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Rooms for a View

In San Francisco, a hilltop address is nothing without an unlimited vista.



THE NEW OWNER OF A SAN FRANCISCO pied-à-terre in an International-style 1960s residential tower designed by architect Hewitt C. Wells soon realized that despite her lofty location on Russian Hill, she would forfeit views if she left the interior unchanged.

Compared to her house in Marin, the 2,500-square-foot condominium seemed small. Divided into three small bedrooms, three bathrooms and discrete living spaces, the 12th-floor apartment had a couple of corner balconies and generous floor-to-ceiling perimeter windows facing views, but several poorly placed interior partitions obscured the panorama of the San Francisco Bay.

Low false ceilings compounded the cramped feeling, but luckily, “before I purchased the apartment I learned that I could raise the ceiling heights by as much as 18 inches,” the owner says. She also knew, from other remodels she had seen, that structural limitations would be the only hurdles to overcome in order to move walls.

A banking executive with an eye for detail, she trolled the internet in late 2015 looking for the right architects and discovered Garcia Tamjidi, a San Francisco firm led by architects Michael Garcia and Farid Tamjidi, who coincidentally, like her, has Iranian roots.

She and both architects share an affinity for clean, contemporary design, and their robust discussions led to a consensus: gutting the interior would be best for better perspectives and views.

With the interior stripped to its raw concrete shell, they eliminated one bedroom and one bathroom to provide a flexible dining and office space. And a balcony off the living room was enclosed and incorporated into the living area.

Now, surrounded by new walls that contain built-in storage along with concealed heating and venting systems originally housed in ceiling soffits, the apartment seems much bigger and taller. An open-plan public core is linked by a wide hallway/gallery to the master suite; a door from the dining area to the master suite’s exterior balcony also allows direct access from the suite to the entire apartment.

“I really appreciate uncluttered space with everything in its place,” the owner says admiringly. Still, efficiency notwithstanding, “we tried hard not to make the apartment too coldly modern.”

Thus, while white eggshell Benjamin Moore paint on the walls is a crisp backdrop, it contrasts with warm floors of broad-plank engineered oak from Italy, and some of the in-wall cabinetry is veneered with quarter-cut pale oak, laid with tight grain running horizontally.

“We pay attention to details. We align joints even when the materials change, and where one joint stops, the other starts,” Tamjidi says.

As a result, for example, the deliberately narrow gaps and reveals between painted and unpainted cabinet doors create a subtle rhythmic grid that looks like delicate pencil lines on paper. Interspersed between the volume shapes, here and there, are voids and niches for displaying artwork.

Because she likes to entertain friends and family at home and her husband has vineyards in Lake County, the architects also provided a kitchen that functions equally well for formal and informal wine-tasting parties.

To separate the open-plan kitchen from the living areas, the architects created a slender 17-foot-long Calacatta Borghini marble bar that doubles as a buffet table. With a core of steel, it is an engineering marvel: it seems to hover effortlessly above a lower island for the bar sink, and LED lights on the bottom accentuate the illusion of floating.

“At first I thought the bar was too dominant,” the owner admits. She was concerned it would detract from the view from the kitchen, but now that it is all in place, she has embraced the architects’ simplified design based on axial geometries and planes intended to direct the eye toward vistas. From the kitchen she can now see Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge; from the master suite there are postcard views of Alcatraz Island; from the living areas, the Golden Gate Bridge and the expansive bay.

The old windows, which were outdated and thermally inefficient, were laboriously replaced with double-pane systems without changing the visual rhythm outside. “Our doorways are also full height, and a door is not just a door or threshold. It helps to combine spaces because you pass through uninterrupted,” Tamjidi says. Nearly invisible, the doors pocket away or are blind-hinged to look like wall panels when open. With a now-larger foyer that has better sight lines in several directions, the home feels airier and more spacious inside. “By opening things up in this way, we also brought natural light into the darkest areas,” Tamjidi says.

The architects have tried hard to keep the interior architecture understated, so it frames and offsets the commanding view, but there are many subtleties to enjoy.

“Our color palette is very muted but we layer it carefully with patterns,” Garcia says. “We chose every piece of stone and made sure that veined marbles create a tracery even in the shower enclosures. The grain in wood casework also lines up, especially when it wraps around a corner. We sometimes ripped down larger pieces to align wood grain and stone veining perfectly.”

Breaking large wall expanses into three parts also creates a calming effect, the architects have found, so shower stalls and vanities in both new bathrooms are divided into three sections. And the outside view — always a canvas of changing colors — has some counterparts inside as well. Above the dining table, the color of the bay is reflected in a Venetian blownglass Flow-T chandelier from Wonderglass designed by Nao Tamura, and the leather and upholstered furniture from Dzine, Flexform and B&B Italia have the muted tertiary hues of the Marin hills.

“Rather than arbitrarily painting a wall with a color the owner might tire of, we counted on the color of the wood floors to change and darken in time,” Tamjidi says. “The furniture we selected will stand out like distinct landmarks against that, and their colors can be changed.

“Now, when you enter the living room, the view is the first wow moment,” he adds. “And then, when your eye settles, you really notice the luxurious landscape inside.”

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