"We like to describe the decor as ‘faded Cuban glamour,’" says stylist and designer Monique Ramos of the Mission apartment she shares with her boyfriend, artist Richard Colman. The intriguing tableau, a sunny 850-square-foot space, arises from the most unexpected medley of nostalgic travel mementos (jars of sand from all over the world), moody works of art (seascapes and taxidermy installations), and enchanting timeworn furnishings (chandeliers and vintage leather seating).
"We’re essentially two hoarders living in a small space," says Ramos, 42, who launched an online store of home and lifestyle accessories in September to complement her consulting business, Brown Bench Design (brownbenchdesign.com). "Richard and I have needed to be extremely creative about how we store things. Organization is a puzzle that we’re always working on." For instance, the couple’s ingenious method of displaying books—in shelves fashioned from two stacked antique wooden benches (pictured above, second from left)—isn’t just enigmatic of their weathered aesthetic. It also saves the lath-and-plaster walls of their rental unit from expensive damage. "I loved our bench solution so much," says Ramos, "I named my company after it."
1. Monique Ramos discovered this old metal chandelier—adorned with lilies and glass beads—at a 2004 sidewalk sale in the Castro. Though she gladly forked over $15 to take it home, she admits that a small fortune was required to rewire the piece. "It was the first thing to go up in our apartment," she says.
2. The sheer size of this muted, but no less dramatic, seascape—purchased for $10—gives it instant prominence in Ramos and Richard Colman’s large art collection, comprised of anonymous vintage pieces sourced from local flea markets along with works by boldface names such as Shepard Fairey and James Marshall.
3. "I like to hold onto moments in a tangible way," says Ramos, whose glass-jar memories include beach sand from vacations in Cape Cod and Tulum, a hummingbird’s nest (a relic from the summer of 2006), and small bits of a Christmas tree from 2007, the couple’s first holiday in the apartment.
4. Ramos enlarged a sample of Cole and Son Woods wallpaper to fill the space above the hallway’s crown molding. When paired with the palm-green walls, the entry turns into a scene right out of a storybook.
5. Colman gave Ramos a taxidermy fawn from Paxton Gate on her 40th birthday. The piece is displayed among mosses and porcelain rocks in a Plexiglas case the couple unearthed at Urban Ore in Berkeley. "The installation reminds me of something you’d see at the Museum of Natural History in New York," says Ramos.
6. Colman displays his collection of "rubber wrestling dudes and action heroes" in an old wooden gun case found on Craigslist. Ramos lined it with an enlarged image of a diving suit, originally sketched by Houdini.