Danny Bernadini - Upscale Construction

Building Upscale

Working with some of the best architects in the world, spending time creatively solving problems for clients and building a home from the ground up are just a few of the things that make a day at the office so fulfilling for Danny Bernardini of Upscale Construction.  As a native San Franciscan, Bernardini has been hooked on building since he was a child.  To this day, we see the child inside of him is still very much alive with his infectious curiosity, good will and an inherent ability to keep the creative process of home building a win-win process for all involved.  CaenLucier had a moment to catch up with Danny between appointments at a favorite watering hole near his Union Street offices.

 Danny Bernadini, Tony Kelley & Brad Hayes

Danny Bernadini, Tony Kelley & Brad Hayes

CaenLucier: What was it that led you to becoming a general contractor in San Francisco?  How and when was Upscale Construction formed?

Danny Bernardini: I loved building as a child.  When my father hired a contractor to do any work around the house, I sat there and looked and tried to help anywhere I could.  As I grew older, I wanted to get into development, so I worked for a general contractor in Marin, then got my license and started Upscale Construction in 1995.  I saved enough money to start doing some home flipping, but then got my first break on high end home remodeling via a VC who saw one of the homes I flipped.  Soon after that, the word got out and Upscale Construction grew to where we are today based on client/architect/ real estate agent references.

CL: The city is a competitive market for high-end building firms.  What sets Upscale apart for the competition?

DB: I truly believe our core values set us apart.  We try to instill in our team what got us to where we are today, which is a company based on mutual respect, creativity, and customer service.

Mutual Respect – Treat all members on the project team, whether it is the laborer, sub-contractor, project manager, client, or architect with the mutual respect you would want.  You want everyone on site and involved in the project to have a positive attitude towards working in the client's best interest.  If everyone is well respected, you will get that positive attitude reflected in their work.

Creativity – Custom building comes with challenges behind every door.  We found that our creativity to problem solving was one of the reasons many of our clients liked working with us.  We empower our team to think out of the box to solve problems and to be proactive in doing so.  No idea is a dumb one.

Customer Service – The design/build industry is based on customer service.  After all, we are building the homes people quite often live in for the balance of their lives.  Without customer service, you can’t gain a complete understanding of what the client wants out of their home.  If you don’t understand that facet, how can you really build their dream home?

CL: What is your favorite part of the design/build process?

DB: I personally love seeing what gets accomplished on the site.  When I was a laborer/carpenter, and even now, I found myself losing what we call “valuable time” at the end of the day walking through the job site looking at what got accomplished.  There is nothing better than knowing you built something from scratch! This is why I don’t see this time as time lost.  I actually value this time.  On that note, I miss swinging the hammer, so I do a lot of that at my own home.  I am enjoying teaching my son to do so!

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CL: What are the challenges that are presented when working with an existing home in town?

DB: One of the bigger challenges is trying to keep the neighbors happy.  Let’s face it, there is construction occurring on every other house these days.  The neighbors are constantly faced with double parked cars, noise, debris, etc. We try to make it as easy as possible on the neighborhood and we try to set up a relationship with the neighbors so they know they can come to us with any issues.  We have heard some people say "at least Upscale Construction will be the builder."  If a neighbor has to deal with a job site, most feel at ease knowing it is us managing the construction.

Another big challenge is communication.  I feel we are great builders, but to be honest, I think there are a ton of great builders.  I believe our communication style reduces the challenge of the actual build out for the clients and architects we work with.

CL: Are there any particular architects that your enjoy working with?

DB: We are really blessed in San Francisco to have some of the best architects in the world!  I enjoy working most with architects that are good collaborators and involve us in the early budgeting phase. Just take a look at our signs around town and you will see many of the talented architects with whom we work.

CL: With San Francisco as a tech hub, what new technology has come into play in your profession?

DB: Home automation is more and more prevalent in the homes we are building.  Savant home control systems seem to be one of the more popular choices out there.  Also, 90% of the homes are installing radiant heat throughout.  The day of the forced air systems seems to be going away. 

CL: What would your dream project look like?

DB: Something with a Bat Cave, unlimited budget, unlimited schedule, pleasant neighbors, and at a site with unlimited parking...wouldn’t that be nice!  We recently completed a Mid-Century home in Sea Cliff where the design was true to the original design, but modernized for how peole live today.  The client happened to be the architect.  For him to build his dream home in the vernacular I most enjoy was a treat!!

CL: How would you advise people looking to do a large scale renovation or “ground up” project to best interview builders?

DB: Interview your general contractors to best understand how they work.  Be collaborative with them and the design team to achieve your budget.  Share your budget.  Share your goals.   If you can find the team that is your advocate (team being the right architect, engineers, and general contractor) then you have made a great start.  I would not put several general contractors up against each other. There is a fallacy that people think they will get the best price by doing this.  The problem there is you have too many sub contractors bidding on the project and the sub selection might be based on price only versus right fit.  The subs will also only give so much effort to bidding it and they will miss scope.  They have little motivation to bid it if they know they have little odds of getting the job.  I could go on and on, but it is key to find the team members you truly believe have got your back, then make sure they are capable of the build, capable of managing the build, and capable of open, effective communication and transparency.

"Find the team members you truly believe have got your back, then make sure they are capable of the build, capable of managing the build, and capable of open, effective communication and transparency."

CL: What are the common mistakes that clients make during the construction part of a new home?

DB: They change their minds too much!! I am not sure about the exact psychology behind it all, but it seems a lot of client’s want something but hold back until construction starts to add it.  For example, we do a lot of pre-construction analysis with clients and commonly the "off the cuff" cost is too high.  So we then work with the design team and client to cut the cost to something they are happy with.  Then we start...mid-stream they add most of the items we discussed (and cut) back into the project.  The big problem then becomes the changes cost more than originally budgeted.  There is a sequence we try to keep in construction.  Disrupting it costs time and time is money.   I understand there are many variables in making decisions, but if a client knows for sure that they are going to do something tell us early so we can do it for the best price and in the proper sequence.

CL: What architectural style do you most gravitate towards?

DB: Contemporary and Mid-Century Modern.

CL: What would you do if not building San Francisco’s finest residences?

DB: I would sell produce.  It was my first job on Union Street as a kid and I loved it!

CL: What is your favorite SF restaurant?

DB: Tony’s Pizza in North Beach.  I grew up hanging out in North Beach and I love pizza!!

CL: What do you like to do in your time off? 

DB: I enjoy working on construction projects around my house, golf (which I never have time to do), and tennis with my family.  Most of all, I love spending time with my wife and kids.  I am a workaholic so the time I do spend with them is precious.

 Healdsburg Dreaming

Healdsburg Dreaming

 Vallejo Street Chic

Vallejo Street Chic

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CaenLucier would like to thank Danny Bernardini for his time with LOFTY HEIGHTS!

Visit Upscale Construction

Gary Hutton: Gary Hutton Design

La Dolce Vita

By Joseph Lucier

Gary Hutton's atelier along the bustle of Polk Street is an oasis of filtered light and elegant balance emitting an aura of omnipotent stability rooted in decades of experience and creative talent.  As a self described "elder of design," Gary offers clients a creative experience distilled from a time when interiors were assembled with artistic craft and measured patience.  In addition, Gary Hutton Design produces furnishings that whisper luxury through a marriage of design prowess and partnerships with master fabricators and craftspeople. Most of all though, it is Gary's affable personality and enthusiasm for the journey that gives his clientele the courage to leap into the unknown with him to create uniquely individual residences, always with yearning for la dolce vita.  

  Gary Hutton

Gary Hutton

CaenLucier: How does the city of San Francisco influence and inspire you?

Gary Hutton: Having grown up only an hour south of the city, San Francisco was always accessible and part of my family’s regular outings.  So, the City was always part of my consciousness.  What struck me most when I actually moved here in 1973 was the openness and acceptance of all sorts of crazy lives and points of view.  The freedom to be one’s authentic self is an inspiration every day.

CL: Describe the lasting impact of studying under Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arnison, and Bill Wiley during your undergraduate years at UC Davis?

GH: The faculty at UC Davis instilled in me an intellectual curiosity that stays with me to this day. Each of these artists strove in their own way to find a new or better avenue to do the things they did.  Parameters were to be questioned and re-evaluated, sometimes kept, and sometimes thrown out.  These incredible artists taught me to always look deeper.

CL: How have your professional relationships helped your career?

GH: In design school one day a professor said, “Look around the room. The people here will be the most important assets in your career”.  While that didn’t exactly turn out to be true, the general principle is such. It is most true that the job of an interior designer cannot be accomplished alone.  There are so many moving parts, from the realtor to the builder to the curtain maker.  Each and every one is vital in making a project a success.  It is also paramount to let these professionals do their jobs, as they usually know more about their part than you!

CL: What has changed and what has stayed the same over your time as a designer?

GH: In the many long years that I’ve been in this industry, from sample boy at Scalamandre while in school to my current status as one of the elders of Design in San Francisco, I have witnessed interior design go from an artistic craft-based business to one of corporate conglomerates facilitating a very real commoditization of thought. One only needs to take a cursory look to see that there is a very real lack of individuality.  These large conglomerates are selling a “look” and the public is thoughtlessly eating it up.  What remains the same is the dedication of real design professionals who look beyond the online trends and do great work regardless of style.

CL: What advice would you offer the new crop of designers in San Francisco?

GH: Step away from the computer! There is no program or VR in the world that will give you the sensation of sitting on a down filled, mohair velvet covered sofa.  Nor is there a monitor in the world that can convey the exquisite luster of a bi-colored silk taffeta.  The computer can be a useful tool, but it cannot deliver a sensual experience.  If our interiors do not produce a sensual experience, we have failed.  And remember that information is NOT knowledge.  Experience creates knowledge.  Get out into the world and learn.

CL: What makes your satisfied with a project? How do you measure your success?

GH: Design is problem solving, unlike art which is self-expression.  This nugget of truth was beaten into us as students at CCA. It is my yardstick to measure success and satisfaction.  If the myriads of problems that make up a project are resolved then I can take some satisfaction in that.  Of course, a happy client at the end is very important, but invariably if the problems are solved the client IS happy.  Sometimes the problem is perfecting the furniture plan to work with the client’s particular situation.  Sometimes the problem is divining what the client really wants versus what they ask for. When one “gets it right” that is success.  That is what motivates me every day.

CL: Talk about the importance of your relationships with the fabricators that create your furniture designs?

GH: In some ways being an interior designer is like being Jeff Koons.  There is a conceptual whole that must be made real by a team that understands the nuance that differentiates this design from someone else’s. Designers, like Mr. Koons, seldom, if ever, actually do the physical work.  I have been blessed to have developed a group of superior craftsmen and women who share that passion.  To make something as minimal as my “A” Series tables requires craftsmanship that is extraordinary.  I do believe that there is a Zen energy that lives in pieces that people have put their heart and soul into.  This quiet energy of near perfection is what we strive for in every piece.  It does take a village.

  Gary Hutton Custom Creations

Gary Hutton Custom Creations

CL: Your four decade relationship with art collector Chara Schreyer culminated in the 2016 publication, ART HOUSE. What benefits have you enjoyed during these years of patronage? What has this collaboration taught you?

GH: How does one even begin to broach the subject of a 40 year collaboration?  In a very real sense, we grew up together.  Chara had not yet begun collecting in a serious way and I was just starting out on my own.  We did many projects outside of those in the book.  We explored together developing a mutual trust and a love of material invention. Most of the time it worked.  Of course there were failures, but that trust never wavered.  Understand please, that we didn’t always agree about specifics and to this day sometimes still don't, but we always agreed on the concept and what the final goals were. Chara has taught me that there is real value in trust as well as beauty.

  Gary Hutton & Chara Schreyer

Gary Hutton & Chara Schreyer

ART HOUSE by Assouline


CL:  Favorite weekend getaway?

