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New Flip Trick, No Deck Required

Skate-ramp cladding swathes a pop-top house in Potrero Hill.

A south-facing wall of glass affords unobstructed views of the bay. “The idea was to cut the fat everywhere,” says architect Casper Mork-Ulnes. “Instead of putting in several windows, we limited ourselves to one big windowed wall.”

Sunlight streaming through the sunshade casts abstract shadows across the living room.

The original facade was an “unattractive pinky-cream color,” says Mork-Ulnes. It was transformed with black Skatelite to contrast with the white interior.

Wood joists reclaimed from the original roof were turned into a custom bookshelf and a dining room table by Yvonne Mouser. Burn fashioned the coffee table from two old wooden pallets he found on the street, casters from Home Depot, and a pane of glass.

The handcranked sunshade in motion. Burn has an affinity for raw materials, especially those that are typically hidden away, like plywood. He requested unpainted wooden surfaces— particularly in the cabinetry— combined with brightness and gloss. The stairwell was built from parallel strand lumber (PSL) beams.

It takes homeowner Michael Burn about six minutes to manually retract the sunshade by turning a crank in the living room. “It’s quite a good workout,” he says. “We’ve turned it into a race.”

A catwalk connects the garden and the third floor. The concrete was painted black to disappear behind the plants, and Burn built the vertical succulent wall himself.

MOST RENOVATING HOMEOWNERS gamely volunteer that they want to be hands-on, but British software consultant Michael Burn has the calluses to prove it. When it came time to fabricate the pièce de résistance of his revamped Potrero Hill house—a retractable sunshade featuring a silhouette of the home’s historic streetscape rendered in hand-drilled holes—he would show up after hours at SFOSL Architects’ Dogpatch studio with a six-pack of beer and a power drill. Working alongside project manager (and avid skateboarder) Greg Ladigin, he laboriously perforated a 12-by-25-foot sheet of Skatelite—a material typically used to fashion skate ramps—with 21,756 holes to create the pixilated effect.

Originally built in 1925, the house was an archetypal fixer-upper (“a dump,” as Burn puts it) five years ago when he moved in. “You’d blow a fuse if you ran the microwave while watching television,” he says. “It was 40 degrees in the winter and in the high 90s in the summer.” When he married girlfriend Kathryn Woody, a biotech clinical operations manager who left her beloved Mission district Victorian to join him, the time had clearly arrived for an overhaul.

The newlyweds enlisted Casper Mork-Ulnes and Andreas Tingulstad of SFOSL to expand the 1,575-square-foot bachelor pad into a houseguest-worthy 2,225-square-foot home, staying within a tight budget of $325,000. To add the new space, SFOSL extended the house to 32 feet, going vertical to comply with the block’s strict zoning regulations.

The sleeping and bathing areas remained on the second floor, while the living room was bumped up to the light-flooded third floor. All that separates the living room from the landscaped roof deck is a seamless wall of glass (protected by the retractable sunshade) to capitalize on unobstructed bay views to the south. “When I work from home,” says Burn, “I have the best office in San Francisco.”

The terraced garden below connects to the third floor via a new Skatelite catwalk, which also serves as a breezy hangout for Roxy and Mervin, the couple’s two doted-on Australian shepherd–labs, and allows them to roam freely between the house and the rear yard.

 

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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