Think of San Francisco, and what do you see? Cable cars, surely. Fog enveloping Alcatraz. Painted Ladies, those polychromatic wonders from the city’s Victorian heyday. It’s a city rich in reminders of its exuberant past.
But what about the fusion of new and old out on the stylish Pacific Rim? Sushi and California cuisine. Silicon Valley. The cool, clean esthetic of the Gap.
We found ourselves on the horns of this very dilemma back in the fall of 1997, as we searched the city for the perfect subject house. Our first instinct, and thus our first choice, leaned towards tradition. We had our eyes on a wonderfully romantic, fabulously towered and embellished Queen Anne right off Alamo Square. Mark Dvorak and Laurie Ann Bishop’s adaptive reuse plans for their newly purchased 1906 former Mormon church seemed just too…funky. Besides, the work seemed far too extensive to fit into our strict three-and-a-half month shooting schedule.
But fate intervened, as our Victorian project dissolved at the last minute, victim of an uncertain budget, a lack of city permits, and a homeowner who in the final analysis wasn’t quite ready to plunge into a major renovation. Suddenly, the funky church started looking very interesting. The more we checked into the story, the more we found that in the white-hot San Francisco real estate market all sorts of nontraditional spaces—firehouses, gas stations, commercial lofts—were being converted to homes. Our vision of the city, and the project, was undergoing its own conversion.
After our director gave the project the nod, the rest of the This Old House crew began to see the church’s many charms. Quirky, imaginative, and powered by Mark and Laurie Ann’s highly personal vision, the project initially divided the gang from New England. The true Yankees, typically, reserved their enthusiasm, while others were taken by its hipness and offbeat take on the idea of “home.”
On one thing, though, all were agreed: the San Francisco team working on it was delightful and possessed of many virtues. From the ever-upbeat general contractor Dan “Chuckles” Plummer to the quietly efficient electricians under King Choy Lau to can-do plumber Jeff Deehan, each craftsman gave his all to bring what in the “real” world might have been an eight-month job in under the wire, torrential rains be damned.
Through the controlled chaos, Mark Dvorak kept his Gap store-designer’s eye on every detail—the new clear glass windows in the chapel, the custom foot-rail for the kitchen island, the library ladder running the length of the floor-to-ceiling cabinets, the salvaged sinks in each of the bathrooms, the gloss level on the refinished fir floors.
The result was a symphony of spaces and finishes that even the most taciturn Yankees had to admit played. Maybe not in Boston, mind you, but most definitely in today’s San Francisco.
Hope you agree!