The 1968 Caprice Grand Chevrolet and the elegant city of San Francisco.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION...
Michael de Young was the patriarch of one of the most powerful and influential families in San Francisco. He arrived to San Francisco during the Civil War years in 1854 from St. Louis with his mother Cornelia “Amelia” and brother Charles. De Young’s father, Miechel, was said too have died of a stroke during their journey.
In 1865, Michael and Charles entered the publishing business as teenagers by borrowing a $20 gold piece from their landlord. They used the money to buy an old desk, several fonts of used type, some newsprint, and then tucked themselves away in the corner of their landlord's Clay Street print shop. The brothers started with a free theater program sheet called The Daily Dramatic Chronicle, which debuted on January 16, 1865. The four-page Daily Dramatic conveyed itself to be "a daily record of affairs -- local, critical, and theatrical," but was seen as a gossip sheet. The two teenagers handed out the Daily Dramatic at hotels, theaters, restaurants, and saloons, and by the end of their first week they had payed their landlord back. According to the de Young’s, the Daily Dramatic Chronicle would be “the best advertising medium on the Pacific Coast.”
By the end of their first month, the de Young's had increased the circulation of their fledgling effort to over 2,000 copies. It was an encouraging start, but that successful first month would be soon forgotten when the de Young’s broke free from their role as upstarts and scored an even more remarkable coup.
Abraham Lincoln President of the United States
assassinated by John Wilkes Booth
Word of the president's death appeared in the de Young’s first "extra" edition, hitting the streets several hours before the city's other daily journals reported on the national tragedy. The de Young’s had quickly legitimized their position as news reporters, marking the first pivotal step in their bid to become aggressive, competitive journalists. By the 1870s their paper was so influential and widely read that the de Young’s could make or break a politician, policy, business deal, or any other matter of importance in Northern California. We now know this paper as the San Francisco Chronicle.
Over the following years, Michael De Young and his wife Katherine had five children:
Charles de Young (1881–1913)
Helen de Young (1883–1969), who married George T. Cameron (1873–1955)
Constance Marie de Young (1885–1968), who married Joseph Oliver Tobin (1878–1978)
Kathleen Yvonne de Young (1888–1954), who married Ferdinand Thieriot (1883–1920)
Phyllis D. de Young (1892–1988), who married Nion Robert Tucker (1885–1950)
In 1911, Michael H. de Young purchased two lots on the south side of California Street between Gough and Octavia Streets, directly adjacent to his own estate. He gave the deeds to two of his daughters, Helen, wife of George E. Cameron, and Constance, wife of Joseph O. Tobin, an executive at Hibernia Bank and member of one of San Francisco's oldest and wealthiest families. Michael also offered to build homes on these lots for the couples and their young families. For a few years nothing happened as both the Tobin and Cameron families chose to live in the affluent town of Hillsborough, south of San Francisco. But in 1913, Michael’s wife Katherine succumbed to cancer and the couple’s only son, Charley, died in a fishing accident. These family tragedies prompted de Young’s daughters to reconsider their father’s earlier offer.
In 1915, de Young commissioned prominent architect Willis Polk to design a Tudor Gothic Revival style home on the lot adjacent the family estate. The original plan was to build two “mirror image” houses next to each other with a large half archway at the side of each house meant to complement, and complete, the neighboring home.
The “Tobin House” was first to be constructed and included a steeply pitched, slate-clad roof with projecting stuccoed chimneys topped with decorative copper chimney pots. A large, two-story bay window, with tall arched casement windows and small panes of leaded glass, dominates the eastern side of the front facade and is capped with Neo-Gothic inspired decorative panels. The half arch, formed with molded bands, leads into the a recessed side passage. The understated front door, east of the half arch, is accented with a lion’s head. With good fortune, Polk’s original intent of unpainted stucco, resembling stone to match the California Street lamp posts in front of the de Young mansion, has stood the test of time.