GH: Going to my boyfriend’s house in Vallejo

CL: Favorite restaurants? Locally, nationally, globally.

GH: We are so lucky here in the Bay Area.  We have choices that are the envy of the world, but I always go back to Zuni.  I have been going there since the early 80’s when the kitchen was a Webber grill out in the alley behind the restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of eating at Upland in NYC.  Wonderful food, beautiful place, and lively crowd.  One felt immersed in New York City energy! In LA, I always go to Luques. It is exquisite food without being precious.  I HATE tweezer food.  It is a low-key environment that was actually one of Barbara Barry’s first restaurant interiors. In Paris, I love the newly re-done café at the Ritz.  That room is my ideal of what Elegant French is all about and the food is good too!

CL: What are you reading?

GH: I am currently reading or have just finished four books that I am mad about!

Stoned, Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. This is a gorgeous read.  The language is beautiful and it opens the door to a new view of world history.  This is my second time reading it and it is even better than the first!

The Art Instinct Beauty Pleasure and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. Not exactly an easy read, but this book has changed the way I see the world and the aesthetic choices that we make every day.

The Gourmand’s Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy by Justin Spring. Wildly interesting read about the overlap of Americans in Paris after WWll.  Some are familiar (Childs, MFK Fisher, Toklas, Olney) and some are not (Liebling and Lichine), but all with a major impact on American food today.  Fun read with tons of information.

Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. I admit that I bought it because an artist I admire, John Register, did the cover art, and Martin Muller of Modernism Gallery gifted me with a signed print of it many years ago.  You can see it at Bix too!  A classic down and dirty story of the underbelly of LA told as only Bukowski could.  Keep it away from the kids!

CL: Secret guilty pleasure?

GH: Eating chocolate bars with almonds and sea salt while binge watching the Canadian PBS show “How it's Made.”

VISIT GARY HUTTON DESIGN

Thank you Gary for your work on this feature.

Buying a Home With an LLC: A Primer

In a world where social media is driven by tweets, likes, posts and shares, privacy is an especially valuable commodity.

To that end, many home buyers and real-estate investors form limited-liability companies with cryptic names when purchasing property. This appeals to the publicity shy, but LLCs also help homeowners avoid scams, identity theft and frivolous lawsuits.

LLCs have long been popular. In Florida, for example, two-thirds (66.6%) of all new business entities formed in 2017 were domestic LLCs, according to the Florida Department of State. But because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in effect since Jan. 1, provides favorable tax treatment to so-called pass-through business entities such as partnerships, S corporations and LLCs, the use of LLCs is expected to explode.

Investors like Scott Wood use LLCs to take title to their real-estate holdings. Mr. Wood, an employee-benefits consultant from Scottsdale, Ariz., sold an insurance business in 2006 for “eight figures” and invested the proceeds in commercial and residential real estate. Each property was purchased in the name of a separate LLC he set up for that purpose.

“My main objective was to be able to safely invest funds and have my assets protected,” he says. “Real estate comes with various unknown risks, and I didn’t want to do it in my own name so people were able to monitor and track what I was investing in. An LLC is simple, easy, inexpensive and protective.”

LLCs are relatively easy to set up, but specific requirements vary by state.

In Delaware, for example—a state popular for business formations of all types—the state Division of Corporations offers a downloadable form that asks the name of the LLC, as well as the name and address of a registered agent in Delaware. The document needs to be signed and filed, and a $90 fee paid. A Delaware LLC must pay annual taxes in the amount of $300.

Although Delaware is among the states that maintain the confidentiality of an LLC’s members, other states require disclosure. In those states, even if a property is purchased under an LLC, it may be possible to discover the names of the true owners of the property.

But while the majority of LLC owners are law-abiding citizens, LLCs can also provide anonymity to embezzlers, drug traffickers, money launderers, tax evaders, those seeking to skirt campaign-finance laws and others who wish to hide or obscure illicit funds.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from New York City, is drafting legislation that wouldn’t necessarily curb the use of LLCs, but would require that LLCs organized or authorized to do business in New York publicly disclose a list of their beneficial owners.

“In New York, we have very archaic laws around LLCs, which is a great concern,” he says. “In many cases, tenants don’t know who their landlord is. On a larger level, New Yorkers don’t know who is behind many, if not most, of these LLCs—and unlike other corporate entities, even the New York Department of State does not know.”

But some investors say that increased disclosure requirements would have a chilling effect on their use of LLCs. “I would probably do a lot less investing in real estate if I couldn’t have the title held in an LLC,” Mr. Wood says.

Paul M. Fann, a Scottsdale-based accountant who regularly works with real-estate investors to set up LLCs, is concerned that efforts to crack down on LLCs and require disclosure of owners would be bad for business.

“It makes for great public discourse, but it makes no sense for economics and for investing,” he says. “There are fabulous reasons to use an LLC, and states that want our business will not want to alienate investors by requiring openness and more disclosure.”

Originally Published March 7, 2018 in Wall Street Journal

George Brazil & Cecilia Sagrera - SagreraBrazil

Expansive Purpose and Joy

By Joseph Lucier

After years of working with the city's most respected names in interior design, both independently and as collaborators, Cecilia Sagrera-Hill and George Brazil decidedly founded their eponymous firm, SagreraBrazil Design.  Their sumptuous touch is distinct and graces the urbane corners of San Francisco's luxury residential neighborhoods.  From work in Nob Hill's venerable Park Lane apartments to the stately residences that dot the sloping hills of Pacific Heights, this duos eye for color and hand for au courant materials offers their fortunate clientele designs that inspire life's expansive purpose and joy.

 George Brazil & Cecilia Sagrera

George Brazil & Cecilia Sagrera

CaenLucier: How did your career paths lead you to creating the SagreraBrazil Design partnership?

George Brazil: We both come from a similar background of culinary arts. Cecilia was studying with the plan to work with her parents in their catering and events business. I was studying to become a pastry chef. I believe that most people with a creative calling do their own soul searching when choosing a creative outlet. Luckily our searching lead us to both working for another designer. Our shared views on what is possible within interior design, how we wanted to run our business, and most importantly, how we wanted to serve our clients led us to forming our partnership fifteen years ago.

Cecilia Sagrera-Hill: It was destiny for us to work together, as we had already created a great partnership when we worked for another designer. This gave us great insight into an unspoken comfort that developed from this early partnership.

CL: How has your approach to design been enhanced by time and experience?

GB: We have had the great opportunity to experiment and explore different design solutions for our clients with their trust and encouragement. With our many years of experience we have created a broad knowledge base which to draw from. Because we are a team of two principals we are also able and excited to challenge each other and come from a different point of view within each project.

CSH: We each have our strengths and have been able to learn from each other allowing us to really push the boundaries for our clients, which has given us the opportunity to continue to grow our design approach, the old saying “you learn something new every day” applies to the constant growth to our design. 

CL: What does timeless design mean to you?

GB: Creating a space that isn’t a time stamp of when it was created. AND, it seems ironic that timeless design is based on what has happened in the past instead of what might happen in the future since a timeless design is really about forecasting what will be considered good taste in the coming decades.

CL: Do you run from or gravitate towards trends?

GB: Neither. Although we may not follow or insist on using the latest color of the year, de rigueur metal finish, or popular accessory, it is impossible to not be influenced by trends. That being said we always approach the work we do wanting to understand who our clients are and how they live or want to live. Our clients are influenced by design trends and come to us wanting to integrate some. It is up to us to make sure they are appropriate and will help create the finished space our client desires.

CSH: Our design philosophy has always been to ensure that the end result of our design represents our Client based on conversations and pushing them beyond their comfort zone, not by trends. The color of the year may influence a starting point for our design for a Client but it will more than likely not end up being on the walls in the house.

CL: What particular materials are you integrating into your designs today?

GB: For us it is less about a specific material and more about how we are using it. Hand painted/handmade wallpaper is figuring into our projects these days. Using materials that are handmade or hand finished gives a warmth and depth we aren’t able to find any other way. Plus, the control we are able to have over the finished product allows us to truly create a cohesive design throughout.

CSH: I agree with George – especially with hand painted tiles/custom colored to fit our design. There is something inherent about the hand-made that will always take precedence in our design, that tactile nature is so important to provide depth in any space.

CL: Who are the industrial designers today that that are exciting to you?

GB: We are always looking for materials and furnishings that have a handmade quality to them. It adds a soft and intimate quality to our interiors. Anna Karlin from New York – artist and designer. We love her furniture. Jocelyn Marsh – artist and designer. OCHRE – Most beautiful lighting fixtures.

CL: When you imagine your perfect client, what does the initial project conversation sound like?

GB: We always take time in the beginning of the interview process to make sure we get to know our clients as much as we can. We are going to discuss why they are hiring a designer, what that looks like to them, what they are expecting and what role they want to play in the process. With the complexity of the projects we design and manage along with the time frame which can be several years we want to make sure we are the right fit for a potential client and that a potential client is the right fit for us.

CL: Speak about the importance of lighting design.

GB: Lighting design is a critical piece in order to have a successful project. Especially with the new lighting technologies and the ease of lighting control systems there is no reason to not having a successful lighting design. The color temperature of a light source affects how our eye reads color and materials. This is such an important step in the design process and one that some clients may not understand so it takes time for us to show our clients the differences.

CL: Who are the architects that inspire you?

GB: John Saladino, David Adler, Gil Schafer, and Andrew Skurman

CSH: Luis Barragan

CL: Are there any areas of the world that you draw from for design inspiration?

GB: It would be difficult to not be inspired by travel. Anywhere in Europe really, specifically Paris, London.

CSH: Travel is inspiration alone – it keeps the mind open to other perspectives.  Japan, South America, Paris.

CL: What would you be doing if you were not an interior designer?

GB: Artist, ceramicist, potter, gardener

CSH: Teacher, painter, ceramicist

CL: Favorite weekend getaway?

GB: Carmel or Calistoga – quiet and relaxing, catching up with friends.

CSH: Calistoga or Healdsburg – great for relaxing and enjoying great weather.

CL: Favorite restaurants?

GB: Because we cook a lot when we go out it is usually for what we don’t cook like Korean BBQ. We love Ohgane in Oakland. In San Francisco we love Spruce and Garabaldi's.

CSH: Quince and Jackson Fillmore is such a great neighborhood place down to earth and since we have been going for so long, the staff remembers you.

CL: What are you reading?

GB: The Values Factor by Dr. John Demartini, Bachelor of Arts: Edward Perry Warren & The Lewes House Brotherhood by David Sox

CSH: Los Cuatro Acuerdos by Don Miguel Ruiz, Leading Women by Nancy D. Oreilly, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Visit SagreraBrazil Design

Many thanks to David Kensington and Whitney Robinson for working with me on this feature!

John Maniscalco - John Maniscalco Architecture

The Rigor of Quiet Design

By Joseph Lucier

Working in a sun drenched and music filled Hayes Valley atelier, John Maniscalco Architecture embraces each client relationship as a unique opportunity to create an inspiring residence that elevates the natural qualities of light and space. Spring boarding from 'big building' design work at Gensler and other internationally recognized firms, Maniscalco founded his own studio with the guiding principle of rigorous design that creates a framework for and an interplay with California's spectacular site specific environments.  Our time with John revealed a gentle giant who finds himself in the good fortune of a full roster of adventurous clients and projects that engage his unique talent for actualizing quiet design in the physical world.

 John Maniscalco

John Maniscalco

Caen Lucier: What early interest lead you to study architecture at school?

John Maniscalco: As a young person, I was definitely a “maker” and had my hands in a lot of different expressive forms (drawing, writing, music), but was lucky enough to have a pivotal high school art teacher who took a moment - and it was just a moment - to give a gentle nudge and ask if I had ever considered studying architecture. The following day, I received an invitation to a summer architecture program at Harvard for high school students and so it began. Sitting in the Carpenter Center (Corbusier’s only US building!), the discoveries that summer were pretty vast, and at the end of the program, my professor suggested I apply to the architecture program at Cornell, where I spent the next five years beginning the journey I continue today, but the realization that I could do design work and listen to music simultaneously really unlocked something for me. I realized that they fed off each other, and it’s a practice I keep to this day.

