Painter and illustrator Scott Idleman explains how his home has inspired his work
After years of living in the Bay Area suburb of San Rafael, artist and illustrator Scott Idleman found the pull of nearby San Francisco too great to ignore. So much so that he was willing to sell his mid-century Eichler “dream house” that abutted miles of beautiful wilderness in order to answer that call. As Scott puts it, “Having always worked from home, living in the suburbs was very isolating and there was just not a lot going on culturally. I’d lived in San Francisco prior to being in Marin, so I decided to sell my house and rent a house with a friend in the city to
get my bearings back. Going to art galleries and openings downtown, I got very inspired right away to start my own paintings and drawings when not busy with design work.” Convinced that this was where he belonged, Scott joined forces with a good friend in search of a two-unit building to buy. They focused on San Francisco’s Mission District. “Lots of Victorians on tree-lined streets, taquerias, mom-and-pop shops, and murals everywhere you look.... It really reminds me of the way New York’s East Village used to be when I lived there in the late 1980s,” says Scott. “Pretty gritty and urban but mixed and vibrant. Oh, and sunny, which was a big draw.”
As is typical of San Francisco real estate, the two experienced some bidding wars and bitter disappointments before finally landing the Eastlake Stick–style Victorian duplex they now own. As Scott recalls, “We nicknamed the house Vampire Bill’s place, after the show True Blood, because it was truly spooky – run-down with plaster falling off the ceilings and a creepy wooden human-size box in the basement. But there was a lot of charm and potential, with 12 foot ceilings and lovely original details. Even beautiful golden oak floors preserved under old moldy carpeting.”
So began a major renovation. “After an architect drew up plans, the contractors began demolition of the entire interior down to the ‘lathe and plaster.’ It was stripped down to bare walls with a few support beams,” Scott says. The only original details remaining are the bay
window at the front of the house and those aforementioned golden oak floors.
According to Scott, the biggest challenges of the renovation were dealing with contractors (natch), but also all the decision-making around finishing. “One would think, being a creative person, that I’d enjoy the process of picking finishes, but spending days at a time driving all over the Bay Area trying to find decent yet affordable tile while trying to maintain my design business was a lot!”
Once completed, there was the challenge of decorating. “My original intention was to mix contemporary, mid-century, and traditional. I was looking at too many Elle Decor magazines, where they feature palatial spaces. The traditional pieces are now stacked up in a closet, and I opted instead for some organic wood pieces to warm things up. Since I have a lot of artwork, my own and pieces from artist friends, I knew I wanted predominantly white walls as a neutral backdrop. For contrast, I went for a very dark brown paint in my bedroom.To try out a monotone look, I had the living room painted black since I already had a dark gray sofa and black leather chair and there was a dark gray fieldstone fireplace. There’s been a lot of juggling things around, but I’m finally pleased with the mix. I have some nice collectible pieces, cheap flea-market finds, Ikea, clearance sale rugs, you name it!”
The things Scott loves most about his house are the deck (“On sunny days I keep the back door open so my cat and dog can sun themselves out there among the succulents
and palms”); the kitchen (“I never had a home with a large or updated kitchen, so I feel really spoiled now with new appliances and a large island for extra prep space”); and his studio, which Scott says is responsible for his evolving style. “This is the first place where I’ve had a large work space.... This has allowed me to work much larger or on a few pieces at once.”
His work has also been influenced by the neighborhood. “There’s a real mix of styles – Latino artists working in traditional mural styles to graffiti artists to artists working in contemporary illustration genres. I feel like the art I’ve created since moving here is much more bold and tropical in color, plus I’ve experimented with working more figuratively.”
Not only that, but his new home turns out to be a great space for showing his work to prospective buyers. Large white walls and lots of light complement his bigger paintings and a long hallway leading from the front door invites closer inspection of his smaller, more detailed drawings.
For Scott Idleman, the move to San Francisco has paid off handsomely, with a home that’s customized to his exact tastes and an environment that inspires him artistically.
01 01 Dark-brown painted walls add interest to the bedroom; a wallmounted waterfall evokes tranquility.
02 02 The dining area showcases Scott’s paintings, as well as his Ikea dining table and knock-off Saarinen tulip chairs.
01 01 Scott’s paintingZwartkop is an homage to succulent plants.
02 02 Scott mixes different colors for the oil candle holders arrayed on his dining room table and changes the hues to suit his mood.
01 01 Scott at work in his large, light studio.
02 02 Scott uses squeeze bottles to apply a mixture of gesso primer and colored paint to canvas, creating raised lines and shapes.