Ultimately, Helen de Young had plans other than to build a complementary home next to her happily ensconced sister, Constance. Thus, the second half of the mirror image house was never built leaving an abruptly ending archway where it meets the next building. The original de Young mansion met the wrecking ball in the 1940s, but not before portions of The Thin Man (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, were filmed there.
Today, 1969 California presents itself better than ever as it stands out among surrounding homes. The owners of this private residence have lovingly restored the interiors to keep the integrity and beauty of its original architecture. Willis and M. H. would be proud.
The LOFTY HEIGHTS Interview
C A E N L U C I E R: As a girl who knew exactly what she wanted to do at a young age, talk about your current state of mind as SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design.
Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher: At a young age, I saw museum exhibitions as one way to address a gap in arts education and introduce important ideas, new forms and processes seen in architecture and design, and revisit history with a broad audience. I still have those goals as well as an interest in engaging in public dialogue with designers, museum visitors and colleagues. It’s more important than ever to listen, share and take action.
CL: How have you seen the Snoetta designed new museum substantiate the position of SFMOMA on the national and international museum scene?
JDF: I’ve noticed that tremendous additions to SFMOMA’s collection, including the Fisher Collection loan, which were acquired during the building’s closure, broadened SFMOMA’s audience and engagement significantly.
CL: Is there a favorite work that you enjoy visiting in the museum?
JDF: It is always a treat to walk through the Dan Graham sculpture on the small outdoor balcony on the 4th floor overlooking the Yerba Buena Garden.
CL: In what direction do you see the Architecture and Design department at SFMOMA growing in the years ahead.
JDF: Now that the department and collection is well-established and going on thirty years at SFMOMA, we’ll continue to focus on works that generate new ideas and dialogues, while also turning our attention to visionary contemporary works from the Bay Area and beyond.
CL: Your new show, Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism, just opened. How did the idea develop from your initial proposal to a public exhibition.
JDF: SFMOMA’s Architecture + Design gallery has very high walls, and much of the original 1960s designs for The Sea Ranch are small hand-drawings. My colleague and co-curator on the exhibition, Joseph Becker and I decided to recreate a full-scale version of one of the earliest Condominium units to fill the central space, and surround it with drawings and photographs on the gallery walls. Since The Sea Ranch is a bit far, it was important that visitors have an opportunity to experience the interior configuration of the architecture.
CL: What was your most exciting find during your research for the show?
JDF: There were so many exciting finds! Every day I have a new favorite. Constance Beeson’s 1966 film of a Halprin Workshop showing The Sea Ranch site and people experiencing nature with intent and intensity was as exciting as finding architect Joseph Esherick’s initial Hedgerow house studies. We looked at thousands of drawings and photographs, and narrowed it down to just under one hundred works on view—each one is a gem.
CL: It has been many years since your department published a book in conjunction with a show. What did you learn from the process.
JDF: While the essay writing is arduous it is so rewarding, and feels like a luxury to be able to spend time considering a subject or period. A book is a more private experience than an exhibition, but can be revisited repeatedly. For me, it is a pleasure to return to an exhibition catalog and remember seeing each work depicted
CL: FOG Fair is this week. What do you enjoy most about the fair?
JDF: I love speaking to so many people about exciting design for four days straight.
CL: How has FOG Art + Design supported your department’s efforts?
JDF: The FOG Forum supports SFMOMA’s Architecture + Design collection building.
CL: What are some of you favorite museums?
JDF: The Zumthor-designed Kolumba Museum in Cologne, Germany, the new Fondazione Prada in Milan by Koolhaas and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City, . . .
CL: Any favorite architects and designers?
JDF: The ones that keep surprising and challenging me!
C A E N L U C I E R thanks Jennifer for taking the time to work on this piece with us.
This beautiful top floor, two bedroom condominium sold in four days! This swift sale bridged the gap to allow our sellers a stress free purchase of a larger Pacific Heights home. They were thrilled with our seamless sales cycle.
$1, 550,000 - Seller Represented
San Francisco History
Standing 112 feet above Bryant Street atop a three-story building in San Francisco's South of Market area, the Coca Cola billboard has been a landmark for drivers going to and from the Bay Bridge since 1937 -- One year after the bridge opened to traffic.
