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By Carolyne Zinko / Photography by Brandon Joseph Baker
San Francisco Chronice, November 2006

Versace meets Versailles — in the sky. That’s how friends of real estate broker Joel Goodrich describe his ninth-story penthouse in the Francesca, a 1920s high-rise on Nob Hill.

From the French reproduction dining chairs covered in Versace fabrics to crystal chandeliers and mirrors with ornate frames, the 1,500-square-foot home is a glittering mini-palace. He admits it’s a bit over the top during the day, but when the sun goes down and the skyline lights up, the aerie becomes a sparkling retreat.

It’s also a world away from his first San Francisco apartment, modern and monochromatic beige. “What can I say?” he jokes. “I have a gilt complex. I like something a little dramatic.”

His social calendar focuses on the cooler months because during the summer, dusk doesn’t fall until too late to start a party. He hosts six cocktail parties and 10 dinner parties a year. But one of the more highly anticipated parties in town — Goodrich’s annual Christmas party — is a prime evening to show the place to advantage. Friends, more than 100 on his holiday invitation list, cram themselves in, cheek-to-nonexistent jowl, to join the fun.

Goodrich, a broker of luxury homes in San Francisco and the Bay Area, developed his sense of style at an early age. When he was 10, his father, who worked for Bechtel, was transferred to Paris for four years. “It was my first exposure to great architecture,” Goodrich said. “It really broadened my view of the world.”

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Goodrich, decisive and aggressive, had always wanted to live on Nob Hill, and he kept his eyes trained on the real estate listings. When an apartment went on the market at the Francesca, he said, “I knew I wanted it before I saw it because it was the top floor of a building I liked and it was on the view side. I had on offer written up before I walked in the door.” The owner initially planned to conduct an auction with a bidding war, but Goodrich’s offer was so good the seller took it almost immediately, after asking for a small bump up in price.

The place reflects his love of classical form. He changed a corner bedroom into a dining room by knocking down a wall and installing Doric columns to separate the spaces. The living room (with fireplace) is ringed with crown molding outlined in gold, inspired by painted trim he saw at the Louvre. He photographed it and had the gilded touches replicated. Sprinkled throughout the apartment are modern accents — pop, abstract and surrealist artworks on the walls; a glass coffee table; and a sectional couch. “I don’t like walking into a period room,” he said. “I wanted an eclectic feel.”

For colored accents, there are orchids — about 200 in his collection, his favorite a blue Vanda. Not all the plants are displayed at one time. After they’re done blooming, they are collected from his doorstep and shipped off to White Oak Orchids, a plant-care service in Pacifica. “When the babies are ready to go to boarding school, the nanny puts them out,” he said in a mock rueful tone. “It’s hard being a single father.”

Goodrich’s path to the good life had stops and starts. In high school, he was a competitive ice skater, something he gave up while in college at UC Berkeley, studying biomedical science. He later missed the ice so much that on a lark one day he tried out for the Ice Follies. He was hired to skate on a tour in Asia, left school and later became a coach. After deciding to hang up his skates 16 years ago, he landed a desk job for $7 an hour at a real estate office in San Francisco and learned the business from the ground up. Today, he is an agent with TRI Coldwell Banker. Among the properties he represents are a neoclassical villa under construction on Broadway in Pacific Heights ($65 million) and a villa in Palm Springs (a mere $12 million). He has also represented the Tobin Clark estate, a 30-room Tudor mansion in Hillsborough (asking price: $45 million), among others.

Friends include high-profile home seller Olivia Hsu Decker of Decker-Bullock Real Estate in Mill Valley, who is the listing agent for Andre Agassi’s North Bay home and owner of her own chateau outside Paris (where parts of “The Da Vinci Code” were filmed). Decker scored tickets for the recent Chanel runway show in Paris, which she gave to Goodrich — and made sure a pal, rock star Lenny Kravitz, joined him. “It’s made me appreciate what I have all the more,” Goodrich said of his modest beginnings. “It’s been an interesting ride.”

On party nights, Goodrich said, the keys to a good time are the people, energy, lighting and music — in that order. At a recent dinner, the menu included no-guilt (and no-gilt) foods such as salad with avocado and hearts of palm, salmon with mango salsa and fig tarts. Candles in the dining room created a warm glow. Paris Hilton’s lat-est CD pulsed over the speakers. It was a weeknight, yet many guests stayed, laughing and chatting, until 11 p.m. “Being single,” he said, “I think that’s how you bring your house alive.”

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