CL: Talk about your experience of moving to San Francisco to help develop Gensler’s architecture department in the early 1990’s.

JM: In 1989, I was recruited to come to San Francisco to join a small team of architects within the larger context of Gensler’s San Francisco office. Gensler was, and is, a remarkable place doing significant work all over the world. This team was charged with a new and concerted push toward building the architecture side of the practice in San Francisco. The team had members from some of the best firms in the country, so for a young architect, it was a wonderful environment to learn from some generous mentors. That little group spawned a solid group of now well-established SF firms.

CL: How has your skill set designing high rise towers and institutional structures affected the residential work you do?

JM: When you are designing a large structure, the scale alone demands a discipline and a rigor, both in conceptual design and execution.  As we approach our residential work, we are trying to apply the same level of discipline. Our work tends to be precise in execution, and as a result, it’s unforgiving for a builder. A rigorous process, careful documentation, and strong communication are our most effective tools to communicate our intention to the craftsmen in the field. I’ve often described to clients that while residential work may seem simpler to design than a high-rise tower, it’s composed of a million unique conditions. It takes a lot of work and a special team to execute these projects.

CL: How do your clients benefit from this aspect of your professional background?

JM: Our work is defined by a very clean but warm architectural expression which places focus on the interplay of space and light. In many ways, the simplicity of the final details belies the complexity of the assemblies and the work that goes into making something that feels quiet and intuitive. While the clients may not be focused on the day to day design process or the rigor of our development and documentation, we’d like to think they see the benefit of that rigor as they live in the homes. I’ve been told it is a slow discovery process over time, and I enjoy the idea that all of the thought we put into the process slowly reveals itself.

CL: Is there a common sensory feeling that your designs produce or that you aim to achieve?

JM: We aim for our work to have a quiet quality of serenity. As architects in California, we are lucky enough to work in some of the most spectacular environments imaginable, and often our goal is to enhance the experience of these places by framing unexpected views, defining unusual spatial sequences, and encouraging users to see things in a different way. Ultimately, it becomes an exercise in creating a framework through which one can experience these things. In “getting out of the way,” rather than “look at me,” we combine a thoughtful interplay of space and light to achieve a calming effect.

CL: What is it about your client relationships that is rewarding throughout the design process?

JM: Each client is unique and takes us somewhere we would not go on our own. They bring history, goals, dreams, and expectations. They welcome us into their family life and we work together to create something unique for them. That journey and the often unexpected result is the most rewarding part of the process

CL: What was the pivot point that directed you towards exclusively working in the residential space?

JM: While working for a large firm in SF on a competition for a new town center, some friends who had bought one of the early lofts in SOMA asked me to help them add a bedroom to their unit. They thought it would be a few walls and a door, but looking for any design opportunity available, I saw a series of movable translucent screens coupled with custom furniture pieces that formed flexible rooms, allowed light to penetrate, and provided them with storage they sorely lacked. They had no budget, so a friend and I built it for them. I had solved a problem they didn’t know they had and they were exceptionally grateful. They told me the work we had done changed their lives, and at that moment, I discovered how meaningful the personal client connection was for me. Really enjoy getting to know people, learning about their goals, their dreams for their home, and doing our best to exceed those expectations. 

CL: Tell us about how you developed your first San Francisco home in Cole Valley.

JM: My wife, Mary, and I were renting in Cole Valley in 1997, about to be married, and looking for a home. As we searched, our limited budget pushed us further and further away into areas that we didn’t feel connected to. Beginning to lose hope, we stumbled upon a listing for a very small house on a steep block and pursued it. The current tenant would not let anyone in, so we wandered up to Tank Hill to get a sense of the house and property. With our youthful exuberance in full display, we decided that regardless of what was there, we could do something with it and bought it virtually sight unseen. We did a major project on it, jacking the house up two-stories and rebuilding all aspects of the house - doing much of the work ourselves on nights and weekends. It was the first house I did, the start of our practice, and it was our family home until 2011.

CL: What personal inspiration do you draw from your current home in the city?

JM: Our current home sits in a unique condition adjacent to the Presidio, and our goals for the project were shaped by the site in many ways. Like all of our work, we aimed for a kind of “quiet” architecture - spaces that deferred to the beauty of the surrounding environment, rather than try to compete with it. We quickly realized that its location afforded us the unique opportunity to create a country house in the city, and that is very much the way it feels. We have the benefit of connection to a great urban neighborhood, but a sense of living immersed in nature. To reinforce that feeling of connectedness to nature, the house incorporates organic elements and materials throughout. The overall feeling is one of deep serenity, and that is very unique for an urban home.

 JMA - 19th Street

JMA - 19th Street

CL: There is an adage that architects are no good until they are fifty. Does your current viewpoint support that opinion?

JM: Well, it’s an adage and certainly not a universal truth - there are many, many great architects under fifty - but I think the essence of the adage is that architecture can be a slow learning cycle. Using the phraseology of the tech world, it’s difficult as a young architect to “move fast and break things,”  as the cycle from design to construction is long and the product is expensive. In my opinion, for any designer, the opportunity to build what you have designed - regardless of the scale - will forever inform your process. Finding those opportunities and endlessly iterating until you get an idea from your head into the world - that’s where the work and the reward lies for me.

CL: Talk about your personal passion and interest towards the “built form.”

JM: My interest in seeing our ideas take physical form is central to our practice. The goal of our work is to create unique site-specific and client-specific solutions, and the tools we work with are space, materiality, and light. The architectural and construction process are all focused on an end result that combines those things in a remarkable way. 

CL: Over the arch of your career, how has technology changed the way you do your job?

JM: The world of digital representation has changed everything, both positively and negatively. We have access to incredible visualization tools that enable us to translate ideas into architectural form quickly and easily. As wonderful as those tools are, they are not an end unto themselves, and it is easy to fall in love with imagery. It’s important for us to constantly refocus on the end result - the built form, space, light, materiality…

 Dry Creek Valley

Dry Creek Valley

CL; What do you do to recharge your batteries?

JM: Make as much music as possible, see as much music as possible, and spend time with my wonderful family.

CL: Favorite restaurants in the city?

JM: Rich Table, The Progress

CL: Travel destinations on your short list?

JM: New Zealand, Patagonia, the Maldives…I could go on…

CL: What are you reading?

JM: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Falling Man by Don DeLillo

VISIT JOHN MANISCALCO ARCHITECTURE

Thank you, John for your work on this feature.

Matthew Millman - Residential Photography

Love At First Click

By Joseph Lucier

They say it's better to be lucky than good, but what if you have the good fortune to be given both in equal measure.  Matthew Millman was smitten by photography from his early years of schooling and landed early on at the top of Los Angeles' photography community benefiting from the guidance of Tim Street-Porter, among others.  Subsequent commissions from recognized interior designers and architects offered Millman the opportunity to train his eye and hone his skill in the sumptuous environments of design and luxury represented in some of California's most iconic homes.  Today his name is synonymous with the striking images we see in the world's top shelter magazines and design related monographs.  The patience and skill he employs to tap into the essence of the designers hand transforms the fine line between dreams and reality.  We recently sat down with Matthew and found a man confident in his craft, reflective on what the years have taught him, and still filled with the youthful passion for the next job.

 Matthew Millman

Matthew Millman

Joseph Lucier: What drew you to the magic of photography as a life-long passion?

Matthew Millman: It really was love at first click. I started photographing in high school and have been actively photographing ever since. I have been a professional photographer for 25 years. Back then, and to this day, I have always loved how a well crafted photograph can tell a powerful and immediate visual story.

JL: Who were your mentors early in your career and how did they shape you as a professional?

MM: Three photographers, whom I worked for early on, really shaped my career. Tim Street-Porter showed me the art of photographic storytelling. Grant Mudford taught me about rigor and how photography can reveal an architect’s intent.  Richard Barnes helped me to think of design photography as art photography.  In addition, so many architects and designers, such as Joshua Aidlin, Paul Wiseman, and Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, have given me daily lessons in architecture and design.

JL: When photographing architecture, talk about the importance of light in the composition.

MM: Light is everything in photography.  But even more important, light is essential to us as people.  It is how we experience so much of our world. So being attuned to light as I photograph is critical in trying to capture the most meaningful aspects of a project and a designer’s intent. I spend every minute of every shoot day following the path of the sun and tracking light throughout a project, looking for moments where light reveals form, infuses emotional qualities into a project, such as warmth, or creates tension in space. 

JL: What is your process of identifying the essence of a home and its interiors prior to a photo shoot?

MM: When I come into a project, I know very little about it. My  first impressions and initial sense of wonder are very helpful in starting to identify the best shots. Much of the time, the parts of a project that I am first wowed by end up being the spots for the best shots. I try to maintain that naïve joy and exploration throughout the process of photographing a project. It is great to walk through a project before the actual shoot day to start to develop an understanding for the project. If that is not possible, I start a shoot day by trying to walk every inch of a project and freshly look at everything before we dive in. At the same time, the depth and subtly of a project can only be experienced over time. So, throughout a shoot day, I am always searching for new aspects or surprises in a home.  Until the sun sets and the shoot is over, it is a constant exploration to understand more about a project, the designer’s intent, and the best ways to represent it.  

JL: What photographers do you most admire? 

MM: Aleksandr Rodchenko. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think one of the reasons I always loved Rodchenko’s photos is that he was also a graphic designer.  I am a formalist and Rodchenko’s images are so solidly monolithically composed. The work of Robert Maplethorpe really impacted me as a young photographer. His sense of drama and high style helped me see photographs as more than documents. I love Edward Weston for the surprise contained in every one of his images.  Never formulaic, never stale, Edward’s passion for the story in an image above the structure of an image really resonates with me. Hiroshi Sugimoto. I love how Sugimoto’s photos are about something but really about  another thing altogether.  His ability to make a pretty straight forward image into an much deeper conceptual conversation is inspiring,  I hope to simplify my images down to that level of complexity one day.

JL: How have you seen the shelter publication industry change over the years?

MM: Since I started, the primary change in shelter magazines has been to print design stories that are more reflective of how people live and to photograph these stories in more authentic ways. The high visual drama and opulent wealth seen in design publications two decades ago lead to a revolt seen in magazines like Dwell. The new era of design stories focus on homes that people can more easily relate to or to use as inspiration for improving their own homes. The photographic style of storytelling drifted from heavy lighting to only using available natural light and including people more naturally or candidly in the shots. For me, personally, I like that there are more ways to tell design stories and more focus on the humanity in a home to go along with the impressive structure of the house.

JL: Did the presentation of homes change at Architectural Digest when longtime editor Paige Rense Noland stepped down and Margaret Russell took the helm?

MM: Architectural Digest had become stale toward the end of Paige Rense’s editorship. Margaret Russell brought her fresh crisp daylight washed style from Elle Décor to AD. For a while, it made a big difference but, oddly, the magazine drifted back towards the Paige Rense days. Now, with Amy Astley at the helm, AD feels much more contemporary and fashionable. The stories are looser and more youthful. It will be exciting to see where Amy takes the magazine. 

JL: Do you find any current magazines showcasing photography in a new and exciting way?

MM: Cultured, Gallerie, Disegno, Fiera, and Design LA.

 ART HOUSE - Published by Assouline

ART HOUSE - Published by Assouline

JL: Talk about the process of working with Chara Schreyer on the monograph showcasing her art collection and homes in ART HOUSE.