The Spencerian script of the logo with its glowing background in a shade known as Coca-Cola Red was originally illuminated with neon. It alternately twinkled and shone for the better part of seven decades, but in 2010 it began showing its age.
Seventy-feet long and 30 feet high, the new sign is about the same size as its predecessor, but the look at night is crisper and the colors seem more vibrant.
The work to remove the original lighting system and reface the billboard with 4,800 CFLs for the white lettering and strip LEDs for the background took crews working day and night. The billboard was dark for only four days.
When I return from a long trip, I can always count on one of my favorite signs to light up and welcome me back to San Francisco. I am sure for years to come.......
1-21 Mission Street
In the late 1800’s, Hippolite d'Audiffret ("Audiffred"), a Frenchman who had been living in Mexico, reportedly walked to San Francisco from Veracruz due to the increasing French nationals unpopularity with native Mexican country men and women. Upon his arrival in the city, Hippolite d'Audiffret built a profitable business selling charcoal in Chinatown. The Audiffred Building was constructed for him in 1889 to presumably house his business. Over the years this corner building had many tales of survival that added to the fabric of its legacy. This history and it’s unusual architectural style led to the Audiffred Building being designated Landmark #7. To this day, it is one of the few surviving buildings on the waterfront.
San Francisco had the busiest waterfront on the west coast with a harbor filled with ships, bustling commerce, and shops serving every maritime need. At the turn of the 19th century, the Audiffred Building’s first floor retail spaces were rented to a restaurant and three saloons. The Bulkhead Saloon was one of these tenants.
In an attempt to stop the fires following the 1906 earthquake, the San Francisco Fire Department wanted to create a firebreak between the burning city and the wharfs. They blasted every other building with dynamite except the Ferry Building. As the tale is told, the fireman spared the Audiffred Building because they received an offer they couldn’t refuse. The very wise bartender at the Bulkhead saloon bribed the firemen with a keg of whiskey and a cart full of wine if they would spare the building. Needless to say, the building was saved.
“The very wise bartender at the Bulkhead Saloon bribed the firemen with a keg of whiskey and a cart full of wine if they would spare the building. Needless to say, the building was saved.”
The Audiffred Building served as headquarters for the 1934 West Coast Waterfront strike that lasted eighty-three days when longshoreman in every west coast port walked out. The strike peaked with “Bloody Thursday,” a day when sailors Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise were shot dead by police outside. A monument commemorates this tragedy at the corner of Steuart and Mission streets.
1946 - 1955
With the decline of San Francisco's waterfront in the mid-twentieth century, the Seven Seas Club for homeless sailors moved into the building in 1946. Bohemian artists and writers including Elmer Bischoff, Howard Hack, Frank Lobdell, Hassel Smith, Martin Snipper, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti occupied lofts and studios on the two upper floors. The living spaces had no electricity and were condemned in 1955 as unsafe for living quarters.
A fire from a gas main break gutted the building in 1978 leaving it scheduled for demolition. The building was saved by public demand. The Audiffred Building became the City of San Francisco's Landmark #7 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1981.
1983 – 1984
A domed penthouse was added in the reconstruction after the fire. The building was subsequently bought by real estate developer Dustan Mills. In 1983–1984 it was refurbished and repurposed into office space by William E. Cullen.
It was restored over a two-year period, and then in 1991, after the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, the handsome building again saw the light of day.
1993 - Present
Since 1993, the Audiffred Building has housed Boulevard restaurant.
Disparities Between Listing and Sales Prices Signal a Need to Adjust to Cooling Market
How both buyers and sellers should act in the face of a real estate slowdown
Across the U.S., home buyers are demonstrating less urgency than they have in recent years, according to an October market report from Redfin. While demand remains strong, the report found, over one-third of homes for sale nationwide had a price cut of more than 1%, with discounts on the rise compared to last year.
The gap between homes’ listing prices and sales prices is widening in a number of markets. The California Association of Realtors, for instance, found that the state’s sales-to-list-price ratio hit its lowest point in 20 months in October.
