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Opposites Attract

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by Juliet Johnson // images by Wally Sears

Since 1662, couples have traditionally followed their marriage vows with the husband saying, “With this ring I thee wed… and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” It’s not long before those “worldly goods” multiply until one or both parties are left asking, “just how much of this do we have to keep, honey?”

It’s no surprise, then, that for many couples, the first therapist they seek is the interior designer. The blending had already been done when Alyson and Walter Lee (yes, that Wally Lee—former 20-year president of JAX Chamber) first moved into a spacious spread in Glen Kernan. Alyson had plenty of her own furniture—magnificent, large antiques that had been in her family for generations—tending towards Rococo, French Empire and English Chippendale. Wally, too, had a wealth of treasures from trips and trade missions, each significant, each with an amusing anecdote or story. He is especially fond of chinoiserie. Thanks to the vision (and perhaps mediation) of the couple’s interior designer, Thomas A. Ranney, Jr., the home now seamlessly blends the styles of both.

As retirement loomed, so did the notion of downsizing. Alyson wanted to head home to San Marco, where she grew up. Wally wanted to move nearer to Downtown (knowing only too well, perhaps, that he’d likely not really retire at all). They watched as Old San Jose On The River was being built and, when a great floorplan on a second floor appeared, they knew they had found a home base for their next chapter.

With soaring ceilings and a seemingly infinite river view, the 2,500-square-foot condo is a dramatic, luxurious space. Of course, the view and spectacular light don’t hurt, but the clever placement of the furniture and the stylish integration of the two collections make the home flow almost as effortlessly as the river it overlooks. “The challenge was to rescale the large pieces the couple owned from suburban living and fit their worldly collections into a single-story home,” says Ranney, “There just aren’t the same nooks and crannies in which to tuck things.” Millwork was added, as were elegant ceiling moldings. Eventually, the kitchen opening was widened and the dining room taken out. It was a bold move, but, says Wally, “we still entertain a lot; the double living room is simply a better use of space for us.”
Most of the art in the home was newly acquired, as were most of the lighting pieces; the furniture had been around for a while, but took on new life in the bright, vibrant space.

Visitors step off the elevator into what was originally planned as a “bonus room.” It’s been designed as a library, with sofa and chairs and a card table for four. A true morning room, with heavy silk drapes, this has become the couple’s favorite room when not enjoying their view on the balcony.

Back inside, an old church bench sits hopefully outside the vast kitchen. It’s decorated with just one pillow—a long, fat velvet cushion, plushly embroidered with a dragon—the Chinese symbol of potent, auspicious power. That it sits equidistant from Wally’s office and the kitchen is an irony one should not overlook.

The living room feels enormous and is in two halves. One half is gathered around a fireplace; the other offers comfortable seating in front of a silver-leafed screen. The screen’s primary job is to hide a fire door, but Ranney has created a striking focal point to balance out and amplify the view. It is silver leaf on the framing with wallpaper inserts. The effect is powerful and dramatic.

Poised in front are alabaster lamps in a contemporary design that lends a sophisticated twist and adds a natural grounding. The English brass rubbings, hung symmetrically above each lamp, offer provenance to the overall exotica. The master bedroom’s imposing four-poster bed is offset by classic furniture—all from the couple’s previous house in Glen Kernan. Of particular interest are the lamps—retrofitted brass tea caddies. The walls are a deep mossy taupe, contrasted with crisp white molding. “The disparity in art and color lends an updated feel,” says Ranney. The linens play off Wally’s grand oriental rug and a mirror that once belonged to Alyson’s mother, which anchors the opposite wall.

Together, Ranney and the Lees have curated a timeless home with the perfect aspect for a life-long trade advocate like Wally. And those “worldly goods” the couple has acquired over the years? They seem to fit together just fine.

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