Catching up with the Client: SF Loft

“Don’t do what’s hip.  Do what’s you,” advised one of the owners of a recently renovated SoMa loft as he stood in his new kitchen.  An executive coach to early age start-ups, he and his wife, an attorney, use the loft as an urban pied-a-terre after downsizing from Silicon Valley, splitting their time between the city and their weekend wine country home.

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Their new loft strikes a balance between modern minimalism and the kitsch of the accoutrements they’ve collected over years of travel.  It features both the crispness of uninterrupted lines in its casework and the curves of conch shells gifted from relatives, as well as an all-white palette integrated with coins of color.  These complimentary design elements are a result of extensive collaboration between the architects and the owners, and prove that strong relationships are the foundation for good design.

At the core of the collaborative design process was Steven Stept, who designed the project with his previous partner Irit Axelrod and saw it through construction at Feldman Architecture.

“Steven and I are a lot alike,” explained the start-ups coach, who situated himself at the heart of the design discussion by managing the project with the help of a superintendent in lieu of hiring a general contractor.  “We are focused and unafraid to disagree.  I can tell if something is off by an inch from 50 feet away.  It comes down to attention to detail, and Steven is absolutely zealous about that.”

Indeed, the project’s success as a coherent whole is built from thoughtful details, from a slight lift in counter height to accommodate the stature of one of the clients, to a discreet corner designed specifically with the needs of the couple’s cat in mind.

“When you’re anticipating a vision,” explained the attorney, “you see the pieces of the design, but you can’t know the usefulness of their whole until you live in it. The design functions exactly as we had intended it.”

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When the couple, first encountered the space, they were attracted to its “warehouse vibe,” reminiscent of the 1924 building’s previous stint as a printing business.  The loft’s high ceilings and abundance of concrete kept it from being a “cookie-cutter space,” but its maple floor was worn and warped, and a lack of storage would leave personal belongings exposed and the space cluttered with trinkets.  With an initial vision centered on simplicity, balance, and symmetry, the couple and their design team set out to bring the space to its full potential.

To do so, Axelrod + Stept Architects crafted a precise plan to integrate the concrete structure into a fluid design, where carefully orchestrated spaces behind a horizontal sliding door would offer privacy for the bedroom, master bath, and laundry.  The successful execution of their design incorporated carefully selected products and materials, proving the clients’ and designers’ commitment to design excellence from design vision to reality.  The end result was a striking design, based on precision and expertly executed.

The remodel pulled one of the long, narrow apartment’s walls back from its previously angled position, allowing natural light from the space’s largest window to wash down the entire length of the apartment.  The new wall is covered in sleek custom casework, whose elongated lines accentuate the loft’s length and flow into the kitchen and whose bright white offers a striking contrast to the dark wood of the loft’s floor.*  Across from the casework, horizontal slatted aluminum and glass sliding doors from the Italian designer Adielle hide the master suite and a powder room when closed, creating defined spaces within a coherent whole.  When open, the doors allow one space to flow into another, adding a sense of agility to a home characterized by rigid lines.  So, too, an Ecro-USA track fixture with LED lights running the length of the corridor, splashing spotlights onto the doors and casework, can be adjusted for both intensity and angle.  Throughout the apartment, the design team devoted careful thought to the integration of the space’s interior design and lighting, tapping into the expertise of local lighting designer Tali Ariely.**

With a new laundry and utility room, a guest Murphy bed that recedes into the casework, and extensive storage, the space remains free from clutter, and its sight lines stretch uninterrupted from one end of the apartment to the other.

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“The casework is a wonderful looking piece of architecture,” commented one of the clients. “But, more importantly, the space just became more usable.”

Just as the architects brought a design centered on white casework and dark floors and the clients added animation and dimension through souvenirs and select art, the character of the neighborhood had a role in shaping the loft’s design.  Just a few blocks from South Park, the loft is immersed in the energy of its growing neighborhood.  New office buildings stretch towards the sky, and at street level lines for hole-in-the-wall lunch destinations stretch around the block.  The modern aesthetic of the design anticipated the new life the past few years has brought to the neighborhood.  Yet, while it reflects the freshness of its environment visually, the loft’s thick envelope keeps the space quiet.  And, just as they find the minimalism of the space as calming rather than cool, the clients find a serenity in the apartment that sets it apart from its busy surroundings.

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*The corridor casework is a custom linear cabinet by Bartlett Cabinets in Oakland, CA.  The kitchen cabinetry comes from Downsview Cabinets.

