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Going for Bold

Inspired by the new Exploratorium, interior designer Fannie Allen cuts loose with a bright, art-filled pied-à-terre that she and her husband call home.

The kitchen boasts custom blue-lacquered cabinetry and museumworthy furniture.

The fact that a San Francisco pied-à-terre has a lot in common with that city’s Exploratorium, the self-proclaimed “museum of science, art and human perception,” is no coincidence. The owners are George Cogan, the Exploratorium’s chairman of the board of trustees, and his wife, Fannie Allen, an Atherton- and San Francisco-based interior designer who decorated the apartment. Last year she headed the museum’s opening gala, celebrating its move into a bigger and better space on SF’s Pier 15. “The Exploratorium is a place that resonates with both of us,” says Allen. “We always want to touch things and see how they work.”

That philosophy carries over into their 1,700-square-foot apartment, the site of many museum parties, where guests are invited to “look, and do touch” the colorful and tactile furnishings as well as the conversation-starting art. “Even the canvases invite touching,” says Allen.
Hosting—and attending—museum soirees was one reason the couple, who have a four-bedroom home in Atherton, were interested in a city abode. The Russian Hill apartment would also accommodate Allen’s growing, city-based clientele and serve as a transitional space, with the couple’s empty nest in mind.

San Francisco architect Elisabeth Doermann was brought in to do a gut renovation due to asbestos in the walls. That provided an opportunity to update and rejigger the layout to make the most of the dazzling 18th-floor views, which include the Bay Bridge, Grace Cathedral and Alcatraz.

“We wanted to keep true to the original sense of the building,” says Allen, its ’60s vibe serving as the muse. Doermann carried that to fruition by creating curved walls and a dramatic sloped ceiling between the entry and living room, to which Allen added mod and exuberant decor. She hunted down period pieces in SF shops like Coup d’Etat and online sites like 1stdibs, which she interspersed with cutting-edge contemporary design. In the living room, for example, a vintage Vladimir Kagan sofa and a Patricia Urquiola Antibodi chair—decades and continents apart—come together in an artfully assembled mashup.

For color and texture—what Allen is known for—she ramped up the palette in the kitchen with parrot-blue custom cabinetry and Alex Angi’s Rain of Colours table with fringe-like extruded strands of multicolored plastic. Tactility pervades every space, from the Campana Brothers bristle-backed Jenette chairs in the kitchen to the Mongolian lamb-topped bench in the master bedroom, which Allen nabbed at SF’s Monument.

One of the perks of being connected to the museum is discovering the artists-in-residence. That’s how the couple acquired a Jeremy Mayer deer made entirely of old typewriter parts, and one of Arthur Ganson’s kinetic sculptures. Allen put both within arm’s reach in the living room, “so people can play with the artwork,” she says. “Isn’t it much more fun to interact with the work?”