When our clients, John Bliss and Kim Thompson purchased the Morse House in the Oakland Hills across from the Claremont Golf Course in 2008, they were excited to become the stewards of this historically-significant English Tudor Revival gem. Designed by famed Bay Area architect E. Geoffrey Bangs and built in 1934, the home was granted landmark status in 2013 through the efforts of this very civically-minded couple.
For Kim and John, this act was about investing in Oakland. Not only by restoring and protecting a landmark architectural specimen, and thus promoting a more textured public image of the sometimes-maligned city, but also by how they planned to live in it. In their hands, the Morse House has become a resource to the community as the couple regularly hosts fundraisers, often on a weekly basis, in the massive living room.
In John’s words, “We think of this house as a community asset. Our goal is to share the Morse House, to use it to connect people and to help raise awareness and funding for a variety of different nonprofits in Oakland.”
Beneficiaries to date have included Oakland Parks and Rec Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakland, and Oakland Technical High School. Political fundraising is also part of Kim and John’s palette, with a Democratic bent — recently including a party for Barbara Lee.
When John and Kim and I connected and they shared with me their philanthropic mindset, and I shared mine with them, we immediately knew we were a perfect match.
The fact that the couple was looking to upgrade their living room in the Hollywood Regency style (which is known for bold colors, shiny metallics, luxe fabrics, and an eye to mixing opulence with comfort while holding true to the glamor of 1930s Hollywood) made this project all the more inspiring and fun for me and my team.
John recalls, “We wanted a place that was glamorous, and compelling, so that people who visit would be excited and inspired by it!”
Our mission was to bring the very grand living room with its high ceilings and leaded glass bay windows to the next level for the family (including grown children Tom and Mandela) and their guests — ranging in number from 6 to 60 or more, on any given day or night.
The Hollywood Regency aesthetic was a perfect canvas for mixing and matching with the couple’s significant and hyper-local pop art collection, including pieces by famed Oakland artists Mel Ramos and K-Dub.
As John explains: “We like to support local artists, and we have a special interest in female artists and works that promote images of powerful women and men of color. Wonder Woman, Bobby Seal, and Angela Davis are all up in our house.”
The Wonder Woman painting has a special local and family significance in that it was the result of a collaborative art project by their daughter Mandela’s fifth grade class, purchased at the Hillcrest School auction.
John says, “Laura got it completely that this painting has become our trademark!”
My team and I loved the Wonder Woman so much, we all agreed she should maintain her position, as sentry, surveying the room proudly from over the mantle.
Kim and John’s personal views and aesthetics, together with their vibrant art collection, called for a bold design that is more funky and eclectic overall than many owners of historic homes like this tend to prefer.
I mean, don’t get me wrong; many of our clients like to do something a little daring, and often they opt for elements of glam. However, John and Kim agreeing to our specification of a pair of peacock blue sofas — that is no small commitment to audacious color!
Another furnishing element I love from this project is the custom-designed birds-eye-maple and antique glass inset bar — on wheels, which allows flexibility: a bartender can serve a large party from behind it or it can be turned around for use as self-service for a more intimate gathering.
My team and I couldn’t be more proud to have created a design that inspires and supports this family so that they may continue to make significant contributions to their causes and community.
All Photos by Mo Saito
A version of this article appeared in the Piedmont Post