Challenged with taking a five story spec home and infusing a feel of elegance and the charm of a classic San Francisco Victorian, Envelope worked closely with the talented interior design team at the Office of Charles de Lisle to create a family home and sanctuary with the dual purpose of hosting events at a variety of scales.
Claire Bigbie first learned about envelope a+d while dining with a friend at Delfina Pizzeria, a restaurant project of ours, which had just opened in San Francisco. She called us later that day and asked us to design her house. Claire, then a photo stylist for ReadyMade magazine, had moved to San Francisco a year earlier after working as a design assistant for Precious McBaine, the hip London interiors firm. But Claire has been attuned with design as far back as she can remember.
Growing up, Claire moved often, from Seattle to Los Angeles to Paris and back to Seattle. She remembers ritually reconfiguring the decor of her various bedrooms and finding a strong affinity to the objects in her life as they were the things that remained constant to her. As a teenager back in Seattle, she created her own skateboard clothing line and learned graphic design working in Jeff Kleinsmith's (Sub Pop Records) screen printing studio, eventually designing for Seattle’s Tooth+Nail records, all before enrolling at RISD where she earned a degree in industrial design.
Claire and her partner Jay Shapiro are both skateboard fanatics and are also engaged in rock music culture and high design worlds. Jay, an amateur skateboard photographer and former team manager for Think Skateboards, is a bassist for Space Vacation, a local heavy metal band.
In 2005, Claire and Jay purchased a tattered Victorian duplex— two stacked flats with a typical series of dark, cellular rooms—in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. The renovation design conceives of the home as two distinct worlds sculpted to fit their uses: a surprisingly eclectic upstairs flat for living and a more matter-of-fact rendering for Claire’s lower level creative studio. In both flats, the first move was to erase the warren of partitions in the back third of the house, creating stacked live and work spaces that take advantage of the light and openness of the interior of the residential block.
Upstairs, the newly opened space developed into kitchen/living/dining space. The floor and the ceiling were pared back to its rough surfaces, exposing the gabled roof volume with its rough-sawn collar ties and raw redwood wood boards of the underside of the roof. The original douglas fir subfloor was extensively patched and left raw. The kitchen was designed with only lower cabinetry to allow spatial continuity between the shared functions of the room. The cabinets’ hemlock veneer lowers and a large central island with a reclaimed black walnut top define the working space of the kitchen. A single long shelf cantilevers from the new window wall, replacing what typically would have been solid upper cabinets, creating an ideal display shelf for Claire’s collection of Dutch and American designer glassware and porcelain. A dining nook—articulated as a wood box clipped onto the larger gabled living space—has hemlock veneer plywood walls that warp into a comfortable bench extending across the back wall. At the other end of the room, an informal sitting area, with its lower center of gravity, is inflected in plan to allow for casual TV viewing. A tapered wall of white cabinetry draws the line of the entry / hallway wainscoting into the room, collecting the flat screen TV and housing both pantry and media. Above the line of the high gloss wainscot, Erica Wakerly reflective wallpaper extends the light at the back of the house all the way to the front door.
The bathroom disorients as it throws you to the bottom of a swimming pool. The room recreates one of Claire and Jay’s favorite feelings: dropping in and out of an emptied pool on skateboards. A Bisazza mosaic tile wall wraps to the floor while a white plaster warped ceiling surface is used as a towering reflecting plane. Plumbing fixtures plainly mount on the sinuous wall of gray shower stucco. Concrete pool coping creates a deep shelf for shower potions.
The master bedroom inhabits the former front sitting room, where a defunct fireplace is re-imagined in light cyan, crating a bright focus for the room. The adjacent dressing room is remade with geometric Cole & Son wallpaper by Tom Dixon. A snow-globe collection lives in a recessed case, locked behind glass like precious high school football trophy.
Claire’s studio is rendered plainly, but chromatically. Orange laminate cabinetry, pink powder-coated off-the-shelf shelf brackets, a deep purple ceiling and blood-red bathroom emerged from a color palate that Claire has given us within the first week of working. Worthwood end-grain plywood flooring extends through the space, lending a raw studio feel. An aluminum and glass garage door opens up the back sitting area to a rear deck and the Palm Springs-inspired garden design by Flora Grubb.
Single Family Home
At first glance, a run-down Victorian seemed like an unlikely home for the founder of John McNeil Studio and his family.
Set along Octavia Boulevard, lots M+N are among the most challenging of the 22 development parcels created when the Central Freeway was removed. The 120-foot-wide parcels are just 18 feet deep, defying typical housing configurations.
Designed for a contractor and his wife, who were living in a San Francisco loft but wanted to move to the Silicon Valley to be closer to their work, this house takes on the spatial and material qualities of the urban loft and exports them to the suburbs.
