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A Match Made in Wallpaper Heaven

A designer finally gets to show her true colors when she meets her unlikely aesthetic soul mate.


Dinner parties are neve boring in this dining room, where the Linden chandelier by Charles de Lisle hangs from a cerulean ceiling.

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Wallpaper by Elizabeth Dow features vintage surf photographs.

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The entryway sets the playful tone with a vintage-inspired sideboard, a colorful photograph from Simon Breitbard Fine Arts, and bright orange sconces.

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Designer Emilie Munroe refreshed the kitchen with new lighting, a custom island, and a collection of cacti and colorful art prints.

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The library got a dramatic makeover thanks to a daring coat of paint, and a once-studious built-in became a vibrant bar. 

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When the painter popped open the paint cans to coat the walls, he thought there had been a mistake. But Munroe assured him the eyepopping green was indeed the right choice.

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The living room, like the rest of the house, was painted a traditional yellow when the client moved in. Now, white walls with black trim—including a charcoal-black fireplace— instantly make the room more modern.

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Presented with a range of sofa choices, the client opted for the fun one: the Deco by Autoban for De La Espada in green velvet.

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When designer Emilie Munroe was approached by a 29-year-old single guy living with two roommates, she never thought he would turn out to be “the one.” But after a few meetings, she realized he was the dream client she had been waiting for, and it was a little swatch of wallpaper that finally sealed the deal. The bold print from Elizabeth Dow—a beloved sample of which had sat in her studio for more than 10 years—featured a grid of black-and-white surfing photographs. “I’ve held it so often, it was worn,” recalls Munroe, who had shown it to previous clients with no success. “I was just waiting for the person who was going to say yes…and when he saw it, he was like, ‘Damn. Let’s do this.’”

This meet-cute kicked off a solid design relationship, during which Munroe and her new client would have many more aesthetic mind melds. “He just got it,” Munroe says.

Which is all the more surprising since the homeowner never planned on working with a designer in the first place. When the young venture capitalist purchased his first home, a three-bedroom flat in the Marina district, he was ready to live with the “traditional San Francisco creamy trim and yellow walls” indefinitely. But when mailers started showing up advertising local designers, he began to consider other possibilities. He set up interviews with a handful of designers, but none were the right fit. It was his realtor who finally suggested he meet with Munroe. “She really stood out for me. She’s got a natural talent for seeing spaces and how objects and colors will work together in different mediums, but also has a fun style and personality,” he says. “I got along with her really well, and I was just really attracted to her work.”

The client, being new to design, also appreciated her methodology. First Munroe created a basic floor plan, showing him where pieces such as a sofa, dining table, or console should be. This fulfilled his first directive that the space be functional above all else. Once that plan was in place, the fun could start. For each piece needed, Munroe would present him with numerous options.

“I never present just one thing,” Munroe says. “I showed five sofas—there were the two safe ones, the two super unusual ones, and then a retail one at a lower price point to have as a backup. And he just started going for it.” Munroe was thrilled when he opted for the green velvet Deco sofa from the Future Perfect by Autoban for De La Espada—as far away from “safe” as possible.

According to the homeowner, once you have said yes to a single amazing thing, there’s no going back. “Once we had one really awesome piece in a room—a unique wallpaper or light fixture—then I was pretty much committing to making it a really fun room,” he says. And the award for the most fun room is too close to call. Is it the dining room, which features the surfer wallpaper and also sports a deep-aquamarine ceiling, the Linden chandelier by Bay Area designer Charles de Lisle, and the Painted Palette rug from Anthropologie that resembles an abstract painting in shades of vibrant blue? Or the aptly named green room, a cozy library, lounge, and bar painted such a striking shade that it made Munroe’s painter do a double take?

“My painter called me and said, ‘I’m at the job site and I’m a little worried you might have transposed the paint numbers—this is a very green room,’” Munroe recalls. She asked him to send over a photo to confirm she hadn’t made a mistake. “I said, ‘No, dude, that’s the room.’ He’s like, ‘Wow, even by Emilie standards, this is wild.’”

The homeowner, who travels frequently for work and spends a fair amount of time in bland hotel rooms, wouldn’t have had it any other way. “I spend enough time in hotels that when I am at home I want things that are a little bit more unique and not quite as cookie-cutter,” he says.

Those are the kinds of words that make Munroe’s designer heart go all aflutter. “There’s this one thing I say all the time and feel in the deepest part of my heart: I am just ideas until I meet a client who is willing to let me do my thing,” she says. “I have this pile of things at my studio, and it’s like, Who is the client who is going to go for this? I know it, you’re out there…it’s like finding the one.”


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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