Lately we've been having quite the debate during Victorian Era Houzz Tours! The debate seems to concern how to adapt this sacred architecture to meet contemporary needs while keeping the spirit of the original
era alive. In many cases, details had already been wiped out during prior renovations, or the architects had preserved these details but some readers were turned off by the modern furnishings used in the spaces. It's a very interesting conversation to continue, as we see the confluence of (a) The influence of the original house structure and history (b)The needs of the clients (c) Achieving goals of energy-efficiency and reduction of construction waste, and (d) The designers' visions for how to adapt these homes in an artful and respectful way.
This Mission District post-1906 earthquake row house is a great study. The architect, Christian Dauer
, has a background in Historic Preservation and as a restoration craftsman, as well as a vast knowledge of how to re-adapt a home in an ecologically responsible and sustainable way. Here he has made the space livable and functional for the client. Special attention was given to preserving the facade and respecting the history of the home and neighborhood, addressing other additions that weren't working and adding to the space, providing good access to the outdoors literally and visually, and bringing in more natural light while providing ample privacy from homes that are only a few feet away. Furthermore, the spaces in the new addition not only utilize repurposed materials from the original site and addition, they also carry on the spirit of the Victorian era by incorporating lots of new hand-crafted elements. The home has joined the old with the new right down to its bones...and floors...and even the kitchen
Some of the pictures you'll see below feature spaces from the original house (the dining room), while others show rooms that are in the new addition (the kitchen). Without further ado, let's have architect Christian Dauer take us on the tour!What was the condition of this house when you arrived on the scene? What were the client's needs in the renovation project?
The original house was largely a period piece—its front façade and main rooms date back to its original construction following the 1906 San Francisco
earthquake/fire. Over the years it suffered from neglect, and had accrued a number of rear additions including a tiny third story garret that projected two feet past the side property line (presumably making it easier to borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbor).
While livable at a very basic level, the house really needed a full remodel and expansion in order to provide flexibility for our client's present and future needs. They tasked us with a complete yet restrained redesign: reorganizing sleeping, cooking, and work spaces, and increasing natural light, while retaining significant historical details that gave the house its distinct character. The result is a home that achieves comfort on many levels through the juxtaposition of modern and historic design elements.
The more formal living and dining rooms have been restored with targeted modern touches. The new home offices (originally two tiny dark bedrooms) are
linked via a shared skylit pass-through with sliding glass pocket doors. The kitchen and bath/laundry highlight the modern/historic dialogue as open multi-use spaces featuring vintage centerpieces. The 3rd story bedrooms and bath are consistently modern, with strategically composed windows that maintain privacy from the home’s dense exterior
urban context.Please tell us a little bit about the neighborhood and surrounding context of the property.
The immediate block is one of the most cosmopolitan thoroughfares in San Francisco’s Mission District. Residences share the sidewalk with destination restaurants, a bakery and an ice creamery with ever-present queues, and a coffee/video parlor. One of the best locally owned grocery stores in the city is
across the street, and Dolores Park is a half block away. Basically, the house is smack dab in the center of all that the neighborhood has to offer.How did you meld the original part of the house with the new additions?
This house is a product and prime example of the rapid redevelopment of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Because of this association, the Italianate
front façade has historic landmark status and was deemed “sacred”. We deferred to the original by composing the new 3rd story addition in a form that did not mimic the original, painting it a dark receding color, and setting it back 15 feet from the primary façade. These efforts are in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, and are a good example of how modern design vocabulary can support the authenticity of an expanded/restored historic structure.
The rear addition/remodel had far fewer constraints. Its northern orientation allowed for large horizontally banded windows and doors that flood the interior
with balanced natural light. The third floor addition is much more prominent at the rear, but its orientation and massing minimize shading of the rear yard. Its views are maintained by railings made from woven wire
loop fencing typically found in front of Victorian cottage gardens.How did you manage to bring so much natural light into the interior?
Natural light was a primary concern, informing all design decisions and providing creative opportunities. We replaced every window at the front, introduced 3-
1/2 huge multi-light windows at the rear, and added 5 skylights at the rooftop.
My favorite is the oculus of natural light in the dining room—a room otherwise absent of direct sources. The original plaster ceiling medallion
was long gone,
so we took advantage of its absence by creating a new centerpiece
—a spherical reflective fixture hangs by a thin cable from the top of a 13’ tall, cylindrical
skylight shaft, and reflects copious natural light throughout the space. Because of urban light pollution it even works at night.What are some of the ways you improved the home's energy efficiency and where were you able to use repurposed materials?
We made every effort possible within the budget to create an efficiently designed and sustainably constructed house. The building envelope was tightened by new double glazed windows, doors, skylights, and maximized R-value formaldehyde-free insulation, the 95% efficiency forced air furnace
and instantaneous water heater minimize natural gas consumption, and a 3.0 kW rooftop photovoltaic solar array zero’s-out the client’s annual metered electric power usage. The vast majority of wood framing from the original basement was diverted from the landfill and re-milled for use as 3rd story roof soffit cladding, as well as in the fabrication of the new custom-crafted kitchen table.I'm so impressed you were able to reuse so many materials, right down to the beautiful handmade kitchen table! Speaking of materials, I love the detail of the spindles on the railing - what inspired that?
I usually give my clients a housewarming gift that has a direct connection with the project; often it’s some sort of cool light fixture, doorknobs, etc… In this instance, I made 200 turned maple balusters for their two new stairways. I fabricated these with a hand-operated German threading jig that turns ordinary wood dowels into spiral cut, threaded rods. We painted them to highlight their shadow lines
as well as to contrast the naturally finished douglas fir rails. In series, the balusters resemble both a finely turned piece of woodwork and a raw piece of building hardware.What a wonderful way to continue the tradition of incorporating handmade wood details to this style of home. I can't think of a more perfect housewarming gift!
Let's move through the house and out the doors to the backyard. Having outdoor space in the city is such a luxury. Please tell us a bit about the various outdoor spaces your design added to the site. What was the
backyard like before?
Just outside the kitchen is the rear deck, which connects the interior to the rear yard, garden and new service areas below. The deck is actually a vestige of
the old house that was retained because of budget and zoning reasons. We upgraded it with the new wire loop railing, which is repeated around the new
third story roof area outside the master bedroom. This upper outdoor space will eventually define a lush private roof garden.Please tell us a bit about your career path and how you wound up where you are today.
My path to becoming an architect started at a fairly young age, inspired by a teacher and mentor during high school, then led me through various
opportunities in New York, New England, Denmark, Georgia and Texas, eventually landing in California in 1995. I graduated college with a BFA in
, after which I worked for two years as a restoration craftsman at the Lyndhurst Estate Museum—a property of the National Trust
for Historic Preservation. I then earned my MArch degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and worked for firms in New York, Berkeley, and San
Francisco that specialized in academic/civic facilities, commercial adaptive rehabilitation, restaurant, lighting, and custom residential design. In 1996 I
opened a commissioned furniture fabrication studio, became licensed in 2000 and immediately thereafter established ChrDAUER Architects…ten years ago.
At present the office has residential projects throughout the Bay Area, Montana, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
It was so refreshing to see how every part of your background influenced this thoughtful design, from the respect you show the neighborhood to imagining you handcrafting 200 spindles yourself. It's a great example of how to respect history, correct mistakes made during renovations of the past, fill a home with natural light, keep construction waste down with clever and beautiful repurposing and use modern methods for maximum energy efficiency.