MM: I met Chara Schreyer through interior designer Gary Hutton about a decade ago and I have been photographing Chara Schreyer’s homes and extensive art collection ever since. Chara, Gary, and my work together culminated in the book, Art House (Assouline, 2016). Chara’s homes are more like private museums and, as such, require a different more restrained and contemplative photographic approach then other homes. Chara’s art collection is exceptionally curated and very personal.  The collection has really pushed my photography to be more creative and less literal.  The freedom and access Chara afforded me has allowed me to experiment in ways impossible on normal shoots. The result has been one of the most artistically meaningful experiences of my career. I think the book Art House reflects the depth and intimacy of the process.

JL: If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing professionally?

MM: Psychologist

JL: Favorite weekend getaway?

MM: Indian Springs in Calistoga

JL: Top three items on you bucket list?

MM: Visit Vals in Switzerland. Learn to play the trumpet. Print a book of my personal art photography

JL: Favorite restaurants?

MM: In my hood… Chez Panise Café and Cheese Board.  Beyond... Bamboo in Hawaii, Versailles in LA, The Kitchen in Jackson Hole and Hartwood in Tulum, MX.

JL: What are you reading?

MM: Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama.

VISIT MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Thank you, Matthew for your work on this feature.

David Kensington - David Kensington & Associates

A Measured Classical Approach

By Joseph Lucier

Operating from an atelier along San Francisco's historic Jackson Square district, David Kensington creates deigns that speak to a bygone era of skilled craftsmanship and luxurious materials.  While David's hand has many facets, it is his work in the traditional elements of classicism where he truly shines.  Putting his mark down on the city's design scene with his reinterpretation of the penthouse apartment in Conrad Muessdorffer's iconic 2006 Washington Street, David launched a career that integrates contemporary design with a sensitivity towards preservation.  A current project has taken him to Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Back Bay.  The stately residence is a 20,000 sqft. 1865 brownstone, originally designed for the Ames Family. The home is in the French Beaux-Arts style made popular under Napoleon III direction of Georges-Eugene Haussmann's renovation of much of Paris . We recently caught up with David to learn more about what makes this design icon tick.  

 DAVID KENSINGTON

DAVID KENSINGTON

Joseph Lucier: How did your interest in interior design begin?

David Kensington: My interest in architecture, interior design and landscape design began as a child through my family’s eyes.  While my immediate family had a fascination with grand scaled period homes from 1890-1930, my extended family was passionate about modernism. My aunt and uncle hired Phillip Johnson to design their home on Lake Minnetonka.  Years later they asked him to add a guest house to the property.  He refused saying the entire design is perfect the way it is, but if you insist on moving forward I would recommend a young talent name Frank Gehry. They hired him and he built a guest house into a bluff overlooking the lake, as such invisible from the main property. My family's strong interest in art, architecture and design extended to endowments to art museums and continued into the development of the Walker Art Center Sculpture garden. I traveled extensively with museum groups throughout the US, Europe, and south America to explore great private estates, art and furniture collections. I continue to do so to this day to train the eye to see the beauty of design in all of its many forms.

JL: Talk about your first “big job.”

DK: While finishing a master degree in architecture at UC Berkeley, I had an internship at Gensler Architects in San Francisco. They had me working on parking garages in the bull pen of cubicles with the other interns and new hires, but while there I entered a competition to design a lobby for a hip, hot, new hotel chain our department was bidding on. My design caught the developers eye, as well as my lead designer, who suggested my talents may lie more in the field of interior architecture and design and encouraged me to seek employment with the Wiseman Group of San Francisco. I worked my way up the ranks to a designer over a few years, learning my trade and honing my skills along the way. While I was taking some time off from work to focus on building my home in San Francisco, I received a call from Paul's assistant, Suzanna Allen, with an offer to interview a client they wanted to refer. As it turned out this client and I developed three major projects together. One was Villa Atherton (click), modeled after Palladio’s Villa Rotunda. It marked the beginning of my career and a life-long friendship

JL: How has your design aesthetic developed over the years?

DK: I continue to refine my designs to the basics of scale and symmetry. I always begin with cleaning up the architecture to have a cohesive design vocabulary and then add the layers of design and decoration to enhance the overall experience. I used to design a room so it felt complete as you looked into it. Today, I understand to use restraint and acknowledge a room is not complete until it is being used and enjoyed by the family and guests.

JL: Discuss the importance of art and antiques in your interiors.

DK: Art is very important to add a spot of color and fashion to a beautifully refined interior. Beautifully designed and crafted antique furniture made of exquisite materials is the sculpture of the room. It should be used judiciously and celebrated as a masterpiece of old world craftsmanship.

JL: Which dealers at the SFFAAS attract you and why?

DK: Mallet Antiques for the breadth of knowledge of fine antiques and modern classics.

JL: You and Benjamin Steinitz are collaborating on a project in Boston. Talk a little about your professional relationship and the project.

DK: I began buying European antiques over twenty years ago. I worked with Bernard Steinitz, Benjamin’s father, way back in the day. He had one of the most impressive of all the high-end Parisian antiques dealers. Always the best of the best with Benjamin continuing the tradition today. Benjamin is a first-rate dealer and a wonderful collaborator when it comes to putting a truly impressive collection of art and antiques together. We are currently sourcing 18th century painted wood paneled rooms to be reinstalled in a few very special rooms in our clients 1865 Boston home along with crystal chandeliers and innumerable objects de arts.

 Calistoga Residence

Calistoga Residence

JL: What are your favorite materials for creating luxurious interiors?

DK: No mater modern or traditional, it is important to always use the best natural materials. Real limestone plaster ceilings and walls, real wood and stone floors, custom upholstery with kiln dried and doweled hardwood frames built up with natural horsehair and cotton batting all covered in a high quality natural silk can make all the difference. Custom draperies and passementarie, again done in either a fresh modern approach or more traditional manner, always elevate the design integrity of any interior.

JL: What particular architectural style speaks to your personal taste?

DK: I choose to live in a mid-century modern tree house on Buena Vista Park, yet I work on many classically inspired historical renovations. I believe that classicism is the foundation of all great architecture, be it modern or traditional, as long as the guiding principles of site, scale and symmetry are followed. I love the classic simplicity of the Mies van Der Roe's Farnsworth house as much as I am drawn to the great Greek and Roman monuments and the Venetian farm houses of Palladio.

 2006 Washington Street Penthouse - Pacific Heights

2006 Washington Street Penthouse - Pacific Heights

JL: Favorite weekend getaway?

DK: Las Ventanas

JL: Favorite restaurants?

DK: Kokkari Estiatorio designed by BAR Architects

JL: What do you do to recharge your batteries?

DK: Swim, Bike, Run.

JL: What are you currently reading?

DK: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and a history of the Hawaiian Islands and their inhabitants

Visit David Kensington

Many thanks to David Kensington and Whitney Robinson for working with me on this feature!

Tony Russian Hill town home asks $3.95M

Famed cul-de-sac home hits market

Curbed SF January 4, 2018 | by Brock Keeling

 1035 Vallejo Street

1035 Vallejo Street

At the end of a cul-de-sac on Vallejo in Russian Hill sits a row of shingled town homes, developed on 1998 byJohn Willis (the Butterfly House, the Garage on Hyde) and designed by Ed McEachron (reportedly the Getty family architect). And today, one of the units inside the Russian Hill Summit lands on the market. A red-letter day, indeed.  Read more...

Shay Zak - Zak Architecture

A Leeward Design Touch

By Joseph Lucier

Shay Zak's masterful alchemy of architectural relationships between a home and its site has made him the last word in estate design along Hawaii's Kona Coast and beyond.  His passion for symmetry belies his chosen San Francisco home along the undulating curves of the city's famed Lombard Street. Yet this decision to reside amongst the cacophony of tourists flowing down Russian Hill must intuitively help inform the design decisions he calculates amidst the crashing waves and flowing lava rock surrounding the island homes he thoughtfully sites.  I have had the good fortune to know Shay for quite some time and was pleased to have the opportunity to learn more about the man behind Hawaii's noteworthy leeward designs.

 SHAY ZAK

SHAY ZAK

Joseph Lucier: When was the seed planted for your interest in architecture?

Shay Zak: It was my Senior year of high school.  I always had an alert interest in the arts.  I loved painting, drawing, photography and sculpture.  I also loved to build things out of wood, metal and anything I could get my hands on.  So, I thought engineering was it for me.  However, a friend of mine at the time was applying to architectural schools and I thought, perfect, something that combines my two passions, that is for me.  Architecture it was going to be.  I never looked back.

 JL: Who are the architects that inspire you?

 SZ: I am a collector of Architectural Monographs.  I have a wall full of them in my office and I pull them out every day.  All good architects inspire me.  They reside both from afar and right her in San Francisco.  The most important architects for me are the ones that have found their original voice.  Like Rothko, Mondrian, Serra, they invented a new language.  It is their own, they invented it, and they own it.   This is nirvana to any artist, and to the Architect.   Rafael Moneo, the brilliant Spanish architect, was my mentor in graduate school and he had a huge influence on me.  He has his own language. He really can’t help himself.  I call that an original voice and as it falls upon the realm of genius.  As for the masters of yesteryear, I always return for inspiration to Louis Khan.

 BEACH CLUB AT KOHANAIKI

BEACH CLUB AT KOHANAIKI

JL: What did you learn from your education at Harvard and work at SOM that gave you a foundation to start your own architecture firm? 

 SZ: At Harvard, I learned that there is a lot of design diversity out there.  We had Peter Eisenman, Rafael Moneo, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, to name a few, all teaching students in one large open communal design studio.  At Harvard, the unexplored had no place.  The lesson from SOM was how to design excellent clean tight modern commercial buildings and high-rise towers.  Then the assignment was to make a killer presentation to the sell it to our clients and close the deal.  The best part about SOM was that I met such talented colleagues that become friends as they develop their own private practices.

JL: If they wrote the book “What They Don’t teach you at Harvard Design School,” what would you tell students there?

SZ:  If you want to write a Fee Proposal, you are on your own.

JL: How do you bring the classical principals of scale, balance and proportion into your designs?

SZ: I was born with symmetry on the brain and try as I might it is hard for me to shake it.  However, I am also a minimalist and a modernist too.  A ying yang perhaps.  So, I have learned to embrace both.  As I develop the composition for a new design, I take great pleasure in how to combine them into one thing. 

JL: You have become well known for your work in Hawaii.  How did you begin working on the islands?

SZ:  I was fortunate to be asked to design one of the first custom homes for the new Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai, on the big Island.  It was completed in 1999 and this house led to several other commissions.  We are now designing homes at several Big Island communities as well as on the islands of Lanai and Kauai.  We have completed over 30 homes in Hawaii and have many new projects in the works.

JL: How do you approach a site when beginning the design process?

 SZ:  I look at different forces that affect the site.  I study the site’s history, place, personality and, of course, its topography.  Only then can I take the character of the owner and their program and put pen to paper.

 JL: Talk about the importance of quality materials and craftsmanship in the look and feel of a completed home.

SZ: Quality of material for me is key to our work and non-negotiable.  I like to think that we don’t design for decades but for generations.  My question for building materials is ‘will this material get better with age.’

JL: In your mind’s eye, where would your personal dream home be located and what would it look like?

 SZ: That’s a tough on.  When FLW was asked what his favorite project was, he famously said ‘My next one.’ I feel like that too.  My wife and I are designing a home for ourselves now up in St. Helena.  It’s sort of a Barn typology detailed with crisp minimal detailing.  That is my current dream home in the works.

JL: Discuss the importance of travel in keeping ideas fresh in your work.

 SZ:  This is key.  I travel as much as I can and they typically are art and architecture themed trips.  A few years ago, my daughter and I flew into Bilbao and spent ten days driving through Spain to see incredible new and old architecture with a special focus on Rafael Moneo.  As architects, we must travel to better understand our own work.

JL: What do you do to recharge your batteries?

SZ:  Play a little golf with family and friends and break the Ducati out for a spin.

