'Modern style can be so sterile' – how one designer softened the look with heirloom pieces in a transitional design masterclass

Taking style cues from his client's tailored suits and classic car, Benjamin Dhong designed a sophisticated, comfortable home

living room with white sofa and gray swivel chairs
(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

Looking at this home in the exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood, overlooking San Francisco Bay, would you guess that its recent redesign owed its look to bespoke Saville Row tailoring and the classic British sports car brand Aston Martin? Perhaps not, but the elegant and livable house design was inspired by exactly those things. 

The young homeowner approached interior designer Benjamin Dhong, asking for a modern revamp of his home, to create a space where he could entertain his friends in style. 'I think modern design can be so sterile without a strong point of view,' says the designer. 'The client was a young English investment banker. He was quite polished, wore fine suits and drove an Aston Martin, and I felt that we should give him a more cultivated and sophisticated home. He wanted both a home to impress his friends but also feel comfortable and livable. He says that we gave him both in abundance.'

Take the tour, as the designer explains how he balanced these seemingly opposing style elements in his transitional design scheme. 

dining room with green wallpaper and pedestal table

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

Every room in this home now includes a pleasing mix of modern and traditional furnishings, nothing clashes however in these expertly curated spaces. 

Explaining his dining room ideas, designer Benjamin says: 'We mixed classical and modern here to elevate the space. A modern Knoll table paired with Louis XVI chairs is both unexpected and chic. And a contemporary plaster pendant from Alexandre Logé is more interesting than a boring and predictable crystal chandelier.' 

The wallpaper is a modern Swedish design, but adds extra glamour with its gold elements. Overseeing it all is a plaster bas-relief of King Gustaf of Sweden.  

designer Benjamin Dhong sitting
Benjamin Dhong

Benjamin Dhong's road to interior design started late in life and appropriately on a trip to Italy. After a long successful career in finance, a stay in a villa by Andrea Palladio outside of Vincenza shifted his career into design. Benjamin's rooms are a fresh mix of traditional and modern, striving for an effortless elegance.  'I like creating houses with narratives which slowly reveal themselves and a sense of happiness wherever one turns,' he says. Ben is an inveterate traveler and is on the Travel Committee for the Institute of Classical Architecture. 'Travel is the best design school and tonic for the soul! he says, but wherever he travels and works, Benjamin Dhong still considers San Francisco his home and his inspiration.

breakfast and seating nook in kitchen with white furniture

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

The working part of the kitchen was in good condition so designer Benjamin was able to focus his attention on the room's dining nook and seating space. 

The key to his kitchen ideas was to create a more open layout for easy entertaining.  'The previous homeowners had added a sofa for TV watching in here, which cut the room in half,' says Benjamin. 'We removed that and created a 20-foot-long banquette, which allows both for dining and lounging. The client can entertain 20 people here now.' The flexible layout allows the space to be configured as a smaller eat-in kitchen with an adjoining lounge area for more cozy gatherings. 

living room with fire lit

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

'We made this space feel more like a London club, ' says the designer, talking about his living room ideas.' A vintage game table brought life and function to a dead open space. Layers of blue in various textures of grasscloth, velvet, and fabrics create an ambient cocoon.'

The grasscloth wallcovering is by Phillip Jeffries, the scalloped edge mirrors are from Downtown Co. in LA.

living room with cream sofa and gray swivel chair

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

At the other side of the living room, there's a more contemporary vibe, with statement swivel chairs and a blocky coffee table. 'We removed a rather large and unattractive glass display space and created a nook for a banquette – perfect for gossip and flirting,' says the designer, who sourced the sofa and staircase photo from Restoration Hardware. The Nickel floor lamps are from Abbey Lighting.

office with airplane wing desk and traditional chair with moon picture on wall

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

Contemporary and traditional styles merge in the designer's playful home office ideas

'I call this the Master of the Universe office, from the Fritz Lang movie Metropolis,' says Benjamin. 'Rivet wallpaper from Phillip Jeffries brings a decidedly masculine mathematical grid to the space and provides a handsome background to the pieces. A desk from Restoration Hardware, based on an old airplane wing, brings in adventure, and a French antique desk chair makes it all Steam Punk. We reproduced a very old photograph of the moon and printed it on aluminum and you would think you were traveling in space. A mid-century table lamp is extra tall and the round ball repeats the moon imagery. A French horloge desk lamp completes the steam punk vibe of an office of the future.'

entry with wallpaper and ornate gold mirror

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

Among the entryway ideas creating a lasting first impression with a touch of sass, is a serpent mirror by Carvers Guild, Nuvole wallpaper from Cole & Son, and a new faux bois demilune console from Oly Studio. 

family room with chinoiserie day bed and mural wallcovering

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

Up on the second floor is a second sitting room, a family room that can double up as an extra bedroom when needed. Here, the designer truly went to town with an Eastern-inspired theme featuring a de Gournay wallcovering and a chinoiserie daybed from Ceylon et Cie. Gold accents layer on the opulence. 

bedroom with pale wood four poster and neutral decor

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

In contrast to the rest of the home, the main bedroom is a quieter space, but nonetheless luxurious. Designer Benjamin explains the thinking behind his bedroom ideas. 'This room is tailored and masculine. We designed an extra tall modern canopy with round brass mirrors by Curtis, a nod to a captain's cabin,' he says.

bedroom corner with fireplace and white swivel chair

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

The cozy fireplace alcove is beautifully curated to reflect the transitional old and new style blend. 'La chaise by Eames is like a piece of sculpture in the room, while a modern version of a Louis XVI commode has been reinterpreted in oak with lucite pulls to create modern classicism,' says Benjamin. 'Draperies are plain but as they're wool sateen, they are quietly sumptuous. We did not want distracting pattern in here so a pair of grisaille panels provides the art and interest.'

bedroom with orange edged sheets

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

There's an unexpected pop of color in the guest room, which was one of the first spaces Benjamin redesigned. The bed is from Restoration Hardware and the lamp is by Visual Comfort. 

powder room with gold accents, wallpaper and vanity base

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein)

It's a small space, but there are plenty of lofty powder room ideas worth a steal in here. 'We started with a tree of life console which we turned into a vanity with a vessel sink based on the dome of the pantheon,' says Benjamin 'A directoire mirror above in blue brings a classical element, while the sconces add a1930s vibe. The dark blue faux bois wallpaper makes it a bit less formal.'

Interior design: Benjamin Dhong Interiors
Photography: Lisa Romerein

Karen Darlow

Karen is the houses editor for homesandgardens.com and homes editor for the brand’s sister titles, Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors, and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. She loves visiting historic houses for Period Living and writing about rural properties for Country Homes & Interiors, and working with photographers to capture all shapes and sizes of properties. Karen began her career as a sub editor at Hi-Fi News and Record Review magazine. Her move to women’s magazines came soon after, in the shape of Living magazine, which covered cookery, fashion, beauty, homes and gardening. From Living Karen moved to Ideal Home magazine, where as deputy chief sub, then chief sub, she started to really take an interest in properties, architecture, interior design and gardening.