P erched on a steeply sloped site in the Corona Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, the dramatic three-story Terrace House began with simple roots. Local architecture firm Aidlin Darling Design was approached by the client—a growing family—looking to update the existing, two-story home on the lot by adding a third floor and integrating modern elements and sustainable design practices.
In addition to the site’s incline, it also presented an unusual shape, with diagonal property lines and a challenging driveway approach. With such an odd configuration, the existing building did not conform to current zoning constraints. The project involved expansion below the existing home and adjacent to neighboring properties, requiring careful design and sequencing of excavation, shoring, and foundation systems.
The design team was able to keep most of the existing framing and some of original foundation, but needed to repair the perimeter walls and expand the home’s footprint to fit the lot.
With remarkable views of the city skyline to the east and the Sutro Tower to the west, the architects chose to open up the front and rear façades and employ 20-foot-tall, 30-inch-deep steel brise soleils to deflect light and simultaneously frame the remarkable views and edit out less desirable ones. The southern and northern anchor walls are skinned with hand-troweled plaster and create visual and mental privacy from the adjoining neighboring homes.
“It was about maximizing the view, connecting the rear garden, and with most buildings that old, you want to update the floor plan and spatial relationships to better fit a contemporary mode,” says Peter Larsen, principal at Aidlin Darling Design and project architect of the remodel.
Inside the new 2,820-square-foot home, the main living areas are situated on the second floor, with the children’s bedrooms on the ground level and the new master suite on the top. Numerous species of wood “that exude visual and tactile warmth” were incorporated and custom built-in furniture maximizes function within a modest building footprint.
“There’s something about the palette and the proportions of it that I really like,” stated a judge. “I think the interior is really sophisticated and the details are impeccable.”
A living roof provides ample insulation and rainwater purification as well as an inviting natural respite within the confines of an urban setting. Other sustainable design measures were applied throughout the home including high-performance roof insulation, thermally broken windows and doors, deep overhangs providing passive solar control, and drought-tolerant, low-irrigation landscaping.
“We stay in touch with most of our clients, and we really value hearing their input over time,” says Larsen. “I think they really love the indoor-outdoor connection, hanging out in the living room overlooking the city, and that they are able to live a comfortable casual life there. It’s a really fun blend of everyday life and also still being a high design, beautifully composed space.”