JL: Favorite weekend getaway?

 SZ: St. Helena, Pebble Beach, and Kohanaiki, HI.

JL: Top three restaurants around the world?

 SZ: French Laundry, Balthazar, Fish & Chips at London’s Tate Modern.

JL: What are you reading?

SZ: Lou Reed. The book just came out by Anthony DeCurtis.  Lou is the best!

 ZAK ARCHITECTURE - 245 VALLEJO STREET, SAN FRANCISCO

ZAK ARCHITECTURE - 245 VALLEJO STREET, SAN FRANCISCO

Millennials' New Weapon in Bidding Wars: Parent's Home Equity

Call it the mortgage merry-go-round: Parents refinance their home to fund the full cost of their son or daughter’s desired home. This allows the child to compete as a desirable all-cash buyer in an area where bidding wars are common. Then, when the purchase closes, the child refinances the new home and pays the parents back.

Sellers often prefer cash because transactions can close quickly without making a deal contingent on financing. This is particularly important in bidding wars: If the purchase price is above the list price and appraised value, it may be tricky to get a loan, said Kas Divband, a Washington, D.C., agent with Redfin. Mr. Divband said he has worked on six deals where the buyer was relying on a parent’s mortgage to make an all-cash offer.

The strategy is also evidence of how difficult it is for millennials getting into the housing market for starter homes, where competition is the fiercest. Even those with high-paying jobs and hefty down payments are losing out, particularly in cities with strong job markets for young people, such as Washington, Boston and Seattle, said Nela Richardson, Redfin’s chief economist.

Redfin agent Cody Coffman recently worked with a 20-something Olympic athlete who paid $2.8 million for his first home, a newly built five-bedroom house in Los Angeles’s Venice neighborhood that was listed for $2.758 million. His parents took out a home-equity line of credit, or Heloc, to give him the full purchase price, allowing him to beat out four other offers.

“Educating him on how to talk to his parents was probably the most difficult part,” Mr. Coffman said, since it wasn’t every day their son asked for $2 million. The athlete worked with a loan officer who vetted him before the purchase and also handled his parent’s line of credit.

This move will not work for everyone. Parents must have enough equity in their homes to make a refinance worth it, and the same goes for the child’s new home. Both parties must be willing to take on the added hassle and cost of two loans. And mixing family and money is often fraught.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

• Loan options. Parents have several options for using the equity in their homes, including a cash-out refinance, which allows borrowers to refinance an existing mortgage plus an additional amount and take the difference out in cash; a home-equity loan, which is a loan against the value of a home, including a second mortgage; or a Heloc, which works like a credit card, allowing homeowners to qualify ahead of time and withdraw funds when the child is ready to close.

• Finance fail. The biggest risk is that children won’t qualify for a loan—or as big a loan as expected—especially if they pay above the asking price or the market cools. To help avoid this outcome, let the lender know your plans ahead of time, Mr. Divband said. It may be more convenient to use one loan officer for both transactions.

Note that some lenders want buyers to live in a home for three to six months before refinancing. An alternative is a delayed-financing mortgage, which allows a buyer to purchase the home in cash and refinance the day after closing for up to 80% of the value of the home, said Peter Lucia, a production manager at Brecksville, Ohio-based CrossCountry Mortgage.

• Think like a lender. Parents should do the same kind of due diligence as a lender, including vetting children’s finances. Tim Manni, a mortgage expert with NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based personal-finance company, recommends working with a lawyer to draw up a family loan agreement setting out repayment terms and other stipulations. Buyers may also want to get a home inspection.

• Consider the costs. A purchase mortgage or a refinance would typically cost about 2% of the loan value, Mr. Lucia said. Most closing costs would apply to two loans instead of one. Luckily, prepayment penalties are rare on primary-residence loans, though they might apply on investment properties, Mr. Lucia said.

• Tax tips. Givers must report gifts of more than $14,000 per person per year under federal tax law, though an individual must pay taxes only after exceeding the $5.49 million gift-tax exemption, which is a lifetime limit. Interest on the first $1 million of a purchase mortgage is tax deductible, versus only the first $100,000 on a home-equity loan or line of credit. Both parties should consult a tax professional.

Corrections & Amplifications
Givers must report gifts of more than $14,000 per person per year under federal tax law, but an individual must pay taxes only after exceeding the $5.49 million gift-tax exemption, which is a lifetime limit. An earlier version of this article failed to make it clear that an individual owes this federal gift tax only if the lifetime limit is exceeded. (Oct. 13, 2017)

By Leigh Kamping-Carder

Appeared in the WSJ October 13, 2017, print edition as 'Tag-Team Mortgage Financing.'

HOBNOBBING AT THE TOP

By Joseph Lucier    

“You’re the top! You’re the Colosseum, You’re the top you’re the Louvre Museum.” And so, began Cole Porter’s jaunty tune for his 1934 musical Anything Goes. Superlatives abound when the topic of penthouses arise, and why not?  These fabled residences whisper privacy, command inspiring views, and announce the undisputed claim of top dog.  But one wonders what all the fuss is about.  On a recent foray into San Francisco’s penthouse market, I found three maxims to be true.  These apartments carry the undeniable weight of exclusivity, desirability, and intrinsic value. Let’s have a look.

Along the rolling contours of Pacific Heights, Russian Hill and Nob Hill reside approximately fifteen proper pre-war buildings that predate Porter’s ditty.  Some were built as apartments, but the lion’s share was developed as cooperative apartment, doorman buildings modeled after the venerable facades of New York’s Fifth Avenue. Another dozen or so were added in the decades between 1960 and 1985.  Even a baker’s dozen, twice over, offers the owners of these grand perches a swelling sense of pride in a club which they claim membership.  The second and equally important factor to exclusivity is the tenure of ownership that often accompanies these rare birds.  In a recent effort for a well-heeled client to shake one of these apartments loose, I was told by the penthouse owner of Pacific Heights iconic 2500 Steiner Street, “Joe, we are going out feet first!” It’s a common quip and one particular reason it is so difficult to enter this desirable property category.

 2000 Washington Street Duplex Penthouse

2000 Washington Street Duplex Penthouse

This storied lack of inventory makes an invite to one of these homes a cause for occasion and, once the visit is over, can kindle a sense of desire.  Yet it is the case no matter your wealth that one is often told they will have to wait their turn to get into the club.  Once the indignation of this reality settles, one of the seven deadly sins often creeps in and whispers, “I want to have this more than anything in the world.”  Any why not?  The exquisite porte-cochère of 2006 Washington Street or the hushed calm when approaching the serene cul-de-sac of 945 Green Street evoke the spirit of a time gone by wrapped in the tasteful architecture of Muessdorffer and Quandt’s elegant designs. But how much will I have to pay, the enchanted, would be owner wonders?

Mr. Porter would mix this potent elixir of exclusivity and desire, pour it into a frosted martini glass, and announce it as “value, simply value, old sport!” This concoction of often generational luxury regularly commands closing prices well above the marketplace. Such was the case when Templeton Crocker’s Russian Hill penthouse sold for an astounding $1,500 sq. ft. in 1999.  The recent purchase of one the city’s crown jewels, the penthouse at 2006 Washington Street, for over $6,000 sq. ft. makes this strong case a reality for the marketplace.  On the flip side, Craig Ramsey’s purchase of Tom Perkins’ Millennium Tower penthouse for $13,000,000 seemed like a deal given the fact that Mr. Perkins was in to the apartment for over $20,000,000.  One bright spot for our leaning Tower of Pisa.

Like the roaring 1920’s, when many of these iconic buildings were realized, the market is again awash in an ocean of money from a strong stock market and another tech fueled bubble.  As our beloved Baghdad by the Bay enters a new chapter, one with a skyline being dotted with pinnacles to new wealth, the rarified air of the penthouse market will continue to be a safe haven for capital and one that will always elicit a sense of mystery and desire.

 2500 Steiner Street along Alta Plaza Park

2500 Steiner Street along Alta Plaza Park

Brian Koch - Terra Ferma Landscapes

Digging Deep for Inspiration

By Joseph Lucier

Brian Koch, landscape architect and owner of Terra Ferma Landscapes, is a people person.  It is with this passion for truly connecting with his clients that allows Brian to skillfully bring their gardens to life and set the stage for a family and its surrounding environs to grow together.  It had been a while since I had seen Brian and I was amazed that he has kept his unbridled zest for life alive through the extensive growth of his bustling business spanning the San Francisco bay area and beyond.  While his projects are a treat for the senses, it is his spirit that always comes through in the end.

 BRIAN KOCH

BRIAN KOCH

Joseph Lucier: What inspired you to go into landscape design and architecture?
Brian Koch: As a young boy, I would spend countless hours playing in my parents back yard “Dirt” pile, creating miniature landscapes, paths, and water features for my matchbox cars and figures. Later in life as a young high schooler while working on a ranch property in Mendocino, my passion for creative landscape design re-surfaced. Only this time, using tractors and hand tools, I was able to work with the land and shape it into real life paths and garden spaces. After that, I was hooked!  
My most pivotal educational experience was at Filoli, where I interned after college.   With a degree in Horticulture from University of Vermont, I was so fortunate to work in the Bay Area’s premiere historical gardens. What I learned through the time I spent working there is something that I keep with me every day in my work for my clients today.  

JL: Which landscape architects do you most admire?

BK: I admire two landscape architects – one present day and one from the past. For the past, it has to be Tommy Church. He understood life in the Bay Area and was a visionary for western gardens and design. He reshaped how, when, and where people use their gardens. For example, he understood folks gravitate towards the mature stately oaks in the afternoon, sipping iced tea and watching the sun go down. He figured out people and the way they want to use their gardens before they figured it out themselves.

My present day mentor is Andrea Cochran in San Francisco.  One would assume she is my mentor for her amazing designs, but I admire her for her knowledge of plants and their environment. You can have an incredible design, but if you don’t know your plants and you don’t specify the right one for the right location, the design impact will not be fully realized. Landscape architecture only works if the plants are in harmony with the site, the environment, and client’s tastes. Andie would always take her time to understand what environment plants do best in, why they thrive, and would they work for that particular site. 

Brian-Koch.jpg

"You can have an incredible design, but if you don’t know your plants and you don’t specify the right one for the right location, the design impact will not be fully realized. "

JL: What new design trends are you excited to integrate into your work? 

BK: Trends and styles are always changing and evolving. We are in the thick of “Transitional” appeal right now, and although we are digging it, I am exploring some classic garden styles and elements –secret garden spaces, espaliered Fruit Trees, and clean lines and layering. In addition, we are trying to tap into what makes our clients content. Our gardens and spaces are intended to evoke feelings of calmness, by being cozy and carrying genuine charm. 

JL: What is the best way to gauge a client’s personality before starting a project? 
BK: I try not to pre-judge any client, but instead get to know them through a series of inquiries. I always want to know more about my clients’ roots – how and where they grew up?, do they have memories of their childhood?, or do they have memories from a great trip or experience that has shaped their life? Eventually the questions lead towards what appeals to them most about their garden or property and how they see themselves using or experiencing it.
JL: How do you balance sustainability with a client’s desire for a particular garden style?
BK: This takes work!! In some cases, we need to educate our clients when it comes to sustainability.  You have to be a good listener and take the time to inform clients of what you have learned and experiences you have been through. By reviewing your experiences with plant palettes and material choices at an early stage of the design process, you can begin to set the stage for overall style and gauge what clients really want. If we need to, we guide clients into alternate plants or garden materials and elements that are both fitting and appropriate for the environment and site. There is often compromise when it comes to sustainability, and compromise takes time, education, and lots of back and forth discussions! 
Terra+Ferma+Landscape-1.jpeg
BK: Any project where our team is invited by the client to view an undeveloped property BEFORE hiring an architect. Landscape architects are a bit undervalued about what we can bring to a project, especially before the project begins.  We have an inherent skill to locate a home in just the right spot with all the right orientations that can make an impactful difference in the home’s overall design and outcome. We can minimize negative impact to the site and preserve the key elements that might be overlooked by others. I feel it is our connection with the land, natural features, and existing trees and plants that gives us added value to any project.  We constantly work hard to connect with a site, to understand where its strengths lie and where weaknesses exist, so we can create opportunities to change our clients’ lives for the better with a design they will love now and in the future.
JL: Where do you find inspiration?
BK: Inspiration comes to me at all times and places. I love to travel and observe elements of the land and landscape in other countries AND PLACES. I travel often to get away from the day to day operations of running a company, and find inspiration when my mind is not occupied with other thoughts. In addition to traveling, I get inspiration from exercise. Exercise clears my mind allowing me to envision the various projects we are working on and decipher the right design layout or option. 
JL: What is your favorite part of the work you do?
BK: The best and exciting part of what I do is my clients. My creativity flows from the relationship I build with my clients and the site. I love asking the tough and important questions and digging deep into understanding what makes them content. If we can design and build towards that happy place, we are successful.