A large disparity between listing and sales prices can indicate that sellers are increasingly out of step with a changing market, and it may be time for a reality check—as well as discounts on listing prices.
In a sales situation, buyers and sellers alike must keep as up to date as possible on market data and set realistic expectations. Sellers often err on the side of using obsolete comps to price their homes, which leads eventually to discounts in a cooling market. Buyers, on the other hand, must keep in mind that discounts don’t mean huge bargains, but rather increased negotiability.
"We often see houses listed with the expectation of sellers that pricing has been continuing upward, and a lot of times, they price their homes by extrapolating continued upward market movement," said Paul Habibi, professor at the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. "But once the market stalls out, those houses sit on the market for longer, there’s a scarcity of buyers, and lower bids. Sellers start to lower their asking prices or else accept offers below list."
However, real estate analysts say, a decrease in sales-to-list-price ratios does not forebode a significant downturn.
"If you look at the broader economy, the fundamentals are still strong," said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist with Redfin. "The GDP is growing, and unemployment is low. Sales prices are still growing. In order for it to be a real reason to worry, prices would have to start going negative."
Still, it pays for both buyers and sellers to be armed with the most current information about the state of this slight cooldown in the U.S., and to know how to interpret and act on disparities between asking and sales prices.
Where We Are Seeing Disparities Now
The hot Seattle real estate market seems to have reached a turning point, with the average home selling for 0.6% below listing price in October, the first time prices were below asking since 2014.
"Prices have gone up so much recently in Seattle that buyers have reached a point where they’re saying they’re not going to accept these," Ms. Fairweather said. "And with mortgage interest rates going up, more people are thinking of renting instead of buying."
Seattle is not the only market experiencing a slowdown in sales and sales prices. In Los Angeles, too, 23.8% of sellers sold their homes for below the listing price this September, while the median home price in Los Angeles County saw a 3.6% gain, the smallest in three years.
"We’ve had double-digit annual price increases in several of the years after the recession," Mr. Habibi said. "Now we’re seeing the market start to slow down because the pace of annual increases is generally unsustainable at that rate."
Third quarter market reports also reflected a cooling of home sales in Manhattan. The borough is experiencing its most significant slowdown in a decade, with sales declining by 11% compared to quarter three of last year, according to Stribling & Associates. As in Seattle and Los Angeles, this is leading to an increase in disparities between asking and sales prices.
"On the whole, there is more negotiability, and an increase in inventory," said Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan, president of Stribling & Associates. "We had a real run, but we’re definitely seeing a slowdown. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing."
What These Disparities Mean
Nationwide, home sales are decreasing, and property is lingering on the market for longer. But other real estate experts agree with Ms. Stribling-Kivlan that this does not presage a major economic downturn.
Instead, they say, the trend represents a normalizing of the market after moving for several years at a frenetic pace.
"There are consistent clues that we’re seeing a shift in the velocity of the market, and moving away from an extreme sellers market," said Javier Vivas, director of economic research for Realtor.com. "There’s some uncertainty that happens when you’re coming down from great heights. But those higher-priced, historically hot markets are really now getting more of that correction and moderation."
Another challenge for luxury real estate in some areas is oversupply. In Manhattan, a construction boom of high-end condos has led developers to begin dropping their asking prices. The average price of a Manhattan apartment decreased 4% to $1.93 million in the third quarter of this year plus, there’s a seven-month supply of apartments, up from a five-month supply last year.
But again, this data should not be interpreted as a sign of impending crisis. And the diversity of the market in New York means that what is true for one sector may not be the case for another.
"New York is fragmented, with co-ops, condos, resales, and new development, as well as borough by borough," Ms. Stribling-Kivlan pointed out. "It’s been interesting to watch the very high end, which has had increased activity to some degree. For the very wealthy, there has been an incredible amount of wealth created in terms of the stock side of this economy. They may be buying for less money, but they’re seeing a good deal and taking advantage."
How Buyers Should Respond
One advantage buyers seem to have over sellers is their access to more current information about markets.
