A Modern Italian Palazzo in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights Designed for Indoor-Outdoor Living

When architect Geddes Ulinskas first set foot on a double-wide lot in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco with developer Troon Pacific, it wasn’t hard for him to see the potential to build a spectacular home on the site. Lots of this size are unusual in San Francisco — not to mention the property boasts sweeping views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Palace of Fine Arts. “The standard lot within San Francisco is 25 feet, and this one is over 50 feet wide and very deep, so there was an opportunity to do a lot more than a typical urban site in San Francisco allows,” says Ulinskas, who founded his namesake firm in San Francisco in 2005 and is known for designing artfully driven, high-end homes that marry modern and classical architecture.

Golden Gate Bridge View
The roof deck, accessed through a motorized skylight, features views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts and the bay. Photo by Jacob Elliot.

Ulinskas’ task: Design a luxuriously appointed modern residence built for indoor-outdoor living that would make maximum use of both the site and the views. Three years after breaking ground, the visually stunning, 12,000 square-foot “modern Italian palazzo,” as Ulinskas describes the home, was complete, and is now owned by a financial fund manager and his family. Spread over three floors, the home boasts six bedrooms (all ensuite), seven full bathrooms and two half bathrooms, along with a three-car garage, catering kitchen adjacent to the full kitchen, private movie theater, wine room, gym, 72-foot lap pool, built-in stainless-steel spa, and a wellness spa with a glass-enclosed sauna and steam shower. Shades of Green Landscape Architecture in Sausalito ensured the home’s exterior spaces were as inviting as the interior.

Cow Hollow home
The dining and sitting area feature floor-to-ceiling pocketed sliding glass doors that open to the home’s south-facing entry garden. Photo by Jacob Elliot.

From the moment visitors approach the entrance through a beautifully landscaped garden, it’s evident that this home is designed to impress. Bronze-clad windows and massive 20-foot motorized doors make a dramatic statement, while floorto- ceiling pocketed sliding glass doors in the interior sitting area and dining room open to the garden. “In San Francisco, sunny, south-facing outdoor space is a rarity,” Ulinskas says. “It was a wonderful opportunity to open the house completely to the entry court to create an indoor-outdoor feeling that’s like an oasis.”

Luxurious Interior
On the lower level, the family room opens to a private outdoor seating area. Photo by Jacob Elliot.

Fortunately, creating this coveted outdoor space didn’t require sacrificing square footage. “We were able to maximize the square footage below the main level to maintain outdoor space,” Ulinskas explains. “As you’re walking in through the exterior courtyard, you’re actually walking over things like a home theater, au pair suite, art storage and a wine cellar.”

Inside the front doors, the double-height entry area is punctuated by finishes with contrasting textures: a rough, weighty split-faced limestone wall; smooth Texas limestone flooring; the dark, mirrored surface of a reflecting pool; and the centerpiece, a two-story steel-and-glass stairwell. Crafted by Oakland-based artist John Lewis, the staircase features treads made by pouring molten glass into 4-inch-thick molds and slowly cooling them over several months. At the back of the entry area, a wall of windows showcases the views. The entry space flows into the dining and sitting areas that open to the entry courtyard, as well as the living room, which likewise features floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that fully open to a terrace overlooking the backyard and swimming pool.

Indoor Home View
The living room opens up to a terrace overlooking the backyard, pool and bay. Photo by Jacob Elliot.

At the top of the staircase, a 14-foot motorized skylight opens to reveal access to the roof deck, which is outfitted with built-in seating and a stone-crafted fire table to enjoy the panoramic views of the city, bay and beyond. Descending the stairwell through a cut in the floor to the home’s lower level is an equally transformative experience, Ulinskas explains. “There’s a philosophy in architecture that’s all about compression, or the experience you have when you transition through smaller openings,” he says. “Then, when you go out into a larger space you get this feeling of expansion. That’s how you feel when you go down these stairs to the lower-level family room and you see the outdoors again. It’s almost like walking into a Richard Serra sculpture.”

Contrasting the bronze used on the exterior of the home, the entry doors and windows feature a split finish, with wood used on the inside for a warm, less formal feeling. “The bronze finishes on the exterior of the house are also meant to be like the jewelry, the thing that catches your attention,” Ulinskas says. “Inside, we used more neutral finishes so that a collector’s art would sparkle and not have to compete with the architecture.”

Steel Glass Stairway
To make the treads for the home’s two-story steel-and-glass stairwell, Oakland-based artist John Lewis poured molten glass into 4-inch-thick molds and cooled them slowly over several months. Photo by Jacob Elliot.

In the home’s private spaces, clerestory windows along the top of the walls flood the rooms with light while shielding the occupants from view — a necessity in urban environments like San Francisco. “This is a house where you can feel completely connected to the outdoors, but you don’t need to have the shades drawn all the time,” Ulinskas says. “The whole vocabulary of the house is to bring in as much as light as possible and make it feel connected to its surroundings and the bay but still maintain a sense of privacy.”

Lotus Abrams

Lotus Abrams has covered everything from beauty to business to tech in her editorial career, but it might be writing about her native Bay Area that inspires her most. She lives with her husband and two daughters in the San Francisco Peninsula, where they enjoy spending time outdoors at the area’s many open spaces protected and preserved by her favorite local nonprofit, the Peninsula Open Space Trust.