Living in one of San Francisco's storied Victorian houses has its charms, but roominess isn't among them. For one couple, life with their two children in a historic 20-by-60-foot townhouse in the city got to be a bit too cozy.
"We needed more space, more privacy and more sunlight," says the wife, a music teacher, singer and songwriter. So she and her husband, a software engineer, headed for the hills of Marin County, just 20 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge but a world away from the crowded streets of San Francisco. The couple bought an acre of land with steeply sloping contours but dramatic views south toward Mount Tamalpais. Although they were living in Victorian surroundings, the homeowners
weren't total strangers to modernism. "Our taste had drifted toward modern over the years," says the husband. He and his wife did a thorough remodel of their former home that introduced smooth plaster and concrete floors. "That definitely whetted our appetite to work more with those kinds of materials," he says.
After a search for Bay Area architects, the homeowners hired the husband-and-wife team of Cathi and Steven House of the aptly named San Francisco firm House + House (former Met Home of the Year contest winners). They asked the architects for a home that was modern but comfortable in its rural surroundings. "We wanted the house to match the pace of the setting: laid-back but sophisticated," says the wife.
They also wanted lots of space for entertaining indoors and outdoors, a garden and a level area for the kids to play. "Although we like big rooms and open plans, we also respect privacy," the wife adds.
The couple didn't want a proper living room. "We do salon parties, where everyone gathers around the piano with cocktails, and we and the kids sing. There's always music in the house," says the wife. "We don't miss having a formal living room at all." Downstairs are the children's rooms, a guest room, a study and a playroom that opens onto another terrace and the lap pool beyond. The owners worked closely with the architects: "We hit it off really well. It was two couples around the drawing table all the time," says the wife. One of the couple's top requests was for tinted concrete floors throughout the house. Interior designer Jay Jeffers of Jeffers Design Group in San Francisco helped guide them in choosing the rich, warm beige. The architects mixed 25 different batches to get the tone just right. "With colored concrete, a drop extra can make it too green or too pink," says Cathi House. The warmly neutral concrete floors (embedded with radiant heating coils) extend throughout all the public spaces to tie the rooms together visually. Jeffers was instrumental in guiding the selection of fabrics, carpeting and draperies, as well as materials like the terra-cotta-colored Venetian plaster covering a freestanding fireplace and an acid-green back-painted-glass backsplash in the kitchen. "The clients wanted color, but not a Mondrian canvas of reds, blues and greens," says Jeffers, who managed to include nearly every color of the spectrum in his soft palette. There are large blocks of color, like the fireplace and backsplash, but the general palette is subtle: cream tones with muted blues, taupes, greens and peach.
With music such an important part of life in the house, Jeffers had to add enough sound-absorbing materials to minimize echoes and reverberations. But he didn't want to hide the walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. Where too much sunlight might cause fabrics to fade, the designer installed UV-protective blackout shades that roll out of sight. In the family room, he added linen sheers that filter sunlight.
The architects also brought in daylight from above with narrow strip skylights over the dining table, in the entry hall and the master bedroom, using skinny glazing and deep soffits. In the master bathroom, a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass surrounds one end of the tub, and a glass door leads to a private terrace. "Even in winter, you can take a bath drenched in sun," enthuses the husband. "When I walk out of there, I feel like I just came from a spa." The soothing vibe extends throughout the home. "It's such a cheerful house because of the color and light," he says. "Even on a dreary, foggy day, you don't feel like leaving."What the Pros Know
Architects Steven and Cathi House and designer Jay Jeffers have their own theories about working with bold colors. The architects suggested the clients walk around their property and collect bits of bark, moss, branches and rocks. When it came time to pick building materials, they referenced the natural samples. The tinted concrete floors were inspired by the bark of oak trees on the site; the cedar siding was the color of autumn leaves. Jeffers suggests using color in an "intelligent way. Don't paint one room in four different colors," he says. "Pick one that's continuous throughout the house-to tie different rooms together-and then bring in other shades with the patterns of fabrics and artworks." Jeffers says when considering bold colors, the brightness of a room is more important than the size. Bold colors aren't automatically off-limits in small spaces. "Sometimes I use a dark color in a room that doesn't get much light; sometimes I use bright colors. But the light is the most important thing."
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