Ten years ago, Rebecca Summer was doing what most of her friends were doing at that time — packing her bags, bidding adieu to foggy San Francisco, and chasing the sun over the Bay Bridge.
"Oakland was tipped as 'the new Brooklyn' at that time," recalls Summer, rearranging a vintage vase full of powder pink peonies.
Although the stylist hails from Vancouver, once upon a time the muraled walls of San Francisco's vibrant Mission District were home. It would take a special kind of place to draw Summer away from the neighborhood she'd grown to love, a place she'd forged friendships, and spent the majority of her twenties.
"I remember I went to visit a friend on Lake Merritt and had passed by this building," Summer explains, when asked how she first discovered her sun-soaked Oakland apartment.
"I remember saying way back then "I’m gonna live in there one day." I had totally forgotten about it until I started looking at apartments in Oakland and passed this building once again — this time, with an apartment up for rent. I knew it was meant to be from the moment I walked in. Whoever lived here back in the 1930s was happy — you can just feel it."
Occupying a coveted lakefront corner is where you'll find Summer these days, inside one of Oakland's original apartment buildings. Marble floors, sweeping ceilings, original chandeliers, and brass hardware decorate the communal lobby, beckoning you inside. During the warmer months, the neighborhood comes out in force — "It's all happening down there today, soon you'll start hearing some vintage '90s hip-hop," smiles Summer.
Summer's is a neighborhood in flux. An eclectic blend of residents who have lived there forever and newly minted tenants. With the smell of craft coffee thick in the air, grassy knolls aplenty, and an enviably warm microclimate; Lake Merritt is now prime real estate — this is something Summer is well aware of.
"We love living here," she emphatically explains. "The Lake is where everyone wants to be right now, so we feel very fortunate that we found this place and we get to live on it."
Take the old-school elevator a few floors up and you'll be delighted by what you find. Splashes of color, floral wallpaper, and ample space for city-living, Summer's Art Deco gem shines brighter than most. The stylist — who shares her home with husband Sam and beloved pomeranian pup, Booster — has made few major structural changes, opting instead to swap out old light fixtures, install power outlets, freshen up the living spaces, and paint the walls her favorite Benjamin Moore jewel tones.
While the quintessentially Deco archways, hardwood floors, and decorative niches throughout are certainly impressive, it's Summer's collection of vintage treasures, Vladimir Tretchikoff portraits, and reupholstered flea-market furniture that really steals the show, something the stylist attributes to decades of thrift shop experience. An artful blend of old and new — from the Anthropologie wallpaper to the Danish teak side tables in the living room — celebrate an era of strictly decorative decor.
"It's funny, when I moved in here I got very Art Deco like I was paying homage to the place," Summer admits. "I even bought a 1930s Pandora station to put on every once in awhile, to you know, appease the former lady I feel might have lived here once. But I love mid-century style as well, I think that's crept its way in."
Whenever she can get over the bridge, Summer returns to a handful of tried and true vintage favorites, adorning her 700 square-foot home with whatever wonderful things she can get her hands on. Statement pieces from Harrington's, reupholstered gems from Stuff on Valencia, and a pair of velvet-clad armchairs sourced via Past Perfect coexist within the same living space.
"Sun wraps around our apartment all day, this is where all of my plants are, my weekly farmers' market lilies, books, magazines, and my art — I love sitting in there," Summer swoons.
The living area is also home to one of the stylist's favorite finds — a black lacquer dining table she rescued from the shop floor.
"When I saw it, the store was using it to display lamps," Summer says. "It's huge and I sometimes wish I could trade it in for something on the smaller side, perhaps a tulip table? But, I just can’t part with it — and I refuse to store it," she adds. "It's painted black and dates back to the 1920s. The base of the table is what I love most, it is such a stunner of a piece."
"I hunted for many years — back when it was just thrift stores or eBay, I definitely scored and still have many of those treasures. I don’t do thrift stores anymore, though — it's mostly just junk. Gone are the days when you'd find a mid-century stamped 'made in Denmark' table or chairs at a thrift store in Washington somewhere," Summer explains. "I used to thrift shop all over the Pacific Northwest. I shop mainstream a lot more now, or visit well-curated vintage stores like Mignonne Décor and Narrative in Oakland. When I know what I’m looking for, I'll go online and try Chairish, Etsy, and Craigslist."
The kitchen — a tiny nook of a space neighboring the couple's living area — adheres to a conventional Art Deco floor plan. Little-to-no counter space prompts Summer to get creative, instead using a sunshine yellow bar cart — sourced at The Vintage Cove in Pacifica — to store a cherry red SMEG toaster and Nespresso machine. Toffee-toned, glossy-wall tiles, and original white cabinetry jostle together while drawers are left slightly ajar— "old kitchens," Summer shrugs, jamming it shut.
"The biggest challenge with living in a building that is almost 90-years-old is the up-keep," the stylist admits. "We’ve had to repair peeling ceilings, leaky faucets, clogged pipes, and install outlets where there should be outlets, like in kitchen — the kitchen! How did they cook back then? We have zero counter space."
In the couple's bedroom, complete with a berry pink accent wall, Summer's appreciation for the transformative power of color is hard to ignore.
"I had this color custom made at Sherwin-Williams," she explains. "I color matched it to a nail polish I love, I have about 40 different shades that I keep in our refrigerator. I've seen the same nail girl, every two weeks, for 10 years now."
"People never know where to start with color," Summer continues. "I always say that paint is the cheapest, fastest way to add color to your place. Start with an accent wall, maybe it’s a painting, a throw, or a pillow that inspires you. For me, I went off a painting I had in living room. Look at colors in different light, at different times a day — before you commit. This is how I landed on both my living room and bedroom colors."
Layered soft textiles, pops of marigold yellow, and worldly treasures from a past life complete her bold bedroom aesthetic.
"I have to edit my own home, sometimes," Summer admits. "I have to purge at least twice a year, go through and update my space with new pillows and throws. We stylists tend to hoard as everything we find we think is beautiful and gorgeous — but I don’t need any more black vases," she smiles. "Of course, you learn to say "no" to certain things. Do I need more vintage paintings of ladies? Always!"