A typical San Francisco 1940’s row house in the Richmond district has been renovated into a distinctive home for an entrepreneur, photographer, world traveler, and business owner. Architect Cass Calder Smith and the owner had become friends over the years after Smith design two of his San Francisco retail locations, this led to the commission to design his home as a continued creative collaboration. Before starting the design, the owner had removed all of the old plaster from the walls, ceilings, and underside of the roof. The wood was stripped of all nails, so it looked as original as possible. It was clean, and he lived in the house for over a year with this ‘frozen demolition’ skeletal state. The wood framing, even the framing between rooms, was left in place and created a unique and simple canvas to work with as a starting point.
The two-story house is situated over a garage – as are most houses are in that neighborhood. The program included a main floor for cooking, dining, and lounging, plus some studio space to print, review, and exhibit photography – all open like an industrial urban loft. Since the exposed wood frame interior had a good feel, it became apparent that as much of this should be retained as possible, and so in select locations the existing wood floors were kept and patched, which left an imprint of the previous floor plan. Structural steel was added to eliminate bearing walls, and like the plumbing above, it was left exposed. Select walls were sheet rocked smooth and painted white to play off the rough wood framing. The existing staircase which was nicely preserved and quite ornate was kept and restored as a counterpoint and an appreciated remnant of the past. An angled and curved wall with built-in shelves was built to demise the living room from the entry. Designed as a new shape, but with familiar materials, it was clad with wood strips that were milled from existing 2×4’s from the old walls.
The new kitchen is completely open, and equally oriented to both the dining and living areas, resulting in an L-shaped spatial arrangement with the kitchen as the pivot point. Upper shelves extend from the kitchen into the living room to connect the space – these are not only meant for dishes, but also a revolving collection of memorable objects, framed photos, and other curiosities that personalize the house. The living room is essentially a large plush lounging space for relaxing, napping, and watching movies. The dining area doubles as a studio, with a small lounge just off the end for relaxing with doors that open up to a deck leading to the yard below. The exterior rear wall of the house was opened up with a large ‘picture window’ for open space views, natural light, and ventilation.
The second floor retained the two original bedrooms but was expanded into the attic space above and on each side to maximize openness and storage and expose the wood framing. One bedroom is the master, the other for guests and the owner’s grown children when they visit. The existing bathroom was renovated within its same footprint with the idea of functional minimalism and has a large skylight which lines up with a glass ledge behind the tub, letting natural light down into the kitchen.
The street façade was intentionally left alone, but painted black, which distinguishes it from the other houses on the street. It’s a little bit stealth and also gives a hint that something special lies inside.