"Sellers may be pricing based on comps that are months old. In a changing market, what your neighbor’s home sold for a few months ago may not be what you can sell for now," Ms. Fairweather said. "Meanwhile, buyers are looking at what’s currently on the market and really trying to get the best value."
However, buyers may be vulnerable to a misunderstanding of what a slight slowing of the pace of the market means for them. They should not, experts caution, expect to land substantial bargains.
"There’s a misconception that prices will decline at some point," Mr. Vivas said. "It can happen in extreme cases, but usually prices don’t decline in a growing economy. It’s about a deceleration in the pace of growth."
And at the high end, he added, some investors may be sitting tight to see how they will be impacted by the changes to the U.S. tax code enacted at the beginning of 2018, which has placed tighter restrictions on the deductions wealthy homeowners can take for property taxes and mortgage interest.
"The big wild card is the tax impact, especially at the end," Mr. Vivas said. "In tracking this entire year, the consensus is the impact [of the new tax code] is being buffered by the fact that people haven’t received their tax filings yet. We might see that come April and May, people think twice about where they put their money."
How Sellers Should Respond
Just as closely analyzing the most current data on home sales is crucial for buyers, sellers, too, must seek out the most up-to-date information to price their homes correctly.
The current increase in disparities between asking and sales prices indicates that many sellers, though, are setting their home’s value according to an earlier, faster market.
"Sellers notoriously overshoot fair values because of personal attachment to their place of residence," Mr. Habibi said.
However, he cautioned, sellers cannot necessarily rely on agents to provide the best dollar value for their home, either: "Agents do the opposite. They under-list to sell quickly and move on to the next listing. One needs to look at the actual data and be as objective as possible."
Studying the most current market data is critical to listing your home as closely as possible to what buyers will now realistically be willing to pay. Sellers should look at homes that have gone into contract in their area recently, taking into consideration asking and sales prices, and the amount of time those properties sat on the market.
It’s also important to hire a seasoned broker who has experience selling in cooling markets.
"They can take an analysis of the raw data and use it to justify what a good price guide would be," Ms. Stribling-Kivlan said. "They’ll also have an anecdotal idea of what people out there are looking for."
Be prepared, too, for your home to attract fewer would-be buyers and to linger on the market for longer than it would have in the faster-paced market of previous years.
"Buyers are now going to have more options, and there’s not as much urgency, and not as many multiple offers," Mr. Vivas said. "Be prepared for single-offer scenarios. Some properties will stay on the market longer, but they will sell. But the premium you were getting in 2016 is probably not going to be there in 2018 or 2019."
All this may persuade those thinking of selling to put their plans on pause and wait to see if the market speeds up again. But you should figure more than just raw data into your calculus of whether now is the right time to sell.
"Residential real estate is an emotional commodity. People see prices coming down and get a little hesitant," Ms. Stribling-Kivlan said. "But great fortunes are made in a changing market. Just because prices are down doesn’t mean you have to wait it out. Figure out what your personal and financial needs are."
Originally Published in The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2018
Real estate can fund your retirement—but brace yourself for lots of risk and rules.
Self-directed individual retirement accounts allow people to diversify their investments into assets other than the traditional stocks, bonds and mutual funds that make up most retirement plans. Examples of alternative investments include real estate, precious metals and oil and gas holdings. The catch: The IRS requires a qualified trustee or custodian to administer the assets, such as handling transactions and managing paperwork and reports. So far, only about two dozen companies in the U.S. can act as custodians of self-directed IRAs.
One of these is Advanta IRA, a self-directed retirement plan administrator in Largo, Fla., which oversees about $820 million in assets. “A lot of our clients are already real-estate investors, so their IRA is simply a new source of capital,” says Scott Maurer, director of business development for Advanta IRA. “And for others, they don’t like being at the whim of the stock market.”
