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Worth Keeping

In the Forest Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, a rehab and renovation yields impeccably irresistible interiors.

The character of the existing stucco architecture on the first two levels merges with the modern intervention revealed with wood, stone and metal.

At the heart of the home is the kitchen with striking espresso stained walnut and Koa veneer cabinets and a matching custom dining table with an I-beam base and a Terzani bronze light fixture hanging above. The wood, chrome and leather bar stools by Lowenstein are perfect with appliances by Miele and Sub-Zero.

A new, two-story atrium space was created with a glazed roof that houses the brightly lit living room and adjacent staircase.

The dining room features “Sunrise,” a painting by Kari Taylor that captures the interior palette. The maple dining room set is by Baker Knapp & Tubbs and pairs well with the chair fabric by Romo. An oval, pleated fabric light fixture by Mei finishes the setting.

The backdrop for the kitchen dining area is a warm, blue-gray wall with a triptych painting by Kundan Baidwan, a family photo gallery, and an Asian artifact collection by Sloan Miyasato and Gaul Searson.

The Brazilian multicolor slate fireplace at the heart of the living room doubles as a window looking out on the backyard. The sofa from Design Within Reach and swivel chairs by Della Robbia with Kravet faux leather all stick to the home’s neutral color palette. The custom ottomans by Lisa Kampmeyer are covered in Joseph Noble faux leather and sit atop a Rug Art custom wool, hemp, silk and mohair rug from Sloan Miyasato.

In such a disposable society, saving something is rarely worth the effort for most. And though many architects and designers may try to avoid it, sometimes it’s easier to tear down and start all over, rather than reinvent the design wheel of an existing house. Yet that’s exactly what the owners of this 1940s Mission-style house in San Francisco chose to do with the help of San Fran-based Feldman Architecture and interior designer SoYoung Mack.

The owners, a couple with two children, loved the Forest Hill neighborhood and its location in the middle of town. But the interiors simply didn’t work for them, “stylistically or functionally,” says architect Jonathan Feldman, the firm’s principal. “The inside of the house was small, dark and chopped up. They are very much modernists who wanted a really open family house.” That would prove a challenge. Forest Hill has a homeowners association that ensures that the neighborhood’s gracious and varied homes from the early 20th century maintain a certain scale and cohesiveness from the curb. “Nobody wants you to come in and put up a modern house that doesn’t respect what’s there,” adds Feldman.

To give the homeowners the wide-open space they wanted, Feldman added a 1,200-square-foot upper level to the 3,890-square-foot house. To satisfy the homeowners association, he set back the addition from the existing façade—allowing the back of the house to be open and contemporary while still complying with the neighborhood’s needs.

The new floor’s three bedrooms and two baths allowed Feldman to take down the walls of the old bedrooms and kitchen on the main floor, creating a more spacious kitchen, playroom and sunny family room. The original living and dining rooms at the front of the house remained pretty much intact. Transparency and light became the design’s guiding principles. At the core of the new building is a spiral stairway surrounded on three sides by blue glass panels. Light pours in from large windows and a skylight filters through the glass panels to all three floors (the lower level, formerly a basement, was renovated and now includes a media room).

More of that open transparency can be found in the family room, where the fireplace is lined by a row of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and has a glass firebox so its glow can be seen from the backyard. The hearth is wrapped in Indian slate and rises to the height of the 18-foot cathedral ceiling.

Mack, who has worked with the couple on two previous homes, collaborated with the architect on the overall look of the interiors and finishes. Walnut floors were installed throughout. In the kitchen, she helped hand-select (with the lady of the house) each of the Koa veneer panels that cover the upper cabinets, as well as a custom table.

Echoing their architectural taste, the couple prefers a contemporary style for the furnishings, which they accented with Asian found objects and antiques “to bring in flavor,” Mack observes. Some of those idiosyncratic pieces include brass peacocks from Thailand in the kitchen, a piece of Chinese fretwork in the hall and a coffee table from India in the living room. The palette is a soothing blend of brown, neutrals and slate blue.

Over the course of their 16-year relationship, Mack has helped the couple acquire most of the furnishings they own today. “In a way it was not like a new project,” says Mack. “There was such continuity.” Because they were willing to wait for what they really love, patience has paid off. In the master bedroom, for example, there’s a Holly Hunt chest and mirror Mack selected when the couple was living in La Jolla. Mack also picked out the Donghia sofas in the living room and the Baker Knapp & Tubbs chairs in the dining room. Such pieces came from the couple’s first house in Fremont and were reupholstered for the new house. 

“There’s a thread that travels from their first house through to this house,” observes Mack. “It did unfold the way [the homeowner] wanted it to. Every piece she’s acquired she’s really loved, held on to and plans to keep.” The philosophy of patience and conservation has proved to be fruitful here, and worth the wait and effort.