** The ultimate lighting design warms the modern loft with surface mounted wall washers from Kreon, recessed linear lighting from XAL, bath wall sconces and pendant fixtures from Vibia, and wall uplight sconces from Leucos.

Catching up with the Client: Presidio VC Offices

When a venture capital firm approached Feldman Architecture in the hopes of renovating an office space in San Francisco’s Presidio Park, the architects faced a challenge:  How could they design offices fit for a firm based in innovation, one that both shapes and reacts to the most striking ideas for the future?  How would they create a space where the only constant is the constant advancement of the elusive cutting edge?

On a recent afternoon, the venture capital firm’s Director of Operations walked me through the architect’s solution:  a light-filled office whose materials pay tribute to the surrounding Presidio Park, fostering both calm and creativity within.  It was clear that, just as the design team had refused to view the space’s pre-existing concrete structural columns as obstacles and had instead embraced them as inspiration for the space’s organization, they had welcomed the challenge of the project as a chance for creativity.  “What comes through about the design,” she told me, “was that elements that may have been challenges were viewed as opportunities.”

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One of the office’s strengths is a profound connection to the building’s location, where ferns cluster around the trunks of Coast Redwoods and wildflowers abound in the spring and summer.   As the firm traded the dark, cramped spaces of their old offices for a space with more natural light, they were determined to create and maintain a strong visual connection with their natural surroundings.  In the Presidio VC Offices, visitors are greeted in a high-ceilinged lobby, where sunlight washes in from the surrounding Presidio Park, coating the ivy of the room’s living wall with the sheen of natural light.  In each direction, compression corridors branch off from the reception area.  Private offices line the hallways, and the large windows on their exterior walls paired with the glass doors on their inner walls allow light to flow into the offices and through them, spilling into the compression corridor at their core.  The complimentary textures of wood-paneled walls and ivy in the reception area and the trunk-like columns that progress down the office halls replicate the forest outside and its dappled glades of towering trees.  The office fosters a calm productivity, void of the frantic energy that so often settles over industrious offices.  “I love watching the look on people’s faces as they walk through the door,” the Director of Operations said.  “Our lobby is striking and vastly different from most downtown office spaces.”

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While the office’s effects are immediate, she believes it takes familiarity to fully appreciate the more subtle strengths of the design: the way it captures different views from the conference rooms and private offices, or how it frames the fog hovering over and retreating from the Golden Gate Bridge in the kitchen window.  Staff members have noticed and embraced the clear visual language of the design, the dark accents repeated throughout the space, and the coherence of its palette.  And, slowly, they have added their own subtle embellishments to its warm, clean canvas.  A few pieces of art and silly décor elements personalize the space, but largely, the Director of Operations says, they allow the design and architecture to speak for themselves.

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She appreciates that the office, created for hard-working, ambitious individuals, is anything but imposing.  Its simplicity invites ideas and visitors, alike, and renders the space adaptable.   For a past event in the office’s cavernous library, the firm rearranged the modular furniture to accommodate easels and cocktail tables, and, recently, they transformed the space into an intimate setting for a ‘fireside chat’ discussion.  It’s an agile space, both adaptable for weekly events and prepared for the possibility of bigger changes down the line, tapping into the timelessness of the trees outside its windows.

– Abigail

This fall my wife and I traveled to Barcelona with a contradicting agenda:  Relaxation and exploration.

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We’re no strangers to Western Europe, but neither us had made it to Spain in our previous travels.  We decided to stay in the city for a full week, wanting to sink in and get to know Barcelona.  The only items on our agenda were to relax and gain a renewed perspective.

We stayed at a small apartment on the edge of the Eixample and Gracia districts with ceramic tile floors and a vaulted brick ceiling.  Heavy wood French doors opened onto a small balcony that had enough room for a cafe table and chairs.  The street below buzzed with cars, scooters and pedestrians.

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The Eixample was once a middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of the dense Gothic quarter.  In recent years, it has become home to high-end retail and trendy dining.  The neighborhood scale is defined by large blocks and tree-lined boulevards that terminate in octagonal intersections intended to provide increased openness and ventilation.

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In sharp contrast, the Gracia to the north is an energetic, unpredictable neighborhood. Many streets are scaled to fit only pedestrians or scooters.  Dense blocks of cafés and markets open up into unexpected plazas with children playing and adults socializing.  The Gracia feels like a tight-knit community   ̶  a city within a city.

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The northern tip of the Gracia is capped by Antoni Guadi’s Park Guell.  The park reflects Gaudi’s naturalist style and free-form organic tile mosaics.  At first glance, the park resembles a greatest hits album.  All of Gaudi’s architectural styles fit neatly into one park.  A closer look reveals an artist in his prime experimenting with organic shapes and skewed structural forms.