At Advanta, investors open an account, fund it by transferring cash from an existing IRA, and then identify the property they wish to purchase—which typically is a single-family house that will be rented out. Advanta purchases the property on behalf of the investor’s IRA. Nearly all the transactions are cash deals, bypassing mortgage lenders. Rental income from the property is remitted to Advanta, which also pays the bills for the property. The cost for this service: about $200 to open the account and purchase the property and then a flat $295 a year to manage the account. (The company doesn’t handle property repairs or maintenance, tasks typically performed by a property-management company.)
The rules governing real-estate IRAs are anything but simple. IRA owners are forbidden from engaging in certain transactions regarding the property. Even something as simple as mowing the lawn of a property you own in an IRA can run afoul of IRS regulations—and render the account owner susceptible to losing the IRA’s tax-favored status, which could trigger taxes and penalties. That’s because IRS rules require contributions to an IRA to be made in cash, not in services, Mr. Maurer says. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on retirement security last month and stated that “people who invest their retirement accounts in unconventional assets—such as real estate or virtual currency—may be placing their savings at risk.”
Bob Starks has been purchasing real estate for his IRA since 2009. “I do have some stocks and bonds, but 80% of my IRA is in real estate,” says Mr. Starks, a commercial real-estate agent in Duluth, Ga., who owns five rental houses and a small apartment building. He’s also flipped over 20 houses through his IRA.
Since Mr. Starks is 71½ years old, he’s now required to take required minimum distributions of his retirement funds, so he’s tapping his rental income.
JUMBO JUNGLE TIPS
Here are some things to consider when creating a real-estate IRA. Consult a tax professional or financial adviser for the finer points of self-directed plans.
• Not for everyone. “There are plenty of easy opportunities to invest in real estate using mainstream methods like mutual funds or real-estate investment trusts,” says Mari Adam, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla. “It only makes sense to do direct real-estate investments if you’re a seasoned pro and are convinced the project you’re investing in is an absolute winner.”
• Hire a property manager. The best way to ensure that you comply with applicable landlord-tenant laws and avoid prohibited transactions is to hire a third-party professional to manage the properties in your IRA. Expect to pay a commission equal to the first month’s rent and 6% to 10% of the monthly rent thereafter, says Mr. Starks.
• Distribution options.Some investors take distributions from their real-estate IRAs “in kind,” by having the account administrator actually deed to them a percentage of the property, according to Jason Craig, president of the Entrust Group, a self-directed IRA administrator in Oakland, Calif. “For example, I can take out a 10% distribution and then re-register the asset so my IRA owns 90% and I personally own 10%,” he says.
By Robyn A. Friedman
Originally Published in the Wall Street Journal
The Urbane Taste Maker
By Joseph Lucier
It was half way through a relaxed lunch at Absinthe earlier this year, when I realized the man across the table was simply my type of guy. Well-educated, urbane, and witty with just the right amount of New Yorker mixed into the conversation. Cass Calder Smith publicly wove himself into the hearts of San Franciscans with his smash hit design of Restaurant LuLu only to offer encore performances in Rose Pistola, Perbacco, and Twenty Five Lusk. Venturing further into the more private world of his residential practice, one will see in Mr. Calder Smith’s refined hand a talent for capturing the elusive je ne sais quoi that makes a home feel just right. With an interdisciplinary firm supported by offices in New York and San Francisco, Cass remains informed and engaged by a metropolitan lifestyle that excites the mind and propels his creative spirit.
Joseph Lucier: What is your current state of mind regarding your practice and projects that your firm is working on?
Cass Calder Smith: My state of mind feels pretty well-balanced with a nice amount of architectural satisfaction, based on working with some great clients that have remarkable projects. From a creative standpoint, there is also a nice balance between residential and commercial work, where we are doing both the architecture and the interiors. We have new projects starting up that demand fresh ideas and others with construction finishing, which is gratifying as they come to life. My firm has three other partners and a very skilled staff with diverse experience. We have worked together a long time, which has a notable calming factor.
JL: How did growing up with successful creative parents foster your early interest in design and architecture?