"We have an inherent skill to locate a home in just the right spot with all the right orientations that can make an impactful difference in the home’s overall design and outcome."

Terra+Ferma+Landscape-2.jpeg

JL: How do you completely unwind? 

BK: I head up to family property in Mendocino County. It’s so remote, there’s no cell service or electricity, and the water comes out of gravity fed natural springs. Once the Bud-Light has been cracked, boots are up, and the sounds of total remote nature – that’s when I know I’m completely unwound!

JL: If you hadn't become a designer, which career would you have pursued? 

BK: Probably a Pilot. I fight with my kids for the window seat. I love gazing out at the landscape below and trying to figure out how it was shaped and how it all pieces together. 

JL: What’s your favorite recipe? 

BK: It would have to be my slow cooked Ribs. Source St Louis Style ribs, peel the membrane, coat it in French’s mustard, then sprinkle Strawberry Hill Rub from Kansas City Missouri and slow cook for 7-8 hours at 225 Degrees max! Spray Cranberry Juice every 30 minutes. Eat them right away – so good!!

JL: Would you rather shop new or vintage?

BK: Vintage

JL: First celebrity crush? 

BK: Paulina Porizkova!!

JL: Favorite restaurant in your neighborhood? 

BK: Corner Store @ Geary and Masonic Streets

Terra+ferma+Landscapes.jpeg

VISIT TERRA FERMA LANDSCAPE

Thank you BKJ for your work on this feature!

Art Deco Pacific Heights penthouse asks $8.2 million

Circa 1925 co-op polishes its penthouse credentials

CURBED SF - MAY 11, 2017

BY ADAM BRINKLOW

  1940 Broadway Street

1940 Broadway Street

The top-floor unit at 1940 Broadwayin Pacific Heights is on offer for a staggering $8.2 million, a sum liable to give house hunters a touch of vertigo even before they ascend to the penthouse level.

The ad for the three-bed, two-and-a-half bath, 2,900-square-foot condo frames it as a ticket to “one of San Francisco's most exclusive clubs: penthouse ownership.”

“It’s only a penthouse if it’s the only unit on the top floor,” realtor Joseph Lucier tells Curbed SF, insisting that while some people will try to pass off any tip-top home as a penthouse that this one is the real deal for sticklers.

1940 Broadway Street

Other ads for homes in the Art Deco building on Broadway date it as early as 1923 or as late as 1926, but the city pegs it as a 1925 building. The listing for the number seven unit credits its design to “noted architects George A. Bos and Frederick W. Quandt.”

Bos’ name adorns the gorgeous George A. Pos Apartments on Green Street in Russian Hill, a building so charming that it even earned the nickname “Paris Block” for the mini-hood surrounding around it.

19409 Broadway Street

But, oddly enough, despite being named for Bos, it was actually Grace Cathedral architect Lewis Hobart who designed that one. Go figure.

Quandt was a German architect who worked in Seattle before coming to San Francisco, famous in his day for the now-defunct William R. Davis & Brother Department Store on Mission Street, which the San Francisco Chronicle in 1923 called “a large three story Beaux-Arts design costing $1 million.”

1940 Broadway Street view

But the building at 1940 Broadway is probably his most visible contribution to the city these days. Lucier notes the extra classy portico entrance, carved plaster ceiling in the lobby, and classic black and white marble floor.

Speaking of class, the penthouse itself has “annexed part of the living room” to serve as a library, but although the ad talks up its wood-paneled appeal there aren’t presently any photos of it, which seems like a loss. But we do get to scope out the picture-frame moldings.

HOAs come to $2,397/month. And this is a co-op, so interested buyers would have to be accepted by the board. In other words, tacky high bidders need not apply.

1940 Broadway Street bedroom

TALK OF THE TOWN

Market Beat

By Joseph Lucier    

San Francisco's luxury real estate market is the toast of international markets with an ocean of tech money coursing through the veins of this reinvented gold rush town.  Enjoy my "Top 10" sound bites and market facts on our white hot luxury market.

1.  The estate of venture capitalist Tom Perkins has gone two for two with Sotheby's in the past few months.  On the heels of the estate's $13M Millennium Tower penthouse sale to technology veteran, Craig Ramsey, Sotheby's closed Perkins 1928 Julia Morgan Belvedere estate to an undisclosed buyer this week for $14.46M.

2.  Developer Trumark Urban hit the bulls eye in San Francisco's mature luxury market cycle with over 85% of this 76-unit project sold at Pacific Heights newest luxury address, The Pacific at 2121 Webster Street.

3.  Meg Whitman's son is trying his hand at luxury spec home development after purchasing Billy Getty's home at 2900 Vallejo Street for $12.5M in 2015.  He will test the rarefied air of the spec market at over $20M when this Sutro Architects project comes to market later this year.

4.  Jay Paul's uber-luxe 181 Fremont tops the high end market with a pre-sale contract of over $4400 sqft for unit 68B, a 3000 sqft half floor atop San Francisco's most exclusive residential club.

5.  Developer Grosvernor is developing the darling of the urban infill condominium projects with Glenn Rescalvo of Handel architects.  240 Pacific will deliver 33 boutique units in San Francisco's historic Jackson Square in early 2018. Get in line!

6.  Pacific Avenue has been renamed "Fixer Row" with three grand dames in need of new life closing in the last 30 days for over $10M.  3060 Pacific at $10.25M, 3383 Pacific at $10.225M, and 3515 Pacific at $10.35M.  High end contractors raised a collective glass of champagne. 

7.  Sotheby's is representing San Francisco's most expensive house ever listed at $40,000,000.  Call for more details on this Gold coast home located at 2712 Broadway.

8.  A rare sale of three merged units at Joseph Eichler's 1963 Russian Hill tower, The Summit, closed for $6.87M through Sotheby's.  In competitive bidding, San Francisco architect Geddes Ulinskas won the commission for this dream project.

9.  Family members of 1750 Taylor's penthouse owner are haplessly seeking over $30M in the city's "no inventory" penthouse market.  No takers after six months of private showings.

10.  Market bubble or not, we live in the most beautiful city in the world.  You can take that to the bank.

Brooks Walker - Walker Warner Architects

San Francisco's Class Act

By Joseph Lucier

Amidst the current South of Market towering development boom, sits a charming historic building along the edge of Folsom and Fremont Streets.  From this unique vantage point, Brooks Walker of Walker Warner Architects designs gracious residences with the knowing hand of a native San Franciscan steeped in the work of Bay Area design icons, William Wurster and Joseph Esherick.  Inspired by the honest and direct approach to design and construction that these two men brought to our unique topography, I found in Brooks a man who who passionately strives for an understanding of context as a universal principle to best offer his clients an inspirational framework to enhance and define their daily lives.

 BROOKS WALKER

BROOKS WALKER

Joseph Lucier: You were fortunate to grow up in a family that engaged well-known architects to design their family and vacation homes. How did growing up with these homes shape your viewpoint as an architect?

Brooks Walker: Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home in Carmel for my great grandmother after WWII. As a young child I was awed by the placement of the structure, perched on tide pool rocks above the ocean. The spaces were unlike any home I had experienced….perhaps this is what inspired my early interest in building and architecture. In that same timeframe, I was also fortunate to spend several Thanksgivings at the Gregory Farm House designed by William Wurster during the late 1930’s. This iconic ranch house left a lasting impression with its California ranch vernacular forms and rustic simplicity.

JL: You have an affinity for modernist architecture, particularly William Wurster. What is it about his work that attracts you?

BW: I love his honest and direct approach to design and construction. The timeless quality of his work is elegant and enduring, yet humble.

JL: You reimagined a William Wurster house on Pacific Avenue. What was the experience like reimagining one of your idols original design?

BW: The Pacific Heights Residence [click here] was built in the early 1950’s and had Historic Landmark status, which made the permitting of any intervention difficult. Wurster made a bold move by designing the main south street façade with no windows, which gave the house privacy while focusing attention on the light filled entry courtyard. We respected the key elements of the house and exterior detailing, but opened up the compartmentalized rooms and added a new master suite above the living room. I think Wurster would have approved

"We opened up the compartmentalized rooms and added a new master suite above the living room. I think Wurster would have approved."

JL: Your San Francisco home comes with an architectural pedigree from George Kelham's original design for himself and a mid century redesign by Joseph Esherick for Kelham's son. Did the pedigree of the home encourage you in your decision to purchase the property?

BW: The pedigree was interesting, but not material in our decision. Our interest in the home was all about the south facing garden, the flow of natural light, the large rooms with high ceilings, and the classic mid-century, over-scaled, double hung windows that Esherick incorporated in his radical redesign of Kelham’s original Tudor structure.

JL: You recently finished your family’s home in San Francisco. What was it like being your own client?

BW: It was incredibly rewarding, but stressful. My perfectionist tendencies were hard to restrain when dealing with a 102-year-old house. It was an exercise in client empathy training.

JL: How do you approach the blank canvas of a new project with a client?

BW: It all starts with a thorough understanding of the site and the client’s programmatic goals for the project. We then discuss appropriate materials and review precedent images that we, and our clients, bring to the table. Our job is to synthesize these elements into a unique vision for the property that resonates on many levels.

JL: Discuss the feeling that good symmetry and proportion offer.

BW: Symmetry and well-proportioned spaces create a feeling of harmony that is almost always sensed, even if not consciously understood.

JL: Your firm does quite a bit of work in Hawaii. How can the firm’s philosophy be seen through the lens of island life?

BW: Understanding context in all dimensions is a universal principle of our practice. The tropical climate of Hawaii and the unique vernacular that responded to those conditions shape our approach. Buildings primarily provide shelter from the sun and the occasional rain shower. Rooms can be detached from one another and connected by paths in the landscape, which frame outdoor rooms in the garden. The lines of inside and outside are often blurred.

JL: How does designing with pencil to paper connect you to your ideas?

BW: Our brains are more directly connected to the sketching process, which is great for initiating the conceptual phase of a project or when working out some particular detail. Our teams at Walker Warner Architects are fantastic at using computers to develop those sketch concepts into architecture.

JL: Do you have a specific creative process?

BW: Yes, but it has evolved over many years of practice and it is hard to describe. The creative process is sometimes like a Zen Koan….you ruminate and iterate until the solution is revealed.

"Understanding context in all dimensions is a universal principle of our practice."

JL: What do you love about being a native and living in San Francisco?

BW: I feel incredibly grateful to have been born and raised in San Francisco. It is an amazingly beautiful place located on the edge of the Pacific. There is a rich creative history in this city and our work draws from that legacy while interpreting that inspiration into an architecture of our time.

JL: What do you go to rejuvenate your spirit and creativity?

BW: To our retreat outside of Healdsburg or the mountains of Northern California.

JL: Perfect weekend getaway from the city?

BW: Hard to beat exploring some beautiful river with my fly rod in hand.

