After raising two children in their modest San Francisco cottage, the owners, an artist and health care administrator, both in their early 70’s, decided to give themselves a gift, replacing the undistinguished front of their house with a modern, welcoming design. This comprehensive renovation transformed a banal entry into a threshold of distinction.
The flat ground plane was reconstructed as a sculpted surface with programmatic, spatial and material differentiation. The clients wanted to feel like they were crossing a bridge from sidewalk to front door so an elevated walkway was constructed by depressing the construction around it. Opposing stairs, recessed planters and a sunken patio contribute to the experience of walking above the landscape below. Material selection reinforces the idea of programmatic separation: dark, flamed stone tile at the walking surfaces is distinct from lighter, integrally colored concrete stairs. Ipe furring is a warm liner for the workhorse concrete retaining walls: concealed utilities are accessed by blind panels. Voluminous plantings soften the edges of the walkway with bright green color and suggest an earthen floor below the “bridge”.
The new façade is a sculpted, bas-relief made of wood, steel, aluminum, glass and tile. Divisions in function and material complement the landscape strategy. Large windows make the interiors bright and airy: privacy film and solar shades do not diminish the impact of the large openings on the interior. A new, deep-set clerestory window and glazed entry door at the basement bring light and air into the workshop below.
The cantilevered steel & glass canopy is a long horizontal counterpoint to the vertical plane of the facade. The canopy adds rain protection, lighting over the front door and expands the sense of architectural entry. Gray, acid-etched glass panels mellow the light. Coordinated openings at the front drip edge send water into the bright green ferns in planters below. Almost every inch was spoken for to meet structural and code requirements. The new entry design belies the technical and code challenges realized in the final project.
The clients asked for a new exterior that would be design-forward and functional. The renovation gave their house a youthful face in a youthful city and a place for their own artwork to find its home.