Architects: Jensen Architects
Project: Alamo Square House
Project leads: Mark Jensen, Emily Gosack, Yusheen Yang
Project team: Keri Goodlad, Ricardo Gonzalez
Location: San Francisco, California, United States
Photography: Joe Fletcher
This Alamo Square house embodies San Francisco’s contemporary culture: modern yet enamored with the city’s rich history. The setting is Alamo Square Park, a city-owned park built in 1857 and known for its “Painted Ladies,” the row of Victorian homes captured on many postcards. The previous owner of the residence, Verta Vinson, was a founding member of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, which was established in the 1960s to preserve the park and surrounding buildings.
The current owners had lived in the neighborhood for years. While they loved Alamo Square’s historic architecture, they desired the openness and flexibility of contemporary homes. This desire informed an architectural composition that integrates two identities and provides for the coexistence of old and new.
The challenge of restoring the original 1889 façade stemmed from a lack of documentation concerning historic details. Instead the team turned to evidence uncovered after the removal of the non-historic façade, such as scarring and shadow vestiges of the original Stick style. These physical remnants, a few historic photographs, and existing original ornamentation, laid the groundwork for collaboration with craftspeople skilled in historic Victorian restoration, leading to a faithful reconstruction. Once completed, the restored façade was painted silver, hinting at the modern transformation within.
Beyond the threshold, the house’s original identity is legible in the elongated proportions of the interior spaces. A sculptural stair rising through all four floors provides a dramatic focal point while allowing natural light to flood the house from above. The form of the stair, a twisted volume, alternates wood-clad solids with light-filled voids.
Bedrooms and kitchen/living areas occupy the second and third floors, respectively, and a small garden apartment sits at ground level. The stair culminates at the roof with sweeping views that connect back to the historic city and the Bay beyond.
A muted interior palette of bleached white oak, marble and neutral colors, contrasts with the rich materiality of the fumed oak of the central stair, bringing the sculptural form into relief. Subtle yet intricate elements such as the fireplace tile and kitchen details offer a quiet nod to the more ornate façade.
Sliding mill-finished aluminum screens compose the rear façade. The motorized custom laser-cut panels provide privacy while allowing views outward. They are controlled independently at each floor according to the mood of what’s happening within.