CCS: It was always appealing having parents with creative careers and more so since many of their friends had similar careers. In a general way, I saw the creative process in action and so later in life as I studied architecture it felt like a familiar culture. My father Howard Smith was particularly influential due to his immersive success as a journalist and academy-award winning film maker in 1960’s-70’s New York City. He was ambitious, creative, and worked really hard…strongly believed in ideas as a kind of currency. That was a very motivating influence and still is in relation to the process of architectural design. When my parents split up in the 70’s, my mother moved us to an off-the-grid California commune where everybody built their own outlaw houses from scratch – many of which I helped on as a teenager. This taught me a lot about design and building, and also a sense for craft and materials.
JL: Talk about your studies at UC Berkeley and how they gave you both a foundation and a jumping off point for your career.
CCS: I loved going to Cal – both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student five years later. I teach a studio there every few semesters so I keep in touch with academia. By the time I was a graduate student, I was pretty grounded already, due to being a self-employed designer-builder during the five years between degrees. This led me to delve further into design and theory rather than practical reality since I knew I would get back to that in the real world soon. For my two years of graduate school I occupied myself in a series of excellent design studios and seminars, which were very fortifying and led to a good amount of creative confidence. As a jumping off point, I was very fortunate to start getting commissions as I was still studying and so by the time I finished, I just kept going project by project. Two pivotal ones that I began while a student and then finished soon after were a large modernist house in Belvedere and the smash-hit Restaurant LuLu in SF. With those two projects under my belt and a degree from Berkeley, I rented an office in South Park, carefully hired some staff, and officially launched.
JL: As a firm with offices in New York and San Francisco, do you find any distinct East/West coast cultural or design maxims that differentiate client tastes and needs?
CCS: I would say the differences are noticeable, but subtle. New York is such a cauldron of ambition and commerce, which leads to a higher intensity – and so that influences many aspects that range from getting selected to creative expectations. From the corner store to the design studio, it’s just more competitive. In the Bay Area, I find that clients are a little more open to new ideas and are also very much involved as collaborators, which I enjoy, and think is very valuable to the success of their projects. In New York, the clients tend to have us ‘do our thing’ with less of a collaborative ethos. Peoples lifestyles are more casual and less urban on the west coast and so since we aim to design projects (especially houses) to align with people’s lifestyles, that drives design in certain ways.
JL: Does your interdisciplinary practice of working in the hospitality, commercial, and residential spaces offer a fruitful design feedback loop?
CCS: Yes, but possibly more so in their opposites. The restaurants we work on we interpret and design as ‘public places’ with the attributes of shared space, drama, people-watching, and socializing. Homes are very much the opposite with the attributes of privacy, retreat, personalized space, and are lifestyle-specific. Those differences have established a clarity of thinking that helps derive concepts that work for each. On a similarity level, we do like to work with more residential materials within restaurants because we know that people enjoy them and feel more comfortable around what they live with. The commercial kitchen has made its way into the home over the years as we have all seen and so this back and forth is always evolving with interest. As my firm has designed a lot of homes and restaurants in the Bay Area, one common thread to both is that they are generally designed for our local lifestyle culture, which I refer to as ‘casual modernism’. We also work on show rooms, offices, and some writers’ studios. My sense is that having a range of design experience makes any architect better for any individual project type.
JL: When given the opportunity to design a home from the ground up, talk about your process of siting the property.
CCS: That’s my favorite commission, and siting a house is often the most important creative act and problem to solve. First, I get to know the site as deeply as possible. I will go there at different times of the day, observe the sun, wind, views, and often sketch what is there for a richer awareness of the characteristics. This analysis and research then directly leads to design. Its best for the client to be on site for part or all of this - as they always have valuable insight. Then it’s about creating as many ways of siting the house as possible and this usually entails thinking about what the shape and general design of the house will be. The key factors are views, solar orientation, and topography, and how to maximize the indoor-outdoor dynamic. On large sites its sometimes the macro solving of where to put the house, not just about how best to situate it. Then once there’s a solution, have it staked out to be sure it’s as expected. Often there will be tweaks from this.
JL: Who are the architects, both past and current, that inspire you?
