Shingles That Mingle

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    Roger Casas

    Adding more space to a tiny builder’s cottage in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood involved adding a third floor, which in turn meant some reconfiguring. The heart of the new interior is the stairway and stair hall, which connect the third floor to the rest of the house.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    The stair hall adds brightness. Because the lot size was shallower than usual (75 feet instead of the typical 100), adding a rear entry stair wasn’t an option. For this remodel, “Houdini-like feats were required,” says architect Cary Bernstein.

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    Roger Casas

    The open staircase has a sculptural feel, and it reinforces the feeling of lightness in this formerly dark cottage. Making the house deeper front to back would have made the interior darker, says Bernstein.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    Architect Cary Bernstein opened up the second-floor layout, further underscoring a modern, airy vibe.

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    Roger Casas

    On this open plan second floor, the dining area is a part of the living area.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    The living room’s steel-clad fireplace balances the lightness of the open stairway.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    The third-floor addition is 500 square feet—the maximum allowable size without a second form of egress.

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    Roger Casas

    On the third floor, an extended hallway functions as a dressing area, with room for closets. The bench has a guardrail and storage underneath.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    The new windows look out onto spectacular views of downtown San Francisco.

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    Roger Casas

    The master suite is a compact and efficient space, with the bedroom opening directly into the bath.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    Interplay between grained wood veneer and the grid of the tile brings visual variety.

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    David Duncan Livingston

    There are green views from the bathtub. Transom windows bring light into the bathroom while maintaining a sense of privacy.

Sometimes the only way to go is up—as was the case with this 1908 California builder’s cottage in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. Yet adding a third floor would have an undeniable impact not just on the house, but on the rest of the street.

The homeowners were fans of modernism, but were also keenly aware of the 1900s shingle-style vernacular that defines their block. Being mindful of the streetscape was crucial to the design; ignoring the past wasn’t a desirable option, nor was mimicking it. “You can’t get around the fact that cottages aren’t three-story buildings,” says architect Cary Bernstein, who knew her work was cut out for her: adding a third story to a building type that doesn’t have one, with adjustments in scale that made visual sense. Just as essential was introducing modern elements in a way that helps the façade “tell the story of layers of time,” says Bernstein.

Constraints abounded. The original two-story cottage was just 650 square feet on each floor, set back on a lot only 75 feet deep (most in San Francisco are 25 feet by 100 feet). Bernstein opted for the maximum allowable 500 square feet of space on the third-floor addition. Anything larger would require a second stair, which would hog what little usable space there was in the original structure. Adding onto the front of the house wasn’t feasible, given the tight lot, not to mention the tight budget. A rear stair wasn’t workable, either—the lot was too shallow and the budget was too small.

So Bernstein raised the roof while keeping its original pitch, designing a third floor made up of a master bedroom, master bath, and dressing area. She created a double-height stair hall that turned a dark cottage light and bright by moving the original first-floor entry closer to the sidewalk (the original front door had been set back in a cold, cramped exterior space that was not protected from the rain), making way for a light-filled entrance that now includes useful square footage on the interior.

The third floor’s window walls, which take full advantage of the spectacular city views, are intentionally designed to look different than the punched-wood openings of the original shell. Their black outline makes for a crisp façade that showcases the new and fuses it with the old. Offsetting the new parts brings geometry and contrast to the massing, turning a diminutive cottage with a quirky, chamfered façade into a sophisticated, unified structure.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.