IN 1903, ALEXANDER F. MORRISON,
a notable San Francisco attorney, built himself a 6,700-square-
foot home in the Laurel Grove neighborhood of Ross. Originally set on 40 acres, the sprawling Arts and Crafts–style
house was built on a hill facing south to embrace the sunlight
and views of Mount Tamalpais. With terraced formal gardens
and a ground-level library designed to house Morrison’s extensive book collection (since donated to the dedicated Morrison
Library at UC Berkeley), the property was an early example
of the Marin lifestyle at its finest.
Fast-forward 110 years and this gently updated estate
(downsized to a lot of 1.4 acres) is about to undergo a dramatic makeover. The formal rooms and gracious proportions
remain, along with Arts and Crafts details including coffered
ceilings, large wood-burning fireplaces (four of them), elaborate wainscoting and crown moldings. But other original
details feel outdated: multiple stairwells connecting the four
levels of the house and formal rooms that can’t accommodate
today’s busy families.
Enter Yaél Putterman. A modernist to the core, the
Israeli-born designer and entrepreneur confesses she was
not interested in living in this house when she first saw it.
Over the past 22 years, she has transformed nearly a dozen
homes between the Bay Area and Israel, and at the time
she had just staged-to-sell a low-slung midcentury gem on
Shady Lane in Ross. After the sale of a previous residence,
and with little more than two weeks to find her next home,
Putterman reconsidered the Morrison estate and was lured
by the promise of all that space.
“It was not my style at all,” says Putterman, who needed
enough space for her family, including three children, then
ages 8, 11 and 13. “It was very traditional and every room
was painted a different color — blue, red, yellow. I couldn’t
really see my life there, but the rooms were large and I felt
like I could do something different with that.”
Working under her tight deadline, Putterman started the
clock on a full face-lift of the house — walls were painted,
floors stained, surfaces replaced and fixtures swapped out.
Putterman chose varying shades of gray and pure white for
most of the walls but, notably, she went all-out for her two
In the classically coffered living room, a quotation is boldly stenciled in white on the matte black wall. It’s a remark by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent justifying his love of black. In addition to
representing fine artists at her gallery in downtown Ross, Putterman
has been known to paint her own canvases to enliven an empty wall.