The generating idea for the house is the Japanese garden design strategy of shakkei, or borrowed landscape. The section and siting of the building work together to screen the suburban “middle ground,” pulling the distant views of the Santa Cruz Mountains into the fore. With this strategy, the distant landscape becomes the fourth wall of the primary living and sleeping spaces, blending domesticity with an ever-changing sense of nature. The interior space extends into the landscape through a wall of garage door bays that completely open the loft-like living space to the garden. By placing the hearth in the garden, the living space is re-centered within the garden itself.
The Los Altos House, urban in language and sensibility, both exists in a suburban context and actively erases this context by replacing the inhabitants’ glimpses of suburbia with views of the natural landscape. The created and borrowed garden provides a new context for the house: a simulated Arcadia situated in an American middle landscape.
San Luis Road Residence
Single Family home
A house for a structural engineer and his family in the Berkeley hills, the project expresses structural elegance in the cantilever of the new top floor master bedroom. The design seeks to open the spatial relationships to the surrounding site: to an entry courtyard at the front, to a garden at the base and the kitchen and to the expansive bay view at the back.
Washington Street Residence
San Francisco, CA
This home for an art collecting family was shaped by two primary design parameters: make no visible alterations to the house’s traditional front facade while transforming the interior into a modern open living space that integrates the client’s extensive collection of contemporary art. Within this home, a critical density of contemporary art makes one question the normal "stuff" of houses - switches, walls, doors, sinks. The design seeks to create a heightened level of engagement by blurring the line between normal living and art experience.
The main living floor retains all of the original uses, but opens up the physical relationships between the rooms. Living, dining and entry at the front interlink with family, kitchen and informal dining at the back. The front suite of rooms are rendered more purely, with the normal house tectonics - windows, doors, light switches, outlets - concealed or obscured. The rear suite is completely open to one another while retaining some more recognizable elements of home.
The east edge of the main level is a series of art chambers running from front to back: stair hall, powder room and library. The existing curvilinear stair hall was reinterpreted from a figural void to a spiral object by opening up the cubic volume of the stair hall and enhancing the sinuous surface of the guardrail wall. The powder room is open to the hallway, providing view to a small exterior light court with a wall-mounted Robert Gober drain. The library is a rendered as a large vitrine, itself a microcosm of the vitrine of the house. Upstairs the master bath and changing area merge into a single room in which differing material expressions define the room’s dry and wet zones or functions.
The living spaces of the house are predominately white to support of the display of art, while storage spaces are rendered in varied and intense hues that express storage as a series of intensive events scattered throughout the house. The design of the house involved a simultaneous discussion of the curation of the house with the client, including how, where, and what pieces of art would be displayed. The project also involved working with Robert Gober (drain), Lawrence Weiner (text), Felix Schramm (deconstructed wall) , Mungo Thompson (celestial ceiling photomural) and Roy McMakin (trapped cabinet) on the coordination of artworks that were embedded within the architecture.
Pacific Avenue Flat
San Francisco, CA
In response to the often foggy, windy microclimate of the Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco, we designed an interior courtyard space at the center of this new penthouse addition. This space links the family room, view deck, playroom, tree deck and a guest bedroom suite by creating an interwoven matrix of interior and exterior spaces. This matrix of spaces blurs the distinction between inside and out and provides the surprise of sky, trees, wind, water and light to the previously closed, cellular flat. The primary mediator of these interior and exterior spaces is a mahogany wall, which weaves in, out and around the major spaces of the home. This serpentine wall transforms its character to meet the functional and spatial qualities of the particular room it serves: a horizontal wood lattice encloses the exterior tree deck, unfolding to become the interior courtyard wall; sliding door panels provide passage through the wall to exterior decks and to private rooms.
Crane Court Residence
Single Family Home
The Crane Court Residence began with a puzzle: how to resolve our client’s desire to have an inward-facing private courtyard house with the fact of a significantly sloping site with compelling outward facing views. The project solves the puzzle with a transformation of the courtyard house type, stepped to conform to the sloping site and with vertical surfaces opened to engage the interior living spaces with the experience of site. The result is a house that steps gracefully down the hillside with bedroom wings tucked under the primary living areas. The top surface of the lower bedroom volume creates an elevated rooftop terrace, protected on two sides and focused towards a distant view of the valley. The space of the living room focuses on a view of meadow on a prominent ridgeline, while the dining room and entry sequence nestles into the sheltered intimate undercanopy of a grove of existing Live Oaks.
Designed for a glazier and his family, the house is designed with maximum transparency to the near and distant views of the site. The solid components of the envelope are either cast-in-place concrete, as it rises from the ground, or a wood veneered phenolic rainscreen, which define the primary volumes of the building. The roof, gutters and eave edges are formed copper sheeting. The siting of the house was done to nestle the house into clusters of existing trees. The landscape design preferences the native California hillscape of Live Oaks and tall grasses.