Spirited Spaces

Words by Loureen Murphy

Photos by Heidi Lancaster

Words by Loureen Murphy

Give a girl a classic Mac, a bike, frequent trips to Grandma’s, and what do you get? Blue-striped tigers prowling the walls of a hot pink powder room. Pops of orange peeking out from behind books. Hidden push doors. In short, the bold vision of Peninsula interior designer Jeannine Cranston.

Young Jeannine spent hours on the family’s Macintosh computer, manipulating squares to create floor plans. “I always loved houses,” she says. Artistic and avid, she tackled school projects—and life—full-tilt. The 10-year-old and her friends, bored with their mid-century houses in Moraga, often cycled to a nearby new development, complete with model homes. “We would go to all the open houses and see the different styles,” recalls Jeannine.

But instead of architecture, Jeannine got a degree in fashion merchandising and marketing, only to find low-paying, low-rung jobs after graduation. So she switched to finance, then to corporate event planning. While drawn to event-room decorating, she never envisioned her present business.

Amid a long work hiatus, Jeannine poured her creative energies into bringing up three children, now in junior high, high school and college. A midlife career took shape as she imagined the new contours and contents of each room in a gut-to-studs remodel of their Peninsula home. During the often rigorous process, Jeannine found herself thinking, “This is fun!” When friends oohed and aahed over the results, then asked for her help, Cranston Design Group was born.

Jeannine describes her spirited style as, “Fun: color, patterns, preppy, traditional and a tad formal.” Having seen her work online, most clients come ready to embrace the unexpected. Instead of tepid compliments like, “That’s pretty,” her clients want to hear an excited “Wow! I wish my house was like this!”

The road to that happy place means navigating clients’ feelings, ideas and expectations. Jeannine has them create a mood board depicting their likes and dreams for remodeling or refurbishing, including sight lines, space use, materials, textures and colors. They discuss to what extent clients wish to engage in the process, whether releasing the reins or working hand-in-hand with Jeannine. “Lots of clients want to touch and see the textures and combinations before they’re on the walls and the floor,” the designer explains. She walks them through every aspect before spending a dime on materials. “I have to have a complete vision,” she emphasizes.

One of her many stunning transformations elevated a living room in Burlingame. “It had the most awkward layout I have ever seen,” Jeannine recalls with a shake of her head. It became her favorite remake—a preppy yet cozy blue parlor with cognac leather built-in benches. “We added a floor-to-ceiling built-in bar and wrap-around bench seating with drawers to maximize the space.” Incorporating multiple textures, the room mixes leather, brass, mohair, wools, velvets, and a hide rug.

Hitting the design sweet spot often calls for mingling the old with the new. In the locally dubbed “Hill Mateo” neighborhood, Jeannine has worked on 1920s and ‘30s homes that suffered the wall-busting push for free-flowing spaces in the 1980s. She values an open concept as well as a formal parlor. “I like to preserve the integrity of the home, with its distinctive window frames, mouldings and solid, decorative doors,” she notes.

In a 1924 Georgian Colonial in San Mateo, Jeannine retained the original powder room fixtures, including the candelabra wall sconces, light switches and door handles, creating a lively fusion of classic forms with bright, whimsical wallpaper.

Respect for old homes and their contents came straight from her grandma, a keen antiques collector. “I always loved going over to see all her wonderful pieces. I think that is why I integrate antiques into new designs,” Jeannine explains. In a recent project, she incorporated the client’s heirloom dining room set, including table, buffet and china cabinet. No vintage furniture? No problem, says Jeannine. Even with contemporary furnishings, visual gems like antique silver tea sets and candelabras can shine as timeless accents.

Jeannine revamps her own home as her family life changes. With the oldest off at college, the designer transformed her daughter’s old bedroom into a tropical guest room. Palm branches climb up the wallpaper, while the green-painted bookcases and ceiling add to the vibrant ambience. Contrasting orange Hermès boxes enliven the dreamy decor.

Jeannine herself dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar design store, creating a sort of personal paradise close to her San Mateo Park home. There, clients and other designers could explore a collection of materials and hard-to-find accessories as well as get inspired to envision new looks for their spaces.

In the meantime, Jeannine continues to infuse clients’ Peninsula homes with buoyant patterns, colors and textures. She encourages those who prefer starting small as they consider making big changes to try “a crazy powder room.” Her sense of play has serious intent. With a record of delighted clients, she says, “I love to push people out of the box a little bit and not be so safe.”

Peppy Patterns – cranstondesigngroup.com