IN A FAST-PACED DIGITAL WORLD,
disruption is a virtue. So although this 1930s house in San Francisco’s
verdant Glen Park area had been extensively remodeled in 2012, its new
owner, a 28-year-old tech entrepreneur, wanted to make further changes.
The four-story, 4,000-square-foot building on a steep up-sloping hillside
had four bedrooms, a media room, several bathrooms, a panoramic view
of the city and bay, and easy access to Silicon Valley. But its unfinished
backyard, gray stucco exterior, gray-stained oak floors, walnut casework
and hemmed-in hallways were all unremarkable.
To put his stamp on what is the very first home he has called his own,
the young owner enlisted the help of Akemi Tamaribuchi Reed, his former
hairstylist, who is now his design touchstone.
“My role is very atypical,” Reed, who heads a lifestyle consultancy firm
called Subject to Change, explains.
The backyard, only accessible via a footbridge off the fourth-floor living
spaces, was a priority, so, in 2013, Reed got landscape designers John and
Danielle Steuernagel of the San Francisco firm Sculpt to work on it. Then
came architect Cass Calder Smith, whose New York/San Francisco–based
firm CCS Architecture was hired to rethink the flooring and the staircase,
which rises in a straight line between the foyer and the third floor before it
switches back to go up to the fourth floor. Before long, the project scope
grew to include the interiors and the facade.
Working alongside each other, both teams dovetailed their design expertise to craft a seamless indoor/outdoor living space.
John Steuernagel, who grew up in New Jersey with a father in the
flower nursery business, started Sculpt in 2003. Many unique gardens
ensued, including one for a blind man, but access-wise, none as challenging as the one in Glen Park.
The Sculpt team easily added a koi pond and a heated Helios bench
by Galanter & Jones in an existing open-to-sky grotto with a waterfall
fountain off a rear guest room on the third floor.
The rest of the 100-foot-deep tiered yard, previously shored up by
stacked rubble, took nearly two years to redo with new concrete retaining
walls and terraces. Now, the footbridge leads to a dining patio with a fire
pit and an outdoor kitchen; farther uphill are a sunken stainless steel hot
tub and an outdoor shower, an artificial lawn with lounge chairs and
bleachers and, at the very top, a plinth for an observation shed.
CCS, led by project architect Bjorn Steudte, later transformed the shed
into a sculptural 10-by-10-foot mirrored cube, with a cylindrical interior
that contains an oculus inspired by artist James Turrell’s Skyspaces.
Midway up the garden, an old apple tree was heavily pruned and saved,
and plantings such as palms, leafy tropical philodendrons, Colocasia “
elephant ears” and creeping leucadendron ground cover were added. At the
very top, a green wall with Soleirolia soleirolii, or baby’s tears, combined
with dwarf geraniums came from Flora Grubb nursery.
“The owner loves bright colors and pop art and we wanted something
cartoony, young and fun outside as well,” Danielle Steuernagel, who used
to be an event planner, says.
Inside the house, “My client was still trying to define his style,” Reed
adds. However, as an MIT dropout who came to the Bay Area to start a
tech company, he is partial to modernism and rejected the house’s decorative hardware and other flourishes.