A Presidio Heights Residence With Classic Architectural Roots


For architect Stephen Sutro, the challenge of renovating a historic Presidio Heights home was as much about how it lived as how it looked. “The house was a beautiful example of Presidio Heights architecture from the early 1900s, with a classical, bilaterally symmetrical fac¸ade,” he recalls. “But it was built in a way that was not meaningful to the owners’ lifestyle, with an antiquated floor plan and a back staircase once used for servants.” Sutro set out to change that.

The owners, a young family with little kids, needed room to both spread out and come together. So Sutro, working with project architect Brooks McDonald, devised ways to reconfigure the layout, without sacrificing the structure’s integrity. “A common thread through homes of this vintage is that they have residual architectural value,” explains Sutro. “We tried to extend the existing architectural language through the spaces and have them hold together geometrically in sturdy shapes and proportions, as well as open up to one another so that the house could breathe more.”

To update the spaces, a new doorway creates a stronger connection between the family room and kitchen, where Sutro reimagined the cabinetry and added a banquette to the adjacent breakfast nook. The old service stair came out, and Sutro extended the main existing stair to the third floor, adorning it with paneling reflecting the front hall’s original millwork. The architect also designed new crown moldings and carried the home’s original baseboard and casing profiles through to the renovated areas.

In appointing the updated spaces, designer Kate Jamieson approached the interiors with the clients’ needs and sensibilities in mind, as well. “They were moving from a relaxed whitewashed look,” she says of their previous house. “Their design goal was to recreate that light, open feel and to have every room be modern and functional without feeling too precious.”

To that end, Jamieson worked from the floor up. Focusing on the main living level, she chose European-style cut-oak flooring and then gave the walls a fresh coat of gray-white paint. Furnishings and finishes were selected for both style and practicality. In the family room, a sofa and tufted double chair are comfortable and amply sized. The kitchen’s marble countertops can easily handle cooking projects, while a graphic indoor-outdoor fabric keeps the breakfast nook’s banquette kid-proof.

On the same level, the living room makes a departure in tone. “We wanted it to be swanky, cool and transformable,” says Jamieson, who painted the walls a dramatic shade of dark gray and hung a polished-horn chandelier above a tufted sectional. One floor up, Sutro created an enlarged master suite, where he expanded the windows to take advantage of sweeping bay views, and added new stained-mahogany cabinetry to the master bath.

Through the course of the remodel, builder Tony Kelly, working with superintendent Mike O’Connell and project manager Jamie Stallings, addressed the structural issues. “The challenge was how to improve the structure and seismically upgrade the building while preserving the old classic woodwork,” he says. “The engineers, Holmes Culley, helped us come up with creative solutions and avoid unnecessary impact.”

In the end, the team was able to blend past and present seamlessly. “It was a complete renovation of two-thirds of the house,” says Sutro. “But it was push and pull, a little old and a little new. You’d never know what’s been renovated and what has not.”