A 1907 home in San Francisco's inner Richmond neighborhood undergoes a complete renovation and benefits from a brilliant use of natural light.
A kitchen island, wrapped in brass to pay homage to the historic home’s original design, now has a lovely patina.
Jen and Adrian, who have three kids all under the age of 15, purchased a historic 1907 San Francisco property in the Inner Richmond between Lake Street and the Presidio. Their goal was to create light-filled rooms with lots of functionality. The neighborhood is a favorite for families, and during the pandemic, Lake Street was even turned into a designated pedestrian and biking street— perfect for this active family. This full-home renovation would require a grand vision to ensure that each newly designed space merged seamlessly with others.
The couple selected San Francisco-based Malcolm Davis Architecture, or MDa (mdarch.net), for the ambitious full-home renovation, which took the total square footage from 3,879 to 4,179 for a home that’s a classic example of a First Bay Tradition. Davis says his work is more of a feeling—with elements of warmth and modernity—than a single, signature look. The architect loves combining contrasting elements: playing with solids and voids, rough textures and smooth, open spaces and cozy nooks. And yes, old houses with new interiors.
“Our work includes both renovations and new houses from the ground up, but we always find context to be the go-to starting point as we begin to solve the problem of making something beautiful, but also livable,” says Davis. “We consider how daylight moves through a space and use it to add subtle changing layers and richness to the design. We believe that natural light is of paramount importance to a person’s experience of a space through time.”
Davis says his firm’s approach to working with clients focuses on building a fun and respectful rapport. “We’re adept at combining styles and finding artful compromises that complement the project as a whole, providing a wealth of options to find something that resonates with everyone.”
With this project, MDa’s team collaborated with Jen on the home’s decor and overall aesthetic. The homeowner, who has a graduate degree in architecture and focuses her own practice on landscape and interior design, says, “Both MDa and I agreed to let our family provide the color of the house with restrained but wonderfully executed architecture, offering a beautiful backdrop for our lives. It was interesting that all of the teams involved [in this project]—MDa and Jeff King & Company (jeffkingandco.com)—were about two weeks out from breaking ground on a different home when we decided to buy this beautiful house and start over. It held more promise to be our forever home.”
Blue velvet chairs from Room & Board pop beautifully in the home’s living room.
Everyone involved in the project, especially the homeowners, wanted to enhance, rather than erase, the home’s existing character while simplifying its layout, improving the connection to the garden and introducing daylight in unexpected ways. “We aimed to create warm, modern and livable spaces with delightful, refreshing details,” says Jen. “We also wanted all of the rooms to be useful and appealing to spend time in, maintaining a casual environment for daily use.”
The well-preserved entry and den were left intact, while the congestion at the rear was rearranged and transformed into a functional, shared living space consisting of a dining room, kitchen and lowered sunroom. “A series of expressed headers distinguish the spaces from one another without disrupting the flow between them,” says Davis. “Each space hosts a set of glazed doors that open onto a protected and expanded deck, providing additional livable square footage on a sunny day and access to the rear garden below.”
The MDa team incorporated new skylights, acting as an “interior street” and creating the opportunity to share daylight with adjacent spaces. “Skylights in the attic warm the entry hall two levels below,” says Davis. “Glass in the exterior deck gently illuminates a basement bedroom, and a skylight in the pitched roof introduces southern light and a glimpse of sky into a north-facing bathroom.”
MDa created a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor spaces.
“The front half of the home had been well preserved, and the original details that remained were fiercely protected during the remodel,” says Davis. “However, a series of remodels and additions left the floor plan disorganized, and the mismanaged square footage left the home living much smaller than its size suggested.”
Davis also notes that the existing home was largely disconnected from the rear garden. “There was an existing small deck off the separated dining room and kitchen, but two pairs of French doors rendered it largely unfurnished, and the steep staircase made the sunny garden feel far away and uninviting.”
Of course, San Francisco’s building codes for historic structures are often challenging, and Davis recognizes that options may be more limited with an older structure. But because he and his team boast decades of experience in the city— and an understanding of the restrictive planning code—they were able to produce gorgeous, light-filled results.
Skylights were added to the home to give each space new life and a connection to the outdoors.
GARDEN AND LIVING ROOM
MDa added a series of tiered outdoor decks to connect the home to the rear garden; large sliding doors now open to the main living area. “We knew the space, while modest in size, needed to interact nicely with both the kitchen space and the garden,” says Jen, who added Lina swivel chairs from Design Within Reach (dwr.com). “We fondly call the area the conversation pit, but it’s probably the most versatile space we have. The idea with both the garden and this space was for [each] to have a very jewel-like feel— small but with refreshing details and materials, [such as] paneling and a velvet built-in, but that we let the garden be the artwork.”
The living room, which wasn’t altered drastically except raising the entry doorway’s height, features a vintage sofa, blue velvet chairs from Room & Board (roomandboard.com), a piano and a window seat, which the family and their pets adore.
The so-called conversation pit overlooks new tiered outdoor decks, further streamlining the connection to nature.
KITCHEN AND DINING ROOM
“The entire house was originally finished in raw brass, so the design team decided unfinished brass would be a nice nod to the history of the house,” says Jen. “The kitchen really shines with the island wrapped in brass and all the fixtures are starting to nicely patina.” Standout pieces in the home’s hub include a refrigerator-freezer from Sub-Zero (subzero-wolf.com), sconces and pendants from Allied Maker (alliedmaker.com) and RBW (rbw.com), bar stools from Article (article.com) and tile from Heath Ceramics (heathceramics.com).
In the home’s original floor plan, the kitchen and dining room were separate spaces. “Now, a new series of expressed headers distinguish the spaces from one another without disrupting the flow between them,” says Davis. “Each space hosts a set of glazed doors that open onto a protected and expanded deck, providing additional livable square footage on a sunny day and access to the rear garden below.” Lighting from Allied Maker offers complementary lumens to the inviting room.
The cozy primary suite features a bed from Blu Dot.
One of Jen’s favorite new spaces, the primary suite provides some of the best views in the house. The warm, enveloping room features a bed from Blu Dot (bludot.com) and bedside tables from Room & Board. “The master bath and shower are also some of my favorite spaces, as the sun streams in and plays off the colors of the Heath tiles, as well as supports our robust plant collection,” says Jen. “I [really wanted] a soaking tub, but we didn’t have quite enough space. So, the MDa team suggested combining the tub with the shower.”
HOW THE HOME IS LIVING
“We chose to work with MDa because we knew that Malcolm excelled at materials and light,” says Jen. “We also knew he worked well with our contractor, Jeff King, who we wanted to build the project. We had both of them involved from the beginning, which helped inform and streamline the process. The team did an amazing job of letting in light from all directions. Every time I walk into a room, it feels different depending on the time of day.”
A fire feature is one of the home’s many new lures.
San Francisco’s Inner
Malcolm Davis Architecture
Jeff King & Company
Sconces and pendants
Bar stools, kitchen
Bed, primary suite; mirror, bathroom
Tile, kitchen and primary-suite bathroom
Room & Board
Chairs, living room; bedside table, primary suite
Plumbing fixtures, unlacquered brass
Photography by: MATTHEW MILLMAN