here’s a house at the bottom of a steep block, built in 1940, slathered in stucco with red tile accents. below are some interior views while it was for sale. it’s not unlike my own apartment: a house of redundant doors, disconnected rooms, box by box by box. my friend andrew, a realtor, introduced me to the new owners and we discussed a two-phase, or a minimal-change remodel. “let’s keep the kitchen cabinets” “we don’t want to do the downstairs until a couple of years from now”… these initial ideas have a funny way of mushrooming, and next thing you know we’re doing the entire project at once, down to the studs! the more they opened and closed the flimsy cabinets, and stared at the corner toilet (I don’t think I’ve seen that before..) they realized it all had to go. closed-off rooms is not the way most people prefer to live now; the majority of our clients want connected spaces to spend more time together. it’s less formal, but also a factor of our lives being so busy that when we’re at home we want to see each other and connect! or, watch tv while cooking spaghetti. below is the first floor garage / basement, all one huge space with no rooms or use other than laundry and storage. a narrow winding staircase connected the two levels. it was convenient to see the framing, plumbing, etc exposed on this level; for making structural estimates and knowing where everything is running. time for demo!in san francisco where codes and rules are as plentiful and convoluted as the hazy hash smoke wafting through the streets, we have to be careful about how much of the house we demo – even inside. when I try to explain this to people they give me the most confused reactions and a huge WHY? I share their wonder – I understand the desire to retain some worthy building exteriors, but inside, homeowners should be able to live and revise how they want to. we’re excavating at the first floor because the ceiling wasn’t high enough for living spaces (bedrooms). we’re going down a total of about 24″. the hulking wood posts & beams, original to the house, will be reused somehow inside – barn door? shelving? check this out below, found under the slab in the dirt: WHAT IS IT??it’s made of leather, feathers, some paint. it looks so well-preserved it’s hard to imagine it was in the dirt since 1940 when the house was built. it’s about 24″ long x 13″ at the widest. a mask, or a shield? indian, or african? we also found a red rubber bouncy ball. weird. I love when we find stuff in the walls or below in the dirt – this is certainly unique. one friend suggested it may indicate burial and that we could find bones if we dug deeper; but I can’t imagine that this block of comparatively young houses for this neighborhood, is atop a burial ground unknown at the time of construction. any ideas? more to come!
This otherwise ‘Marina-style’ house had some art-deco reminiscent details in it so that’s what I’m calling it. (marina-style typically has a garage and unfinished basement area at ground level with the living space on the second floor.) Look at the front: we didn’t make any changes here, I really wouldn’t know what to do without ripping off those tiles – or paint them charcoal grey – is that possible? My clients said that in their search for a home they liked yellow houses because they look happy – I like that thought!
The house had a few challenges, one was the redundant circulation seen above – you could walk down a hallway or take a parallel route through adjacent rooms to get to the bedrooms and bathroom at the back. Second, the only bathroom was big enough to be split into two (it had that typical low-ceilinged shower stall) Third, the stair was narrow and wound down into the garage. You had to walk through the garage to get to the tall basement space at the back.The previous owner installed a garage door to the yard which I liked, but we ended up redesigning with non-garage doors. The new owners wanted a better connection between floors, a finished usable first floor, master bath and new guest bath downstairs. I thought, who needs two hallways? and decided to drop the new stair directly down through the hallway floor. Here’s a view of the hallway, with the other rooms to the side after we opened up the wall. A view from the other end – – and then right after the floor was cut out and the new stair put in. Voila! Direct connection down with comfortable stairs, opened rooms and finishing out the first floor…still in progress..A view down to the lower floor to see the light coming in from the back yard. Stay tuned, more to come!
This house built into a hill in the mid 1950s had a common layout where the entire living area is on a single floor above a garage and unfinished basement first floor. Upon entering the basement level, everyone was surprised to find 14′ high ceilings! An exterior stair is all that connected the two levels. The high ceilings result from this concrete retaining wall that was in place when the house was built in the 50s. With all the height the homeowner wanted to finish the area into a master bedroom suite, laundry room and new interior stair. The project was divided into two phases; the kitchen, stair and laundry room in phase I and master suite in phase II. This laundry room and lightwell would be eliminated to locate the new staircase. Here’s the underside of the existing terrazzo stairs – we had to break through one of the brick walls for a doorway in the new first floor layout, but the other wall was left exposed in the new laundry room. This is the demolished kitchen. Behind plywood is the old lightwell. The roof was about 3′ above the ceiling, so we raised the ceiling in the new kitchen. Downstairs the new staircase approached the garage ceiling before the hole was cut in the floor above. That’s the new stair landing at the top of the ladder. The upper run completed the framing. A view from the top of the new stairs near the kitchen. Skipping ahead, here’s a view up the lower run of stairs from the basement hallway. The first floor will have walnut flooring so we continued it up the stairs, while the existing second floor has oak floors. The giant, ugly return-air grille would have to be located at the landing, so I decided to clad the walls with wood slats to obscure it. Air can pass through the slats as it needs to, and you don’t have to see a metal grille on a sheetrock wall. Here’s a view looking from the kitchen toward the new staircase with display shelves and a skylight above. The stair is located where the laundry room and lightwell used to be. More to come!