CCS: From the past; Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Richard Neutra, and Alvar Alto to name a few for their distinct and pioneering modernism, plus a few artists like Donald Judd and Andy Warhol, and Fred Sandback. Current Architects include the talented Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & Demeuron, Saana, and Tadao Ando.
JL: When discussing architectural heritage, which cities would you most likely spotlight?
CCS: You’ve got to start with Rome since it spans almost every era and historical movement. Paris is great as textbook urbanism and drop-dead beauty. Tokyo always amazes. I’m partial to New York as a native, but Chicago is really the city for exemplary American Architecture – especially the twentieth century. I have been getting back into Venice the last few years too…the water, no cars, a place kind of preserved.
JL: What does the experience of teaching students at UC offer you?
CCS: Having a balance between practice and academia just feels right as an architect. The better you feel, the better your think. It’s motivating to be around the young energetic talent. It also makes you walk your talk more than usual, since there’s a lot of explaining to students to think conceptually and as outside of the box as possible and then back at the office you can’t forget that. Design schools are really creative and artistic places and so being part of that feels like it keeps you on your game. It’s also nice to give back with design knowledge and wisdom.
JL: What did you get out of your involvement with the Civic Design Review Committee for the SF Arts Commission.
CCS: That was a pretty vast experience for eight years with much more responsibility than I expected. In public hearings we reviewed and then approved every public building to be built in SF over that time. This ranged from Moscone’s expansion, to libraries, to play structures in parks…essentially anything on city-owned property. I acquired a lot of valuable experience from my involvement on much larger scale buildings than I work on in my practice, and also got to work with some of the top architects in the Bay Area. Public- sector work is different than private-sector, and so that added experience helped my perspective on all work. It’s good for architects to work in various scales and so this was a benefit to the continuous learning curve.
JL: What is your favorite weekend getaway?
CCS: I frequently stay home designing and drawing at a nice big table, but if not then weekends at the Chateaux Marmont in LA are always liberating. I also enjoy Indian Springs in Calistoga floating around in that big warm pool.
JL: Bucket list items yet to be realized?
CCS: For travel; Cairo and the Nile, then Marfa Texas. Someday I want to build my own Glass House in the country. Since I gave up motorcycles, I want to start car racing.
JL: Favorite restaurants? Internationally, nationally and locally.
CCS: Internationally; J-Sheeky and The Woolsey in London. I’m a little more into the classics. Nationally, I jump to New York, where I like Oya, Marea, and Houseman. And Locally, I still and will always love Zuni. I’m a big fan of Hog Island Oyster, and also Poncho Villa Taqueria too.
JL: What are you currently reading?
CCS: Always reading a New Yorker striving to keep up, but also finishing up Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography.
Many thanks to Cass Calder Smith and Melissa Werner for working with me on this feature!
Photo Credits: Colin Miller, Paul Dyer, Joe Fletcher, Eric Laignel.
2920 Broadway Street - $39,000,000
2006 Washington Street Maisonette - $25,000,000
840 El Camino Del Mar - $21,900,000
34 Maple Street - $18,500,000
3090 Pacific Avenue - $16,500,000
3020 Pacific Avenue - $16,500,000
19 Arguello Boulevard - $12,800,000
3659 Washington Street - $12,500,000
2209 Pacific Avenue - $12,300,000
2090 Vallejo Street - $12,000,000
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.
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!
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.
CaenLucier would like to thank Danny Bernardini for his time with LOFTY HEIGHTS!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Thank you Gary for your work on this feature.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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
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 years of schooling and landed early on at the top of Los Angeles' photography community benefiting from the guidance of Tim Street-Porter. Subsequent commissions from recognized interior designers and architects offered Millman the opportunity to train his eye and hone his skill 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.
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.
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?
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.
Thank you, Matthew for your work on this feature.
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.
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.
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.
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
Many thanks to David Kensington and Whitney Robinson for working with me on this feature!
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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!
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."
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?
JL: First celebrity crush?
BK: Paulina Porizkova!!
JL: Favorite restaurant in your neighborhood?
BK: Corner Store @ Geary and Masonic Streets
Thank you BKJ for your work on this feature!