The Home of Artist Katherine Jacobus Reveals an Inspired Personal History
One of the West Coast’s top decorative painters, Katherine Jacobus is a visual storyteller. Narratives are her medium as much as paints and pigments, and every wall, ceiling or piece of furniture she marbelizes, stipples, distresses or glazes has a tale to tell. “My process not only brings me into my clients’ lives. It brings me into their heads and hearts because I’m tapping into their imaginations,” she says. Her stylistic range is vast: One day, she might incorporate indigenous animals and plants into a giant frieze; the next, she’s ‘panelling’ a circular library in mahogany faux bois, animating a pool house with a David Hockney-esque mural or transforming a generic armoire with Chinoiserie antiquing.
Her color sense was always innate. “From the earliest age, I associated color with auras and energy,” Jacobus says. “To this day, it’s the drug that knocks me over, and I constantly marvel at Mother Nature’s way of combining colors that sing.” After graduating from Parsons with a bachelor’s degree in illustration, she studied interior design, interned at Christie’s auction house and was subsequently mentored by New York decorative painter Susan Huggins.
Within a short period of time, her milieu exposed her to the best of the antique and interior design world and, after moving from Manhattan to San Francisco in 1998, her professional circle expanded to include the Bay Area’s top talent, including interior designer Martha Angus. “I’ve worked with Katherine for almost 20 years,” Angus says. “She is one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met. Her ideas are fantastic, and then there’s her warmth, creativity and industriousness.”
Jacobus’ own home, a petite, 1930s house on a steep, short block on the north slope of Bernal Heights, is informed by artful stories. A salon-style arrangement in her living room is hung on a wall washed in Farrow & Ball’s light gray Skimming Stone—the perfect background for works that range across eras and styles. The installation showcases sketches created by her great-great-grandfather—a painter from the Hudson River School—alongside mid-19th-century landscapes, and recent photographs taken by friends Laura Levine and Michal Venera. Her collection also includes works on paper by Californian artists from the 1950s–’60s; Jacobus developed an appreciation for the period during a six-year tenure on the board of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Art at the Fine Arts Museums.
In the kitchen, a spectacular wall of cabinetry holds cherished family collections, including Limoges china and her everyday Blue Willow and Spode, all of which once belonged to her grandparents. Sitting atop the shelves is her beloved, childhood doll’s house, and the dining table is also a family heirloom. “I’m living with my inherited East Coast furniture in my West Coast house. I’m so lucky to have them both,” she notes. In the study is a particularly resonant artifact: A shadow box coffee table contains a sample from the Jacobus Brush Company, a paintbrush company founded by her family in the 19th century.
Jacobus’ own legacy of artistry is evident throughout the home. In the living room stands a demilune table from an old San Francisco hotel that she has marbleized; in the master bedroom is a hand-gilded bedside table; and in the master bathroom she has painted a vibrant, Matisse-inspired mural.
In her downstairs studio, works in progress decorate the walls, tables and floors. Elegant silvery-blue wallpapers, French pigment powder retrieved on a recent trip to Paris, and inspiration pages from architecture, design and technical books unfold in poetic disarray. Jacobus muses, “Each and every item I own connects me to a love of family or friends, to an experience or a deep memory. It’s all highly personal.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 2017 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: If Walls Could Talk.