JL: What are you reading?

BW: Mostly History and Biography. I typically have several books that I am reading and listening to on Audible while driving. One of my recent favorites was the “Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf.

Visit walkerwarner.com

Photo Credits: Matthew Millman, Mark Defeo, Laure Joliet

Nicole Hollis - NICOLEHOLLIS Design

Sleek Sophistication

By Joseph Lucier

Operating from a brilliant light filled atelier in the San Francisco design district, Nicole Hollis imbues her designs with the sleek sophistication of a knowing and seasoned practitioner. Whether gathering inspiration from the vineyards of the Napa valley or the tropical breezes of the Hawaiian islands, Nicole seamlessly blends the alchemy of site and design. I had the recent chance to catch up with Nicole in her brimming studio to discuss her tireless pursuit of inspired collaboration with her designers and clients and the inspiration she draws from her good fortune to live with her family in the former Pacific Heights home of Julia Morgan.

 NICOLE HOLLIS

NICOLE HOLLIS

Joseph Lucier: When did you know that interior design would be your creative path?

Nicole Hollis: I was 12 years old and visited friends’ houses in Palm Beach. These beautiful interiors inspired me and I knew from that moment that I wanted to create unique spaces for people to live in.

JL: You came out of Howard Backen’s office to establish your own interior design firm. What did you learn while working with Howard?

NH: Howard can simplify the complex for any client with great charm. The flow of his residential spaces are inspiring and he is always thinking about the context of his architecture.

JL: In the Napa Valley, seasoned locals say you have elevated the time honored Backen look. What do you love about working in the wine country?

NH: We continue to be inspired by Howard’s architecture and interpret the interiors through another lens. Wine country mixes awe-inspiring terrain with pioneering attitudes. Napa Valley continues to integrate old with new in every aspect. This makes it one of the most interesting places to design.

JL: Your husband, Lewis Heathcote, is your business partner. What surprised you about him when you two developed a professional relationship?

NH: He and I have been working together for fifteen years so our working relationship has been evolutionary. My biggest surprise is how well we continue to bounce new ideas off each other.

JL: What type of culture have you developed in your office?

NH: We focus on a culture of “we” not “I”, so it’s collaborative and supportive working environment with clients, architects, contractors, artists, and craftspeople.

JL: Who is you perfect client?

NH: We’ve had a lot of really great clients that can give us a sense of what they think they’d like and then grant us the time and space to elevate that concept into something they couldn’t have imagined.

JL: Do you have a creative routine or process?

NH: I do and I don’t. My process is to keep breaking up the process so I can see everything from different angles and continue to be surprised.

JL: You recently collaborated with Brooks Walker on a Tiburon home. [click for feature] What was your experience like working together?

NH: The house is beautiful and stands as a testament to working with Brooks and his team. He truly understands how to listen to clients, collaborate with other parties and that the best idea always wins.

JL: You and your family are fortunate to live in Julia Morgan’s old home on Divisadero Street. Does her spirit inspire you?

NH: Yes I think about her a lot. I cannot begin to imagine the hurdles she had to overcome in the early 20th century as a woman in design. I think of her coming home and ruminating over her projects and how I sit in the same spot, inspired by her

JL: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

NH: The natural world is of great inspiration to me. I’m also constantly drawn to fashion design.

JL: Who are your design idols?

NH: Jil Sander, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, and Ilse Crawford

JL: Favorite weekend getaway?

NH: We were married in Big Sur and it continues to pull us in.

JL: When were you the happiest?

NH: My two children honestly have excellent senses of humor so there isn’t a week that goes by that we’re not belly laughing with them. That’s hard to top.

 PRE WAR APARTMENT - PACIFIC HEIGHTS

PRE WAR APARTMENT - PACIFIC HEIGHTS

Visit NICOLEHOLLIS.com

Many thanks to Nichole Hollis, Katherine Nelson, and Avery Carmassi for working with me on this feature!

Kendall Wilkinson - Kendall Wilkinson Design

The Wilkinson Touch

By Joseph Lucier

As a San Francisco native and daughter of an interior designer, Kendall Wilkinson had the privilege of growing up amidst the city's treasured architectural lineage while developing a sense of scale and color at an early age. Studying abroad in Paris further solidified a belief in the importance of architectural heritage and fine craftsmanship, It also put the City of Lights high up on the list when sourcing objets d'art and furnishings for her sumptuous interiors.  Kendall's evolving design style, coupled with her authenticity and business savvy, have helped build a loyal clientele who have turned her Presidio Heights atelier into a landing pad as she jets between projects in Mexico, Montana, and New York City.  I had the recent good fortune to join Kendall and her million dollar smile in Jackson Square to chat about how she so elegantly choreographs the hustle bustle of life, family, and her creative pursuits.

 Kendall Wilkinson

Kendall Wilkinson

Joseph Lucier: Coming from an interior design family, what did you learn early on about the profession and what "good design" really means?

Kendall Wilkinson: My mother was a designer and she taught me the importance of scale, color, and tone at a very early age. I learned that you can mix neutrals as long as you keep in mind the different textures and hues. “Good design” is greater than using the most luxurious materials, custom solutions, or one-of-a-kind furnishings; it’s about how these elements can be applied to create an environment that is restorative and reflective of its inhabitants. While an interior designer can create a home that is considered beautiful, ultimately “good design” comes down to the homeowner—how they feel and live in the space once the designer’s job is complete. 

JL: As a native San Franciscan, what do you see as your part in the stewardship of historic homes?

KW: As a child, I had the privilege of growing up surrounded by some of the nation’s most treasured historic homes and developed a deep affection and appreciation for San Francisco’s architectural integrity. I believe that the bones of a house are a key element in the design process. Keeping and restoring original details is of high importance to me. As designers, we can nod to the future while still respecting the past and there is a wonderful symmetry to that. There’s nothing I enjoy more than juxtaposing old and new by choosing a sleek contemporary light fixture for a traditional Victorian residence.

JL: How did your time living in Paris, and your travels in general, shape your knowledge base and help inform your current design decisions?

KW: Living in Paris taught me the importance historic significance is to design and architecture—and the importance of great craftsmanship. I think we’ve lost something today since we’ve moved in the direction of retail. I want to keep one of a kind pieces as the cornerstone of my design.

JL: How has your design philosophy developed over the past two decades?

KW: While trends in design have impacted how my aesthetic has evolved, my core philosophy remains the same. When it comes to design, my motto is that order equals calm. I believe that interiors need to be not only beautiful, but should also be functional and accommodate the lifestyle of the homeowner. My style has evolved along with the changing design landscape and client demographic; there is a ubiquitous desire for clean lines and spaces where less is more. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift in how people want their spaces to feel. Businesses want their offices be more inviting, home-like environments while homeowners seek residences that feel like a hotel or spa retreat and evoke feelings of serenity.

JL: Talk about the perfect dance between an architect and interior designer.

KW: The perfect dance is when both parties respect what each does—because they serve inherently different functions—and can come together to create something beautiful. While interior designers and architects share the same end goal, they are trained differently and each bring unique perspectives to the project. By uniting my expertise in furnishings with an architect’s expertise in spatial configurations, we are able to collaborate to create a home where form and function go hand-in-hand and there is a seamless connection between the home’s structure and its decor.

"Putting a fabulous antique or a wonderful vintage piece in a very modern room can anchor it and give it a feeling of authenticity." 

JL: How do you achieve an alchemy between traditional and contemporary styles in decor?

KW: There is something contrived about a room where everything is new, so I try to avoid that whenever I can. I love the juxtaposition of very clean and contemporary furniture with traditional architecture and classic moldings. There is a pleasant tension that feels very authentic to me. At the same time, putting a fabulous antique or a wonderful vintage piece in a very modern room can anchor it and give it that same feeling of authenticity that it might not have otherwise.

JL: Where do you love to go when sourcing unique furnishings?

KW: New York, Los Angeles, and Paris! You just can’t beat the treasures in those cities. Recently, I’ve explored Mexico City and am enamored with the wonderful contemporary and modern furnishings I’ve discovered, many of which have a strong Italian influence.

  CASTLE IN THE SKY  - HIGH RISE LUXURY

CASTLE IN THE SKY - HIGH RISE LUXURY

JL: You are fortunate enough to design your clients second and even third homes. How do you nurture a client’s viewpoint when working on a vacation home as opposed to a primary residence?

KW: I always take into consideration the environment and region of where I’m designing. Whether it’s Mexico, Montana, or a New York City penthouse apartment, the location always serves as the point of inspiration. That said, I never want to design a signature Mexican hacienda or Montana log cabin. I take into account how the individuals will live in the home or space while still conforming to the originality of the place and existing architecture.

JL: You have added a textile line to your portfolio. What have you learned through developing this aspect of your business?

KW: Actually, I developed a fabric line like I would any other business: it requires authenticity and business savvy! It’s a very competitive industry with lots of talented people involved, so it requires a lot of focus. As a high-end interior designer who is accustomed to creating custom solutions for each of my clients, it was a challenge to choose colors, patterns, and prints that would be accessible to a broader audience and still feel one-of-a-kind.

JL: Where would your dream vacation home be and what would it look like?

KW: A seaside villa somewhere on the coast of Mexico. It would be modern, very clean, and serene with an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living. I imagine this residence as A place where I can host close friends and family for home cooked meals and intimate gatherings.

"As designers, we can nod to the future while still respecting the past and there is a wonderful symmetry to that."

JL: Outside of your busy life with clients and your children, what do you like to do to unwind?

KW: Walking on the beach with my lab, Biscuit, or a close girlfriend.

JL:  Travel bucket list?

KW: I think Greece, with a chartered boat to a few islands—and stop in Istanbul.

JL:  What are you reading?

KW: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

JL: Favorite restaurants internationally?

KW: Flora Farms in Cabo, Mexico.

JL: Tell us something that we don’t know about you.

KW: I was in a rock ‘n roll band.

  CONSUMMATE COLLECTOR   -  SILICON VALLEY

CONSUMMATE COLLECTOR - SILICON VALLEY

Visit @ kendallwilkinson.com

Many thanks to Kendall Wilkinson and Nicole Balin for working with me on this feature!

Geddes Ulinskas - Geddes Ulinskas Architects

The Alchemy of Geddes

By Joseph Lucier

High atop downtown San Francisco's venerable Mills Building sits a sun drenched office where elegant designs are created for some of the city's most exacting residential clients. I first visited the offices of architect Geddes Ulinskas last year and was immediately taken by a model of a pool house that he was collaborating on with a Pacific Heights family. The sensitivity and the patience of making such a model made me realize immediately that in an age of CAD design and digitized reality, Geddes is a bright spot shining through to a bygone time where discourse and the flexibility of human touch still guides architectural decisions. During his time working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Geddes has embraced a keen eye for classical proportion, engaged in spirited discourse with San Francisco's unique topography, and, ultimately, delivered his clients beautiful homes that offer them a sense of daily inspiration.

  Geddes Ulinskas

Geddes Ulinskas

Joseph Lucier: What was your path like to establishing a career as an architect?

Geddes Ulinskas: Growing up, I was sure that I was going to have a career as a commercial artist or an illustrator. My aunt was a very successful illustrator and painter who trained at Pratt Institute in New York. Pratt held a merit based scholarship program for art and architecture. It was a national competition to gather the best students from all over the country. Somehow, I missed the deadline to apply for the art scholarship, but my art teacher pointed out that I still had time to apply for the architecture scholarship. I didn’t really know anything about architecture, but was told that if I got a scholarship to attend Pratt, I could always switch my major. I entered the architecture competition and was awarded the first-place full scholarship. I was so fascinated by architecture that I never switched my major and graduated from the program.

Prior to establishing my own firm, I was fortunate to work with some international architects like Ricardo Legoretta and Fumiko Maki. I found these architects to be intensely creative and artistic in their approach to space. It reminded me that there shouldn’t be tangible difference between artists and architects.

