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A bazaar’s worth of treasures hidden inside a couple’s Mission flat

Jillian Knox and Elvis Santoyo travel the world scooping up street crafts, orphaned art, and cast-off gems. Their Mission District apartment is a gallery of their finds.

Two individuals in hats sit at a round table with flowers, in a colorful room adorned with art, masks, plants, and sculptures, creating an eclectic ambiance.
Jill Knox and Elvis Santoyo pose inside their apartment in the Mission District. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard

This is The Looker, a column about design and style from San Francisco Standard editor-at-large Erin Feher.

Jillian Knox sees what others overlook. She once found an authentic Brazilian cowhide rug in a trash can at a Muni stop. She spotted a portrait of Oprah Winfrey by the outsider artist Vincent Jackson in a garage in the Castro. She even scored a dream apartment—and a husband—on Craigslist. 

Knox, an in-demand prop artist and food and wardrobe stylist, has been scouring estate sales, flea markets, online marketplaces, artists’ studios and, yes, curbside trash piles for decades. Her senses are finely tuned to the diamonds hidden in the detritus. 

The Mission District apartment she shares with her husband Elvis Santoyo is both filled with those treasures and a gem in its own right: Long hallways, soaring coved ceilings, oversized windows, a sunny roof deck and enough bedrooms to turn a spare into a walk-in closet that would make most tiny-city-home-dwellers squeal.

The image shows a vibrant hallway with pink walls adorned with various framed artworks, leading to rooms with wooden doors. A ceiling-high arch is visible on the left side.
The long hallways double as a gallery space. Most of the work the couple collects is by artists of color. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
A cozy closet with hats on the top shelf, jackets and shirts hanging, shoes neatly arranged on shelves below, and a window with blinds brightening the space.
The pair turned a petite third bedroom into a walk-in closet filled with their vintage finds. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
The image shows a decorative lamp with a woman figure base, fringed skirt, cream lampshade, surrounded by toiletries, makeup brushes, and beauty products. It has a tiled wall background.
A beaded lamp sits atop a makeup counter in the couple's bathroom. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard

The walls are an inspired collage of plants, taxidermy, textiles and art, much of it made by people of color, or featuring faces and themes reflecting Knox and Santoyo’s Mexican, African and Caribbean heritages. “I think it’s helpful for us to see ourselves in our space,” says Knox. 

Nearly every shelf and surface is stacked high with records and well-loved books, many of which Knox helped create. Her styling credits include work on cookbooks “Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews,” “Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora,” “Anything’s Pastable,” the James Beard Award-winning “Diasporican,” and many more. 

Knox and Santoyo’s home represents the blurry—yet always brightly colored—line between passion and profession. The couple owns Casa Ojo, an online shop featuring housewares and textiles created in partnership with artisans from Oaxaca, Mexico. Santoyo’s parents immigrated from Mexico to Texas before eventually settling in Chicago, where he grew up as one of six kids. He and Jillian make the trip back multiple times a year, forging connections with local artisans. 

A wooden cabinet filled with colorful ceramics and tableware, topped with wicker baskets, stands next to a glass table with green chairs, adorned with flowers and glassware.
One of Knox’s favorite pieces is this hutch she found on Facebook Marketplace for just $20.  | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
The image shows a warm orange wall adorned with a red and black bull mask, a framed artwork, and a decorative piece with blonde tassels. A lush green plant sits below.
Artwork displayed in the living room. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
A blue wooden cabinet is topped with a variety of books. Plants are draped over and around the books, and a mounted animal head is on the wall behind.
The couple’s extensive cookbook collection features dozens of titles Knox helped to create during her career as a sought-after food stylist. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard

Their home itself speaks to their ability to find beautiful things with beguiling backstories. Five years ago, the couple was crammed into an 850-square-foot apartment in Noe Valley, bursting at the seams from Knox’s prop collection and merchandise from Casa Ojo. When rental prices dropped during the pandemic, they thought they’d try their luck and score some extra square footage elsewhere. Knox had spotted a listing on Craigslist, which specified artist applicants were preferred. Yet when they walked through the door for the open showing, “it was just a sea of Northface jackets,” says Knox.

“The two of us are dressed like this,” she says, gesturing to her bell-bottomed denim jumpsuit and wrists stacked high with jangling gold bangles. Santoyo was wearing his customary Guayabera, petite fedora and calfskin boots. “Our landlords saw us and they’re like, ‘Who are you? How did you find this place? Are you artists?’ We interviewed outside right then.” 

