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San Francisco Residence

Substance Architecture

Project Name

San Francisco Residence

Project Status



2,800 sq. feet


  • Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture
  • Stroub Construction
  • Farshid Assassi





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Project Description

2004 CHDA
Custom Renovation / Grand Award

Despite a million-dollar view, an impressive architectural pedigree, and the real estate frenzy of the dot-com boom, this San Francisco home went months begging for a buyer. It was not hard to figure out why, says architect Paul Mankins, who traveled to San Francisco when a member of his family finally stepped up to buy the house. Mankins describes the much-remodeled building he first encountered as "incredibly chopped up." Designed by Aaron Green, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, the house fell far short of historic status. “The idea of restoring it," Mankins says, "did not really come to mind." Still, Mankins detected a salvageable core of competent design in the building, which he took as the starting point for a truly inspired renovation.

Taking advantage of the expansive vista to the north, the original plan loaded main-level working spaces along the building's south side, which Mankins cleaned up with a more compact stair and kitchen. At the lower level, "much of the renovation was removing the things that were in the way of the view," says Mankins, who converted a three-bedroom train wreck into a sleek master bedroom suite with sleeping, sitting, and office spaces, each with its own piece of the view.

Stripping away layers of clashing materials that had built up during earlier renovations, Mankins applied sophisticated matte-finish materials and colors that balance the house's more dramatic gestures. The original street elevation featured a pair of wood entry doors and more than 20 slender panes of glass in a fussy, asymmetrical arrangement that distracted from the projecting roofline above. Mankins' radical simplification—a single door surrounded by large panels of frosted glass—gives the entry the sense of drama and surprise one suspects the original was reaching for. The kitchen is a stringently simple composition of flush cherry cabinets with counters and backsplashes of honed English slate. A flamed version of the same stone covers the floor in all but the bedroom areas. Casework and wood trim wear a deep coffee-color stain that contrasts with the rich yellow of the artisan plaster walls. Metal accents—railings, door hardware, and the fireplace surround—are brushed stainless steel.

Our judges were effusive in their praise. "Silk purse out of sow's ear here," allowed one. Another remarked on "the best use of color I've seen in a long time." All agreed that the project struck the right balance between change and preservation. "I think the architect did a great job of updating it without fundamentally changing it," said one judge. "They didn't doctor it too much, but they completely revolutionized the look and feel of it."
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