This residence embodies San Francisco’s contemporary culture: modern yet enamored with the city’s rich history. The setting is Alamo Square Park, a city-owned park built in 1857 and known for its “Painted Ladies,” the row of Victorian homes captured on many postcards. The previous owner of the residence, Verta Vinson, was a founding member of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, which was established in the 1960s to preserve the park and surrounding buildings.
The current owners had lived in the neighborhood for years. While they loved Alamo Square’s historic architecture, they desired the openness and flexibility of contemporary homes. This desire informed an architectural composition that integrates two identities and provides for the coexistence of old and new.
The challenge of restoring the original 1889 façade stemmed from a lack of documentation concerning historic details. Instead the team turned to evidence uncovered after the removal of the non-historic façade, such as scarring and shadow vestiges of the original Stick style. These physical remnants, a few historic photographs, and existing original ornamentation, laid the groundwork for collaboration with craftspeople skilled in historic Victorian restoration, leading to a faithful reconstruction. Once completed, the restored façade was painted silver, hinting at the modern transformation within.
Beyond the threshold, the house’s original identity is legible in the elongated proportions of the interior spaces. A sculptural stair rising through all four floors provides a dramatic focal point while allowing natural light to flood the house from above. The form of the stair, a twisted volume, alternates wood-clad solids with light-filled voids.
Bedrooms and kitchen/living areas occupy the second and third floors, respectively, and a small garden apartment sits at ground level. The stair culminates at the roof with sweeping views that connect back to the historic city and the Bay beyond.
A muted interior palette of bleached white oak, marble and neutral colors, contrasts with the rich materiality of the fumed oak of the central stair, bringing the sculptural form into relief. Subtle yet intricate elements such as the fireplace tile and kitchen details offer a quiet nod to the more ornate façade.
Sliding mill-finished aluminum screens compose the rear façade. The motorized custom laser-cut panels provide privacy while allowing views outward. They are controlled independently at each floor according to the mood of what’s happening within.
About Jensen Architects Jensen Architects is a San Francisco-based architecture and interiors practice founded with a passion for enriching the experiences of organizations and individuals through design. Often recognized for applying unconventional thinking to realize elegant, thoughtful solutions, the firm boasts a wide-ranging portfolio of buildings and environments serving arts, education, workplace, retail, residential and public-sector clients.
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Architectural Record, Architect, and Wallpaper, among many others, have featured Jensen's work. The firm’s notable projects include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s rooftop sculpture garden; SHED, James Beard Award-winning retail and restaurant concept in Healdsburg, California; IDEO’s San Francisco and Palo Alto offices; and the adaptive re-use of an historic church for Children’s Day School in San Francisco.
Design Team and Credit Information Jensen Architects: Mark Jensen, Emily Gosack, Yusheen Yang (project leads) Keri Goodlad, Ricardo Gonzalez (project team) Structural Engineer: Holmes Structures MEP Engineers: Engineering 350 Land Surveyor: CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group, Inc. Historical Consultant: Tim Kelley Consulting Landscape Architect: Surface Design Interior Designer: Hulburd Design Lighting Controls, A/V: SoundVision Acoustical: Acoustic Arts & Engineering Photographer: Joe Fletcher
Construction Data Contractor: Dromhus General Contractors Subs and Suppliers: Skeeter Jones (historic restoration sub) Mid Peninsula Electric (electrical) ROS Plumbing (plumbing) Western States (fire protection) Emerald Steel (structural steel) Architectural Metal Services (metal fabrication) Artistic Geometry (tile) Westco Roofing (roofing) Curtis & Son (doors) United California Glass (glass) Fleetwood (aluminum windows) Mueller Nicholls (custom casework) Flynn & Enslow (perforated panels) Dickson Plastering (exterior stucco) Olivier Garnier Interior Finishes (marmarino plaster) Westwater Painting (paint) Park View Construction (concrete finishing sub) Clastic Design (architectural concrete) Acme (elevator) Johanna Grawunder (custom lighting) Forevergreen Landscape (landscape sub) Habitat Horticulture (living wall) Florasource, Ltd (green roof trays) Hayasa Flooring Design (wood floor)