Creating openness in a multi-level urban home

It’s often hard to create a sense of openness in urban homes with multiple levels, but SaA succeeded
Story by: Trends
Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaAPhotography by Bruce architecture, ceiling, dining room, house, interior design, living room, real estate, window, gray
Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaAPhotography by Bruce Damonte

Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaA Photography by Bruce Damonte

From the architect: It is often difficult to create a sense of openness and continuity in multi-level urban homes. By allowing the staircases of this three-story structure the freedom to shift location on each level – defining a continuous flow of space and movement – we turn this challenge on its head, elevating the prosaic stairwell into the key architectural and unifying feature of the home.


Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaAPhotography by Bruce architecture, daylighting, glass, handrail, home, house, interior design, real estate, stairs, gray
Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaAPhotography by Bruce Damonte

In this four-level project, a series of stairwells take you from the lower garden level to the uppermost roof deck, each treated as a sculptural object and with the interior stairs uniformly clad in rift-cut white oak. On each level we permitted the stair to find its own best location, open to the concept of a vertical path which meanders through the home in a way that is more landscape, less urban. This meandering stairwell unites the home functionally, visually, and spatially, making it feel much larger than it really is.

We lifted a diminutive, 850 square foot Queen Anne Victorian and inserted a new garage and ground floor underneath. But here our solution was somewhat more radical; given the opportunities of our down-sloping site, we created a two-car garage on a very steep ramp in order to free up the new street-level area for much needed family living space. This logical yet idiosyncratic move set in motion a series of further architectural decisions that define the project.

Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaAPhotography by Bruce architecture, bathroom, bathroom accessory, bathroom cabinet, cabinetry, countertop, floor, flooring, hardwood, interior design, kitchen, property, real estate, room, sink, wood, wood flooring, gray
Architect: Schwartz and Architecture: SaAPhotography by Bruce Damonte

The hugely over-scaled stadium staircase in the living room actually hides the parking ramp below, creating additional social space for the long and narrow living room. For us, the over-scaled staircase is perhaps "odd" in a positive way; it is clear that there is likely some hidden reason for its being, yet totally unclear that that it results from the prosaic yearning for off-street parking. This stair then became a leitmotif for the entire project.

San Francisco’s dense urban neighbourhoods are based on a grid of narrow 25’ wide lots – conducive to the small defined rooms of a traditional Victorian, but challenging for modern California living with its premium on connection to natural light and the outdoors. With the width of the lots often further reduced with required neighbour setbacks on either side, we understand the imperative to go vertical – here we meet the challenge with a concept that is unusual and ultimately elegant.

Jul 06, 2017
We know the specialists