Nesting Instinct: A 400 Square Foot Lower Pacific Heights Apartment


Five years ago, design consultant Frances Weiss and her then-fiancé shared an apartment in Bernal Heights with some pretty rotten mojo. "Someone overdosed and died there shortly before we moved in," says Weiss, 35. The couple’s relationship irrevocably soured soon after they took up residence. The newly single Weiss sought safe harbor in a light-filled, 400-square-foot studio in Lower Pacific Heights. "It felt warm and safe from the moment I stepped foot in it," she says. "It was such a welcome relief coming from a bad relationship and a haunted apartment."

By starting with a neutral canvas of earthy walls and furnishings—not to mention the familiar textures of woven baskets, cashmere blankets, and a chunky wool rug—Weiss created a modern bohemian retreat featuring spontaneously creative touches. Wine crate cast-offs form a small bookshelf, a bathroom light well is now a plant atrium, and a sizeable walk-in closet, trimmed in bright sea-green, acts as her home office. "I like the challenge of putting together interesting, functional, and comfortable spaces with virtually no budget," says Weiss. "In my case, a safe and cozy nest."

1. Ever the resourceful scavenger, Frances Weiss rescued these discarded wine crates from a trash heap, lined the bottoms with samples of Cole and Son wallpaper, and stacked them to create a bookshelf. The unfinished look echoes the apartment’s earthiness while the books enliven the room with their colorful spines.

2. Weiss had high hopes of transforming her walk-in closet into her bedroom even though her queen-size bed would only fit into the space at an angle. The bed is now situated in the main living area, and the closet has been transformed into an office for Weiss’s design-consultation business (

3. "When my best friend moved back to Berlin, she gave me this amazing turquoise chair," says Weiss, who likens the classic mid-century silhouette to Saarinen’s iconic Tulip masterpiece. "The color is great and provides a stylish focal point in such a neutral space. I lost a friend but gained a great chair!"

4. Weiss transferred many of the plants she kept in her Bernal Heights backyard to a light well outside the bathroom window in her new space. The miniature garden rests on an orphaned wooden shelf she spotted next to a Dumpster. "The plants give me a sense of peace and rejuvenation," says Weiss.

5. In 2003, this moody painting, starring a sultry Art Nouveau-style woman, was gifted to Weiss by the artist—and her good friend—Kime Buzzelli ( The phrase scrawled along the edge of the work, "Try it you might like it," resonated strongly with Weiss, who was then in the process of moving back to San Francisco.

6. The antique mirrors sprinkled throughout the apartment are relics from a 1920s-themed cookie store that Weiss’ mother owned in their hometown of Atlanta. "Being surrounded by such beautiful antique objects as a child gave me an early appreciation of style," says Weiss.

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