They hit it off immediately with their future landlords, and were invited back to meet the neighbors and building co-owners: a woodworker and a sculptor. Once they passed the community vibe check, the apartment was theirs. 

They have spent the last four years making it home. Nearly every piece of furniture or accessory comes with a history. The professional-grade display cabinets were being abandoned by the San Francisco Masonic Auditorium. They bought a midcentury burlwood slab, later made into a coffee table, from a longtime Castro resident and AIDS activist who was being evicted from his apartment. They collect screenprints from a favorite punk rock flea market in Mexico City. One extra-wide work of Mexican art resulted in a missed flight when the airline refused to check it—Knox recalls a mad dash around a Mexican airport trying to find a sympathetic gate agent with a soft spot for art.

The image shows an eclectic living space with various framed artworks, a bookshelf filled with books, a plant, mirrors, a deer head mount, and other decorative items and trinkets.
The couple created an altar (far left) to pacify a spirit they encountered when they moved into the apartment. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
A cozy living room features eclectic decor with numerous potted plants, a wooden coffee table, colorful cushions on a yellow chair, and a wall-mounted rhino head.
Each item in the home has a history, such as this thick slab of burlwood that Santoyo turned into a coffee table by adding steel legs. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
The bathroom features a pinkish ceiling, tiled walls, a glass block divider and a bathtub. A window showcases various potted plants and hanging decorations with colorful towels.
Outside the bathroom window, Knox has lovingly created a shade garden. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard

There’s even an altar to keep a resident ghost in check. “We call him Peekaboo,” says Santoyo. “It’s just like a little head that peeks his head around the corner. When we first moved in, he would open the kitchen cabinets…The pets were freaked and would not go past the hallway unless we were there.” The couple built the altar and did a ceremony to make nice with Peekaboo. “We just said, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not here to take over your space. We can live together. Just don’t try to do anything weird. Let us be and we’ll let you be.’” There’s been relative peace ever since. 

The adjacent wall is home to a vignette of some of the couple’s most treasured objects. A figurative Oprah portrait is a large-scale oil pastel by the prolific Creativity Explored artist Vincent Jackson dating from the ’80s. Below it sits a plaster replica of “The Negress,” a 17th-century bronze sculpture by French artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, that the couple found at an estate sale. The sculptor created the piece three years after the American Civil War to emphasize the horrors of slavery. 

The bust gazes upon a perfectly patinated pine display hutch that Knox nabbed on Facebook Marketplace for $20. It’s filled with earthenware from around the world, colorful plates and cups from Central and South America, stoneware tagines from the Middle East and terracotta vessels from flea markets near and far. It’s topped with a curated cluster of straw bags. 

Which brings us to Knox’s biggest score—Santoyo himself. In true Knox style, she didn’t find him the way most people match up with a romantic partner online. In 2008, she had just graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design and knew she didn’t want to head back home to D.C. She was curious about Chicago, so she planned to spend her Spring Break there and posted on Craigslist looking for a tour guide to show her around for a day. Santoyo answered the call. 

This image shows a cluttered kitchen with jars of spices on shelves, a white stove with various cooking pots and a red coffee maker, and a few plants.
Knox and Santoyo are both passionate cooks and lovers of food, and their kitchen is stocked with beautiful vintage cookware. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
A white marble bust sits on a wooden cabinet topped with plants, fruit, and candles, beneath a vibrant framed painting of a smiling face.
A plaster replica of “The Negress,” a 17th-century bronze sculpture by French artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux sits below an oil pastel by Vincent Jackson. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard
Two people stand outside a door, both holding drinks. One wears a colorful dress and straw hat, while the other is in a white shirt and hat, smiling and chatting.
Knox and Santoyo met cute when she visited Chicago on Spring Break and posted on Craigslist asking for a guide to the city. Santoyo answered the call. | Source: Kelly Marshall for The Standard

“I literally cleared my schedule and showed her all my favorite places,” says Santoyo, who arrived at their first meet-up at a pizza joint wearing a suit. While Knox always knows a keeper when she sees it, Santoyo’s instincts aren’t too shabby either. 

“I knew she was the one when she reached across the table, grabbed my pizza that I was eating and was like, ‘I’m gonna have a slice.’ I think she ate half my pizza. The rest is history.”

This story was produced in partnership with Represent Collaborative, a non-profit media initiative producing stories about Black and brown communities.