Mid-Century Renovation in San Francisco

This home’s modest façade conceals a breath taking mid-century interior. Indeed, on the face of it, the unassuming pale green exterior, featuring translucent windows and fairly traditional detailing, isn’t the first place you’d look for a mid-century gem.

But this is San Francisco, where the mid-century modern architecture always had to work within the pre-existing urban fabric. This often meant no large open spaces, renovation rather than new-build, and a lot of focus on the interior.

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Situated along a quiet alley in the Russian Hill neighbourhood, this particular mid-century house was renovated in 1947 on the basis of a house originally built in the Victorian-style in 1908. The architect was Henry Hil.

Hill was born in England to American parents. He grew up in Berkeley, California before going on to study architecture at Harvard’s Graduate Design Program, where he worked under celebrated Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius. After receiving his masters, he returned to Berkeley and was primarily based in the Bay Area for the rest of his career, working closely with John Ekin Dinwiddie, one of the pioneers of San Francisco modernism.

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Hill’s renovation provides a lovely response to the dilemma often faced by San Francisco modernists. For the façade, Hill retained much of the Victorian character, particularly in its overall scale and the presence of fairly traditional decorative eaves. However, things will no doubt become a bit more familiar to mid-century enthusiasts as we move to the interior.

READ ALSO: A Sparkling Mid-Century House in Seattle, Gets a New Life

The large orange door immediately opens out onto an impressive atrium, the walls of which are clad from floor to ceiling in beautiful tongue-and-groove mahogany panelling. A set of Joseph Albers prints accompanies the walk up a short set of stairs to the main living space.


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Here, we find not one but two unique Eames furniture designs: on the window side is the Lounge Chair, flanked by a set of U-vola speakers, and on the other side the more modest LCW chair. This whole space, and especially the mahogany panelling, benefits from a wonderful diffuse glow provided by those translucent windows (which don’t look nearly as unassuming from the interior perspective).

The home’s current owners moved into the house in 2005, and shortly after initiated a thoughtful renovation to ensure the home was “future-proofed” for decades to come. The main focus of the changes was downstairs, which did not previously live up to the grandeur of the upper-level.

READ ALSO: British Modernism: Walter Greaves’ Cedar-Clad House in Chichester, UK

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Enlisting Atlas Industries, they created a large entertainment space with a huge Tufty-Time sofa by Patricia Urqiola which wraps around the room. The result is a space whose cosiness contrasts nicely with the more militantly mid-century modernist stylings in the upper level.

All in all, the house should be encouragement to any mid-century enthusiast, whether they have an outwardly mid-century home or not.

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Photos by Misha Gravenor