Joe Fletcher

In San Francisco’s Alamo Square neighborhood, Jensen Architects brought something new to a silver “painted lady” on one of the city’s most photographed streetscapes. Known as Postcard Row, the area is famous for the pastel-hued dwellings that punctuate its hilly landscape.

Careful to preserve the integrity of the stately 1889 structure, the firm reconstructed the home’s front and rear façade and interiors with contemporary elements—including a refreshed kitchen—that’s both starkly modern and aesthetically in harmony with the home’s Victorian elements. “From the street, the home appears to have been dipped in a modern bath of silver paint, hinting at the transformation within,” says Emily Gosack, lead architect on the project.

Joe Fletcher

The clients—who were also the project's builder—admired the architecture firm’s previous work but were not planning to live in the home. However, while working on the build-out, the family fell in love with the quirks of the spec project and shifted the scope to custom as they designed and renovated the home for themselves. One of their first tasks was to bring the kitchen up to 21st century standards of comfort and efficiency.

“The way people live today is very different from the way these houses were originally designed. We wanted to open the existing divisions and ceiling panels up as much as possible,” says Gosack.

Once the walls came down and the ceiling was raised to 11 feet, the challenge became how to fill the volume of the enlarged space. To maintain a sense of openness and transparency, the architects added translucent glass panels to the custom-built cabinetry, which are fitted into a sliding track door system that’s recessed into the ceiling. This addition helps to combat dust issues that often beset open shelving while adding a slightly unconventional twist to the trend. With a backdrop of wide-plank wood flooring and marbled, white surfaces, the kitchen’s visual draw is commanded by a centerpiece deep blue island that pulls in family and visitors. “We felt that the island should feel more like a piece of furniture,” says Gosack.

The team opted for the monolith island that is traditional by design, but complements and adds warmth to the clean aesthetic. “Though it’s eclectic, it harmonizes with the mix of different styles throughout the house,” Gosack adds. “The full overlay cabinetry is a backdrop; this piece feels like a standalone statement, and we liked the contrast there.”

Joe Fletcher

The team topped the island, built by Oakland, Calif.–based Mueller Nicholls, with concrete instead of other material choices, such as wood or stone, because it met their requirements for durability and aesthetics. To the right of the kitchen, a niche eating nook—which was formerly the porch—is framed by sliding, perforated aluminum panels that both control the degree of sunlight that enters the space and offer a privacy barrier. Along the low-formed casework, a small refrigerator houses daily breakfast essentials such as coffee, juices, and milk for cereal. Also visible from the kitchen, a sculptural, asymmetrical staircase both connects and bisects the more formal and casual living spaces, and adds visual interest to the minimalist furnishings.

“We wanted to be sure we’re fully taking advantage of every bit of openness, daylight, and transparency the house has to offer,” Gosack says.

Project Details
Location San Francisco
Architect Jensen Architects, San Francisco
Builder Dromhus, San Francisco
Kitchen Size 360 square feet
House Size 4,138 square feet
Construction Cost Withheld