Jeff King Talks With

Interior Designer Barbara Scavullo

We proudly welcome Barbara Scavullo as our newest interviewee in Jeff King & Co’s ongoing Architecture & Interior Design Q&A series! Barbara is at the forefront of San Francisco’s interior design industry, reputed for her ability to focus on the needs of every client instead of a “signature style.”

For over 30 years, Barbara Scavullo has guided ScavulloDesign into a premier residential interior architecture and design firm. Scavullo Design has a strong regional presence and is also responsible for major residences all over the greater Bay Area, Northwest, Hawaii, and New York. The daughter of an architect, Barbara graduated from Wellesley College with a B. A. with honors in art history and started her first firm when she was 25. ScavulloDesign now employs 15 interior designers and is located in one of San Francisco’s historic Jackson Square buildings.



Jeff King & Co: Where do you look for design inspiration?

Barbara Scavullo: Inspiration? It comes from everywhere! I just got back from New York and Central Park was ablaze with those wonderful fall colors. That is likely to influence my next color palette. At the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, I was enchanted with the quirky items at Il Segno de Tempo, a dealer from Milan. How will that show up in a project? Who knows? One of our clients dresses with a chic glamour that is absolutely charming – and that has definitely shaped how we approached her home.



Improvement is the motivation behind all residential remodels. How does your design improve a client’s experience in their home? How do you know you’ve provided a good design?

In San Francisco, much of our housing stock is 50 years old or older. Since those years, the way we live has changed dramatically and is continually changing. Every renovation, or new project, deals with how we currently live: how we cook, how we bathe, how we congregate as a family. Some of these things tend to be universal trends. But then we have to look at the particularities of each individual client or project. The needs of a retired couple that is downsizing may be vastly different than a family with 3 toddlers!

How do we know we have provided good design: our clients tell us so! They talk about how they love living in the house. One of my favorite client quotes: “I don’t want to go play golf. I don’t need to go to restaurants. I never want to leave.” That’s the reaction we aim for!


In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with preexisting structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?

Even within an existing structure, almost anything is possible, depending on the budget. So cost as related to scope is usually the biggest challenge.

We are dealing with another aspect of this in the room we are designing for this year’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase. Many older homes have lovely architectural elements that, on first glance, seem old-fashioned and heavy. How do you preserve the best of a classic interior and yet make it appropriate for the way we live today?

The dining room of this Pacific Heights mansion is a beautiful, historical room – Gothic revival wood paneling, a very decorative plaster ceiling and a wonderful, whimsical mural. All the elements are beautiful but, added together, they make for a “baronial,” formal room. And that’s not how we live today.

So our challenge was to “rethink the dining room.” Could we create a lively, casual room, a friendly place for a family or friends to gather on an informal basis? We think we succeeded. I hope you can come see what we have done.



As we live in them today, kitchens are often times the most important room in the house. They can also be the most complex and expensive rooms to remodel. How do you design a kitchen for the 21st century homeowner?

We start a kitchen design the same way we start every design: understanding the needs of the client. Yes, kitchens are expensive but one of the first questions should be, “Do you really need all those state-of-the-art appliances? The Wolf Range? The Sub-Zero Refrigerator? The refrigerated drawers?” When we did our own kitchen three years ago, I needed to make some hard choices to meet my budget. I took into account how we eat and live. I needed top domestic grade appliances, but I didn’t need professional ones.



Bathrooms can be simple and functional for one person or a place of retreat and spa for another. How do you approach residential bathroom design for each type of client? What are a few of your favorite elements to include in a bathroom?

We love tile! There is such a profusion of exciting tile on the market; it is really fun to design a bathroom today. And this is one place where the budget doesn’t have to hamstring creativity. Yes, there are fabulous marble mosaics at $100s per square foot, but there are also terrific, large-scale porcelain tiles and some wonderful, locally produced ceramic tiles that you aren’t going to see in everyone else’s bath.



Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?

What we are trying to do with every design is create a comfortably elegant home that uniquely suits that client. We think this starts with the space of a room, every room. Every room must hold together architecturally: the space has to be balanced and harmonious. Once you achieve that, adding the furniture is like icing on the cake. There is an adage: if the space is right, almost any furniture will work. If the space isn’t right, it is much more difficult to get a great end result, no matter how gorgeous the furniture.



What are the current design trends that you hope to see disappear in the near future?

My most fervent hope is that young people will get their design courage back! The mass-market retailer of “lifestyle” and furniture have done such a good job controlling the sensibilities of, especially, young adults that we find it harder to create the unique environment they deserve and that will best serve them. There are more kitchen options than white cabinets and white marble counters!

Thanks for chatting with us, Barbara!

See her full portfolio of beautiful interiors at ScavulloDesign.


More Interviews with San Francisco Architects & Interior Designers:

Q&A with Architect, Malcolm Davis

Q&A with Interior Designer, Marnie Wright

Q&A with Architect, Jonathan Feldman