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Later, we found Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion tucked among stately civic buildings.  Van der Rohe’s flawless modern details provided a few quiet moments and a lot of inspiration.  The pavilion is constructed primarily with steel, stone and marble slabs  ̶  heavy materials that paradoxically achieve lightness, texture and a unique warmth.

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We explored the city’s culinary scene alongside its architecture and found that both traditions are deeply rooted in history.  Tapas and pastries rule the streetscape.  Every block of the city seems to boast a beautiful pastry shop and multiple cafes spilling onto the sidewalk, where residents enjoy their ritual late-afternoon beers and salty snack

Just as Gaudi experimented in his work, many local chefs in Barcelona are taking risks by studying food on a molecular level and reassembling tastes and textures into something modern yet familiar. Bodega 1900, located in the Poble Sec neighborhood, presents itself as a classic Vermuteria – a casual gathering place for tapas and Vermouth.  Chef Albert Adria, a stalwart in molecular gastronomy, uses modern cooking techniques to recreate classic tapas in unexpected ways.  Though many of Adria’s dishes are conceived through the lens of modern technique, they remain soulful and deeply rooted in Barcelona’s culinary history.

Experimentation seems vital to the Catalan capital; Barcelona remains vibrant by respecting its collective history and embracing artists that forge a new path forward.

On our final morning in Barcelona, we embraced the spirit of experimentation by emptying our pockets of all our spare Euros and purchasing enough pastries to cover our small kitchen table.

 

 

Catching Up with the Client: The Lantern House

On the eve of the completion of the Lantern House, Feldman Architecture and Northwall Builders welcomed friends and colleagues into the Palo Alto home to celebrate the culmination of their joint efforts.  The late-October evening was warm enough for guests to mingle on the patio and stroll out onto the lawn.  Inside, they explored the expansive basement quarters and marveled over the master bedroom’s wide windows opening over the backyard.  Among the partygoers was the home’s owner, an entrepreneur and graduate of Stanford Business School who lives and works in Southeast Asia.  He had flown in for the week to see his nearly-finished home, a trip he had made only sporadically throughout the house’s design and construction.

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Indeed, the distance between the client’s home and the Lantern House in Palo Alto had created a new kind of collaborative design process: one mediated by video conference calls and fourteen hours of time difference.   At first, these challenges seemed daunting to the Stanford alum, who had always appreciated the proximity to the projects he’d been a part of in the past.  “I actually like to crawl on the floor and look at the lines,” he explained.  “The inability to do that was very tough.”  In order to collaborate on a project without regular visits to the site, he had to “redo his psychological disposition.”

Soon, though, he learned that collaborating remotely still afforded him the ability to engage extensively in the design process.  And, he learned to trust his team from afar; “The good thing is that I had absolutely the right team,” he says.  His design team was “rockstar,” his architects were “topnotch,” and their ability to work together was their most important attribute.  Feldman Architect’s Steven Stept, in particular, he says, possessed the ability to merge multiple teams into one: “Steven thinks two steps ahead.  He also thinks like a builder.”

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Not only did the client learn that collaborating across a great distance was both possible and rewarding, but he developed new aesthetic preferences, as well.  At the start of the design process, the home’s grey color scheme was never at the top of his priorities.  Now, he’s copied the Lantern House’s palette of “greys and whites mixed in with a little bit of glass” for his office in Southeast Asia.  Similarly, he was unfamiliar with roof gardens before working with Feldman, and is now very much taken with the concept and intent on installing lights in his own.  The most impressive feature of the new house, though?  The kitchen, says the client.  “I come from a place where the kitchen is tucked away and covered.  In America, the architecture is built around the kitchen,” he observed, referencing the home’s great room that includes both cooking and living areas and opens onto a covered patio through sliding glass doors.  As the largest room in the house that is filled with natural light during the day, it is certainly the hub of the home.

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During the process of designing and constructing the Lantern House, the client learned that his work would require him to delay his move back to the Bay Area; he would have to rent the house for 2-3 years before moving in himself.  This knowledge – that he was building a house for strangers in addition to himself and that his move to Palo Alto would not come on the heels of the project’s completion –- added a new challenge to the design process.  “It’s been difficult to be detached emotionally from the project, knowing it’s going to people who will not love it as much as I would,” he explained.  On the evening of the celebration, he was left with mixed feelings – thrilled to see the physical structure built from his ideas, disappointed that, at the end of that October evening, he would leave right alongside the rest of the party’s guests.

– Abigail

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