Design Confidently, Live Comfortably

Bold colors and subtle details bring out the best in a vintage home

by Tom Curtis

The first time I saw our house, I thought, “That is the ugliest house I’ve ever seen.” The exterior of the 1899 San Francisco Victorian was clad in faded aluminum siding, its foundation a kaleidoscope of pink, yellow, and gray Permastone. What I saw inside, though, made me forget -- or at least forgive -- that first impression. There were high ceilings, fine details, cozy rooms, and an accessible, south-facing backyard. It was in a good neighborhood, and best yet, it needed no major work.

Shortly after moving in, I was sitting in the front parlor reading the Sunday paper when I heard the shuffle of feet outside. Peering from behind the curtains, I heard the guide of a neighborhood historical tour describing my house to his dozen followers. “This is a prime example of a pre-1906-earthquake Victorian that was ruined in the '50s by the tin men,” he said, referring to the aluminum-siding craze of 1950s. He then proceeded to point out the rusted siding, faux stone, and cheap metal windows, as all 12 glared at my new little house in disgust. I vowed right then to restore our house to its former beauty.

Waiting for the right time -- and approach
Six years later, we decided the time was right to remodel and restore the house, keeping the integrity of the period while opening up and modernizing the small rooms so common to Victorian homes. We wanted to respect the original architecture but make the house more functional and comfortable.

We agreed to be open to the process and the possibilities and tried hard not to be set in our ways. I’m a traditionalist -- a Connecticut Yankee transplanted to San Francisco, who loves family treasures, antiques, and the craftsmanship of old moldings, hardware, and floors. My partner, Bill Moore, on the other hand, is a true modernist. Raised in Los Angeles, he likes to marry the past to the present and use the result to shape the future.

We spent many weekends driving around the city taking pictures of not only Victorians but of all types of houses. We soon found we shared a favorite house -- one that had been remodeled in a way that masterfully married Victorian elements with modern details. When we met Philip Mathews, the architect on that house, we realized that he and his associate, Jonathan Feldman, understood what we wanted, so we signed them on. As it turned out, they were also able to reconcile our strong ideas and personalities.

Phil helped us find our contractor, Ken O’Sullivan of Narrowback Construction. On one of our weekend drives, we had noted another home we thought was amazing, which we later found out was remodeled by Ken’s firm. Seeing Phil and Ken’s previous work assured us we had just the right team in place for a creative renovation that would balance the artisanship of the past with the comforts of modern living -- and one that would make the collaborative effort a lot of fun.

NEXT: Big, Bold Moves Bring the House Up to Date

Big, Bold Moves Bring the House Up To Date
Second-floor Fixes Install 21st-century Comfort
Given the Choice, Who Wouldn't Go Modern?
Color Choices Challenge Tradition
Inspiration Before Renovation
Floor Plan