For a busy, often-traveling couple, a little pied-à-terre in the city where their daughter and her family lived made perfect sense. But when their son also decided to make San Francisco home, that petite pied-à-terre suddenly became too small. As luck would have it, the solution was right above them: an unfinished two-story penthouse. One phone call to designer Andrew Petronio, who did their Manhattan abode as well as their first unit in the building, and things quickly fell into place.
“It was nothing but a concrete slab and a steel staircase—in the wrong place and blocking the view—but that meant it was a blank canvas,” Petronio recalls. Next, the couple brought on architect Houman Sharif, who was in sync with Petronio’s vision. “He saw what I saw—it was symbiotic,” the designer says. “The goal was to create something of a departure from their other residences, this time going more contemporary,” he continues. But key to this project—indeed, the very reason for the move—was to create rooms for their grandchildren to come and spend the night.
“The clients wanted a modern, urban home, but it also needed to be warm and approachable,” Sharif notes. Working around structural and mechanical limitations, including a front door that couldn’t be moved, the architect studied various views to create a layout that felt coherent while still offering elements of surprise. “The space itself is very rectilinear, so we spent a lot of time looking at how different areas could flow into each other and how architectural elements like the entry screen or fireplace could create definition,” he explains. The architect also jettisoned the steel stair, much to Petronio’s delight, replacing it with a sweeping wooden version. “It’s like a sculpture that can be experienced from different vantage points,” Sharif says. “That curve—it’s almost Zaha,” Petronio adds, referencing famed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.
In fact, there is a distinctly global outlook that pervades the abode. “I’m from Iran, and I was educated more under the French model,” explains Sharif, whose wife, architect Ghazaleh Jamei, also contributed to the plans. “We really pay attention to the combination of beautiful materials and highly skilled craftspeople,” he says, likening their approach to contemporary Italian or Belgian design. “We love working with architects who bring that feel,” adds general contractor Jeffrey Woods. “The soundness of this design is fantastic, and its subtle details really set it apart.” While the site was challenging, Woods realized the plans with aplomb, including the installation of a 390-pound steel wall that had to be craned into the site. “These clients understand good design, but they also understand good execution,” he notes.
For the furnishings, Petronio focused on soft, clean-lined pieces in warm neutral tones. “We were all cognizant of the artworks we’d be hanging—lots of color and texture—so the palette was very deliberate,” he says. At one end of the main floor are the formal living and dining areas, outfitted with low-profile pieces for unobstructed views. A center bar sets them apart from the family’s more casual sitting and dining spaces as well as the kitchen. “We found the kitchen at a showroom in SoHo and fell in love with the combination of metal cabinets above and dark wood cabinets below,” Petronio says. “It was the first thing we selected. It was sleek and clean and really set the tone for the entire apartment.”
Upstairs, Sharif and Petronio created a large primary bedroom suite that includes a walnut- and marble-clad bathroom and a comfortable lounge area. “They wanted a space where they could snuggle up with the grandkids, or that they could use as a retreat for themselves,” says the designer, who added a morning bar for an easy cup of coffee before playtime starts. Just off the lounge are the nursery and the bunk room, and at the far end of the floor is a plush, hotel- like guest room.
“All of us involved are big travelers, and we brought that romance of being abroad into this apartment,” Petronio says. “There’s a worldliness here, a different perspective. You could drop this apartment into London, New York or Beirut, and it would feel right at home.”