A lot has happened since my last update! On this house, and for the business: we’ve moved to a new office, and the dust is still settling… This is a mighty heap of scrap – mostly unusable – taken from the house and placed into the rear yard. The rear yard here is/was a beautifully overgrown mass of decades-old flowering plants and trees. To get taller living space on the first level we removed the floor to get up to 24″ of additional height to work with:
As you can see the walls were all sorts of patched together = need to be rebuilt. Then we had to excavate into the hill to maintain this lofty new ceiling.This retaining wall represents the line between the garage that will maintain the original low height of approx. 7′, and the new living space that will have approx. 10′ ceilings.
The new stairs came down (‘bombs awaaay!’) just in time as the new 3′ addition extended the house into the rear yard. Upstairs, the back portion of the house was removed. This was a multi-layer addition from the 1940s-70s, and insufficient to support the third floor addition. Braces hold up the side property line walls. We left the existing side windows in so we can replace them in-kind without having to be fire-rated (which can run about $2500 for a 3’x4′ window!)
The charming master bedroom dormer is seen here.
Above views are from the second floor looking through the newly opened wall. The photo below is looking up at the back of the house. The first floor is framed in, and the new deck is cantilevered 5′ beyond the wall.
Where’s Waldo? There’s a guy in all that mess, if you look hard enough.
This is me trying to photograph a steel beam, standing on the open edge of the house!
More to come!
Things are wrapping up down in the
basement first floor – the homeowners have started moving back into the remodeled spaces gradually, even holding a graduation party in the new family room! The window above is a new one, high above the stair landing, facing south = lots of sunlight. The 8′ tall french doors out to the deck bring in the views and light, facing east and a forested hill beyond. Interior shot above, exterior shot below (in case there’s any confusion…)
The stairs from below in the family room. The ledge was clad in the same wood / nosing as the stairs – a good place to sit. The handrail is temporary, installed for the party. The stair landing above, I’ve been told, is where karaoke performances will take place viewed from the family room, hence the spotlights. I’ve already got some songs picked out! (Note that this project is more traditional than I normally do – I was happy to be involved in the overall design, space development, windows/doors/stair/etc, but the owners are choosing the finishes. “Provence goes to Mexico” was how she described the overall feel she was going for. ) Above, the wet bar at one end of the family rm, perfect for entertaining with sink, dishwasher and min-fridge. The second-floor living room, now almost doubled in size. The opening overlooks the new stair to the first floor. This area and two windows at the corner used to be a bedroom, which was combined with the dining room about where I’m standing to create one large living room. Good scale! (The former living room will now be used for dining.)This last photo is of two skylights poking through a small deck off of the kitchen. One goes to the laundry rm and one to the bathroom at the first floor. A good way to get light into what would have been windowless rooms, and as you can see they do get good sunlight. This deck will be used mainly for grilling and potted herbs. Maybe herbs de Provence!
Above: before. Below: during. This house on a steeply down-sloping lot in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco has a full-height basement with great views which was never fully utilized or developed. Look at those wimpy little windows~ The owner was concerned with the house sliding down the hill, and compared its slope to a Blahnik. It seems that a 90+yr old house that withstood 100s of tremors – and the 1989 quake – is probably staying put. Even with its sub-par structure seen below! We opened up the back wall with larger windows and 8′ tall doors which will lead out to a deck. Above, a view of the existing narrow, steep stairs – fit for a Hobbit! These will be rebuilt larger with a window above the landing. The existing basement room on the left, with dropped ceiling, small window, carpeting, and one of those hey guess what I just did bathroom doors that opens directly into a room – never a good idea… Other parts of this project include: Fill-in an existing lightwell with additional rooms on the basement level, where rickety old wood stairs are seen on the left. (The owner actually fell through one of these steps just before it was torn down!) Secondly, replace a catch-all storage room seen on the right with a guest bedroom. They’ll cringe to see this, but we all have one of those spaces! The room has to be excavated quite a bit to get full height, and is still being dug now. Here’s the basement room down to the studs – no insulation, as is common in older SF buildings. Notice how much unused wall space is above the window! The owner is reusing some of this old redwood lumber to make a table, great green idea. This full-width room had a beam across the ceiling, which was resting on (2×6) posts that just barely landed on the concrete footings – see belowYou could literally knock the post off the concrete with one good elbow….scary, especially in seismic SF! Not sure how this was ever approved previously. The same rear wall with new doors and windows installed. Nice view, and the room will be used for entertaining indoor and outdoor on the deck. More to come!