For this intimately-scaled Noe Valley Craftsman, desirable for its south-facing backyard and proximity to schools, San Francisco-based Edmonds + Lee Architects took inspiration from their English client's affinity for a London-style renovation, where the street-facing facade remains virtually untouched while the back is transformed into an open and contemporary space.
The existing house was a simple two-story bungalow with a stair that connected the first and second floors and a basement whose only access point was the street. Originally, ELA partner Robert Edmonds was commissioned for a modest kitchen expansion. Over time, the project evolved into a more comprehensive renovation: a newly-finished and expanded basement, stairs between the basement and the main floor that allow for a more convivial experience than having to go out onto the street at night, and an extruded back facade that infuses the project with Edmonds’s critically-acclaimed modernist approach and brings massive amounts of light into the home.
The clients wanted to keep much of the original detailing, so the house’s character, experienced from the front to the back, seems to travel through time. Edmonds painted the front facade black, returned the front door to its original honeyed wood tone, and left much of the first rooms of the interior untouched with the exception of a new flooring of wide oak planks and a fresh coat of paint. Built-ins from the home’s original construction add a layer of texture to the living room and original dining room, while Edmonds’s interventions—a clear and open kitchen; a chunky staircase that leads to the renovated basement; and a sleek exterior elevation—slide seamlessly into the space.
Light floods the basement through large windows that draw in the sun through a constructed well scooped out of the existing backyard and framed by a concrete retaining wall and a carefully-considered fence. Concrete floors bring a spare warmth to and anchor the space, which was easily annexed without the architects needing to go through San Francisco’s infamous permitting scenarios. Upstairs, Edmonds extended the house back far enough to be able to add a new owners’ suite, which brought the total number of in-house bedrooms up to three (one for each child and one for the parents).
The kitchen is the soul of the house — the clients are enthusiastic cooks and party hosts, partially thanks to the wife’s professional experience at Williams-Sonoma — and opens up to the outdoors, which was a central part of the original (and final) brief. From the backyard, the house looks remarkably different than its cozy scale from the street. Here, Edmonds has playfully streamlined of different types of rhythmic tactility: on the façade, a wide horizontal band of glass strikes through thin vertical slats of wood that will age with the sun, and, underfoot, sturdy wood planks ease the transition from inside to outside by creating a shallow deck.
Less precious than much of the firm’s work, which has been lauded for its exquisite attention to light and space, this project draws a comparison from Edmonds to a just-broken-in pair of jeans. In contrast to some of their other projects’ clear formality, this project—while not messy—lets you kick up your feet.