JL: You worked in New York prior to opening a firm in San Francisco. What are some of the benefits and challenges of working in San Francisco as opposed to New York?

GU: New York is such a vibrant urban context to work in. There is nothing like it. When you design in New York, you are always acknowledging what is near you and what surrounds you, but you are usually creating an inward focused space. San Francisco has such unparalleled topography and natural beauty; the architecture is much more outwardly focused toward views of the bay or the skyline. Because of all the hills and slopes, even back yards and basements have views.

JL: Your offices are in one of downtown San Francisco’s most venerable buildings, the Mills Building (1890). What other public buildings in the city speak to you?

GU: I love the Palace Hotel; the Garden court is a very magical space. The Frank Lloyd Wright building on Maiden Lane is a great gem. I find the Armory to be wonderful. One of the scenes of the original Star Wars was filmed there. It doesn’t get much better than that.

"To draw and build by hand brings the team a more intimate understanding of the design. By designing with traditional methods, more unintended things happen, and that is often a good thing."

JL: What are the things that anybody can do to make their home more livable?

GU: The entrance to a house is so important. It sets up the feeling you get coming home. It reminds you why you love returning at the end of the day. It’s the transition from the outside world into your oasis. The front gate, the steps, the reflecting pool – if you can make that happen, it can be a daily ritual you love.

JL: What signals a "dream client" to you during the interview process for a new project?

GU: A client’s art collection often can tell me that a project is going to be a dream project. The way a client has collected art, objects, and furniture signal a passion for design and craftsmanship. I can also build a plan around their art and understand their home as a space where they co-exist with the work they have collected. I love it when we finish a project and the client’s art and objects breathe life into the home. It is so wonderful to see.

JL: I understand you engage in the more traditional design practices of hand drawing and modeling. Why is that important in a digital age?

GU: To create a work of architecture is an intensely personal endeavor for the client. The architect is the client’s partner and guide in the process. To draw and build the design by hand just brings the team a much more intimate understanding of the design. I also feel that parameters get established very early on when working digitally, but when designing with traditional methods, more unintended things happen, and that is often a good thing.

JL: You have had the fortune to work with some of the great interior design talents in the city. How did these professionals inspire you during the projects?

GU: The designer’s I’ve worked with have developed an amazing sense of scale. They just seem to know the perfect proportion that an object should have and its relation to another object, and all this tells a story.

JL: “Behind every great project is a great client.” What does that mean to you?

GU: It means I’ve been lucky and I’ve had the good fortune to meet some great clients. I’ve learned a lot from the builders I’ve worked with. I have learned a great deal from the designer’s I have been partnered with, but by far, I have learned the most from my clients.

JL: How do you refresh yourself creatively?

GU: I often guest critique at CCA. To see students and the work they are doing is very inspiring. It helps me to understand the directions that design is exploring and gives me a glimpse of what the new generation of architects will be achieving which is very exciting.

"I have learned a great deal from the designer’s I have been partnered with, but by far, I have learned the most from my clients."

JL: What is your favorite color. Why?

GU: Green is my favorite color. It is the color of growth and creativity.

JL: Are you more of a dreamer or a practical person?

GU: I would definitely say dreamer. I think every great architect is a dreamer, but a dreamer who is smart enough to surround himself with practical people.

JL: Favorite neighborhood in San Francisco?

GU: The Mission is such a great mix of old and new, of cultures and ideals. It is a place where people try things, some fail, some succeed.

JL: What are you reading?

GU: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino

JL: In what international country or city would you like to go to study architecture?

GU: Rome, Rome, Rome.

JL: Favorite thing to do on the weekends?

GU: I love to get outside and do some watercolor on weekends.

Visit Geddes @ ularch.com

Portrait photo: Carly Tabak

Architectural photography: Rein Van Rijthoven, Richard Barnes, Drew Kelly

 

 

Willem Racke - Willem Racke Studio

Walls of Art

Dating back from the Caves of Lascaux and the fresco adorned ancient city of Pompeii to the more refined skills that ancient artisans employed using lacquer finishing and verre églomisé, decorative painting and finishing reflects the history that cultures had for story telling and beauty.  Willem Racke of Willem Racke Studios offers clients an opportunity to enter his world of time honored artistry to grace their homes with his fresh vision on traditional techniques. Sitting down recently with Racke at his production studio in the Inner Mission shed light on the creative talents of this master craftsman.

 Willem Racke

Willem Racke

CaenLucier: How did you come to the profession of decorative painting?

Willem Racke: I fell into decorative painting. I decided to take a break from college in New Zealand to travel to the US and Europe for a 1 to 2 year trip. I lived in San Francisco for six months then went to New York with the idea of living there for a while, then moving on to Europe. I had a friend in San Francisco and she put me in contact with a friend of hers who lives in New York that happened to be a decorative painter who needed an assistant. I loved the work and was crazy about the art scene in NYC. That six months lasted over 3 years. I returned to San Francisco, started my studio and haven’t looked back.

CL: If you could indulge yourself at home with your craft, which room and what type of treatment would draw your creative talents?

WR: I have bought, renovated and lived in several homes over the last few years, integrating decorative finishing into every one of them. The building where I live now is an industrial building in South of Market, which I renovated into a sophisticated urban loft. The style is very contemporary and I've used decorative finishes throughout, subtle Venetian plasters, custom finished wood paneling, industrial metal finishes. I’m currently working on a mural for my powder room; it’s going to be silhouettes of trees in black-and-white. In my next house I would love to have a paneled library finished in eggplant color lacquer.

CL: Looking back in history what examples of different cultures informing each other have been brought to your modern day craft?

WR: I think people need to be reminded that decorative painting is the first form of art, man painted the walls of caves long before any of the fine arts as we define them existed. Decorative plaster, frescos and painting techniques all date back to Roman times and probably were established well before that. Many historic cultures were reflected in how they painted and finished their residences and temples, Venetian plaster is written about in Vitruvius's De Architectura, a 1st Century B.C. history of Rome. So nothing is really new, it’s all about a fresh vision for traditional techniques that suits the aesthetics of today.

Lacquer finishing, as another example, is enjoying a revival today. The techniques for creating great lacquer are the same as the ones used in ancient China, we have modern tools and equipment to apply the materials but the hand sanding and buffing are all essential to a true lacquer finish.

"I think people need to be reminded that decorative painting is the first form of art, man painted the walls of caves long before any of the fine arts as we define them existed. Decorative plaster, frescos and painting techniques all date back to Roman times and probably were established well before that."

 TORTOISE SHELL  POWDER ROOM

TORTOISE SHELL POWDER ROOM

CL: What are a couple of centuries old techniques that you enjoy employing in today’s interiors?

WR: I like subtle, tonal Venetian Plaster, it really elevates a neutral palette, we do a special Strata finish that goes from dark to light in a way that complements the interior furnishings.  I really like Verre églomisé, a reverse glass painting technique that gives an effect that you can’t duplicate in any other way, it plays with the light in a room.

CL: What would the powder room of your dreams look like?

WR: I have always contended that if you are going to go wild, do it in the powder room. I have done many extravagant powder rooms. We did an all tortoise shell powder room in a Nob Hill a pied a terre, walls and ceiling and cabinetry that is just over the top. Recently, I completed a verre églomise powder room inspired by the post impressionist jungle paintings of Henri Rousseau, it was quite a feat of art and engineering to create and install but it’s spectacular. Another over the top powder room was for a young, hip couple. We did the floors walls and ceiling in op art themed polka dots that oscillate for a bit of a mind-bending experience. If you aren’t a bit stoned when you walk in you certainly will be when you walk out.

CL: Have you seen any decorative finish in your international travels that you have developed to make your own?

WR: The Tsarskoye Selo museum in the Catherine palace in Saint Petersburg is one of the highest examples of decorative finishing in the world. Every surface is decoratively painted or gilded or treated in some way. I was really impressed by the elaborate inlaid wood floors and I developed techniques to translate that look into stenciled and stained designs for wood floors.

CL: Have you seen over the years your part of interior design work go through particular fads?  If so what?

WR: When I first started finishing in the 80’s the look was Memphis, lots of pastel blues, purples and greens. There was a lot of sea sponging wall finishes and faux marble was usually over the top. Now finishes are more refined and subtle, I mean we still do faux marble, we participated in the restoration of the Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor where we faux marbled the trim to match the real stone.

 Detail of Restored Park Lane Beamed Ceiling - Nob Hill

Detail of Restored Park Lane Beamed Ceiling - Nob Hill

CL: Do you have a particular finish application that is near and dear to your heart?

WR: I am really liking verre églomisé these days, it’s a vintage French technique of reverse painting on glass that has a lot of visual impact when it’s done well. The jungle inspired verre églomisé powder room is a memorable room. I also love tortoise shell finishes, they can be so dramatic in the right setting.

CL: Looking back on your career, what was one of the most challenging projects you were commissioned?

WR: We did a Venetian plaster mural for Cushman Wakefield’s downtown headquarters that were designed by Gensler. The mural is a “snails eye” view of an office tower done in monochromatic tones of plaster and then incised to create a bas-relief. The geometry of the extreme perspective in different tones combined with the thousands of facets were a real challenge to execute but the final result was worth the effort.

CL: How do you find yourself most often brought into a interior design project?

WR: My projects are commissioned mostly through designers, architects and contractors, I also work directly with clients. I have worked to develop ongoing long term relationships with all my clients who rely on me for my knowledge, experience and sense of aesthetics.

  TORTOISE SHELL  CHEST OF DRAWERS

TORTOISE SHELL CHEST OF DRAWERS

 Stenciled Flooring

Stenciled Flooring

CL: Any particular designers that you enjoy working with/understand how best to implement your skills into a project?

WR: I have had the opportunity to work with many of the best designers on incredible projects. I have worked with Jay Jeffers on many of his projects, his work is elegant and beautiful. I enjoy working with Kelly Hohla, she is a rising creative talent with a unique point of view. I love working with Darin Geise of Coup D’etat, he is a unique force in the world of bay area design, we have done wall finishes for the showroom as well as window displays. I have done projects with Peter Marino, an amazing architect and designer.  

CL: What is your idea of a perfect client?

WR: The perfect client is someone who I resonate with on an aesthetic level. I like working with designers and clients who understand and respect the art and craft that goes into finishing. I have a lot of experience and expertise in the field and it’s always great to be able to work with clients and designers who know, for example, that I have an extensive reference library for research that centers on decorative arts, both historical and modern to resource from. I can do my best work when the designer or client gives me some free rein and likes to collaborate.

CL: What is your favorite project that you are working on currently?

WR: We are working on a project in Hillsborough with Kelly Hohla, interior designer and Richard Beard, architect. It’s a big project with great design and finishes; we have been working for six months producing samples and concepts. In one of the rooms, we are doing lacquer finish inspired by the 2015 San Francisco Decorator Showcase room I designed that has a muted, polychromatic palette and high gloss finish. We’re also doing a dark turquoise lacquer pantry. Subtle Venetian plaster finishes and custom wood graining and finishing are part of the plans.

CL: What are you reading at the moment?

WR: I’m reading The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal. The author is a ceramicist who specializes in porcelain. The story is about his travels to the “white Hills” of the world and tracing the roots of porcelain and how it became the refined art and collected thing it is today. The book was given to me by Ron Schwartz, my first client and now friend, who is a collector of fine porcelains. It’s really given me a respect for the art and it’s significance in history.

CL: If you could choose another career what would it be?

WR: I would be an architect. That was my original plan. I wanted to travel for a year or two then return to New Zealand to study architecture. Obviously, my life went in another direction. I am really happy though that my chosen career enables me to be a part of the world great architecture and design.

 Op-Art Powder Room

Op-Art Powder Room

CaenLucier would like to thank Willem Racke for all his time and amazing energy!