amber Flooring.

Next week, join us for Part Two and the road to opening day.

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103

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