Gitane (San Francisco): A gypsy’s spirit inspires designer Charles Doell’s colorful and eclectic interior

Charles Doell centers his design around a fictitious urban gypsy who spent her life traveling and collecting keepsakes. Photo by Jeff Dow

Gitane means “Gypsy woman” in French.  And designer Charles Doell drew his inspiration for this sumptuous, sensual restaurant’s décor by envisioning an actual gypsy woman and her Bohemian lifestyle.

But Doell’s gypsy isn’t your garden-variety barefoot, tambourine-shaking zingara.  Doell, of Mister Important Design (love the name), conjured up a sophisticated “urban gypsy” for this Iberian eatery in San Francisco’s Financial District.

Gitane is Doell's second attempt at designing this challenging space. Photo courtesy of Charles Doell

“She was a woman who traveled a lot and collected a variety of objects and furniture throughout her life,” says Doell of his fictitious muse.  “And this was her house or restaurant.”

This is Doell’s second go-round working with the limitations of this offbeat space — which has a high-ceilinged narrow bar area on the main floor and a tiny loft dining area upstairs.  Doell also coincidentally designed the seafood restaurant that was located there before restaurateur Franck LeClerc (Café Claude) took over and opened Gitane in late 2008.

But this time, Doell is far happier with the outcome, which incorporates vividly colorful luxe elements with vintage objects from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.  And one can understand why.  Clearly, Doell’s gypsy dream girl was one helluva drama queen.

The dramatic bar area features sensuous tapestries and striking light fixtures. Photo by Jeff Dow

The bar area is pure decadence, starting with the giant tapestries that hang over the liquor shelves behind the bar.  The tapestries, which have a “sexual vibe,” feature entangled Rubenesque women and evoke free-spirited gypsies, Doell says.  The provocative images, which Doell had printed on fabric, are the work of Turkish photographer Nazif Topcuoglu.

Also adding to the dramatics are the numerous pairs of seemingly endless brush-trimmed orange velvet flocked Osborne & Little draperies.  Oh, and there’s the deep burgundy mirror-like vinyl that stretches over the 25-foot-high ceiling. And the enormous chandeliers that feature rings of glass globes and connect to ceiling medallions made of real moss.

The chandeliers are “replications of fixtures from the ’60s that you would see mostly in France,” Doell says.

Doell incorporated numerous light fixtures from various decades in his design. Photo by Jeff Dow

Doell’s gitane clearly had a fascination with funky lighting of all kind, as compelling fixtures from various time periods appear throughout the restaurant.  They include the fireworks chandelier that hangs over the host stand, as well as the vintage ‘40s-style gilded leaf-and-vine sconces that are affixed to a giant mirror across from the bar.  In the upstairs dining room, ‘70s “big brass onion lamps,” “a straight up 2000” Tom Dixon fixture and other pieces light the way, Doell says.

Doell acquired much of his lighting — as well as other vintage finds — on German eBay.

Although more restrained than downstairs, Gitane’s gypsy-kissed upstairs dining room is also highly spirited. For the most part, simple wood tables are paired with either decorative dining chairs from urban-hip retailer Anthropologie or with plushy upholstered booths and banquettes.  (There’s also one hefty and long black dining table — also from Anthropologie — for larger groups or communal dining.)  For upholstery, Doell opted to mix solid velvets with a carnivalesque striped pattern.

“The stripe looks ‘70s,” Doell says.  “There are brown-gold hues mixed with pinks, raspberry and reds.”

The upstairs dining area was intended to have a fun house feel and make diners feel a bit "off-kilter," Doell says. Photo by Jeff Dow

Some of the limited wall space is covered with fluted wainscoting below and pretty damask-patterned wallpaper above.  But Doell also used thin sheets of smoked glass to cover stretches of brick wall.  The uplighted reflective glass not only adds character to the otherwise mundane brick and gives the small room a more spacious feel, but it also has a somewhat discombobulating effect.  Unless you’re right up on top of it, you may be unsure whether you are looking at a mirrored wall or if the room actually extends beyond its real limits.

“It’s a conscious effort to make people feel a little off-kilter,” says Doell, who wanted the room to have a fun house aura.

“It’s not all spelled out for people.  There’s a little mystique about it.”

And what gitane doesn’t love a bit of mystique?

6 Claude Lane
San Francisco, California  94108

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One Response to Gitane (San Francisco): A gypsy’s spirit inspires designer Charles Doell’s colorful and eclectic interior

  1. Pingback: Going Out In The City | Urban Orchard Interiors

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