A Radical Move Paves Way For Understated Elegance In Presidio Heights

Located on a tree-lined street in San Francisco’s picturesque Presidio Heights, this charming Edwardian applies modern thinking to a classical house. Reimagined for recent empty-nesters, Bruce and Hilary Armstrong, the design pairs elegance with clean lines, contemporary detailing, and luxury materials.

As with many older houses designed for a different era, the typical floor plan with parlor, salon, separate kitchen, formal rooms, and second stairs, was no longer working for their current lifestyle. Once all three of the Armstrong’s kids were in their 20’s, the couple no longer needed small divided rooms.

To usher them into the next chapter of their lives, the couple enlisted John Lum Architecture (JLA) to transform the footprint of their 1915 house into an open plan, with emphasis on natural light, garden views, and a circulation pattern that lends itself to modern-day living. Paying homage to the original architecture, JLA restored the historic shell while relaxing the formal interiors. They re-conceptualized the floor plan, re-orienting the living areas to face the rear garden that was once designed by the famed landscape architect, Thomas Church, and updated by Lon Shapiro and the Armstrongs.

This entailed a radical move — deconstructing the front rooms, including removal of the anterior staircase and the wall separating the dining room from the kitchen, as well as removing the upstairs walls to one of the bedrooms, giving a dramatic openness to the home.

“Updating a period home to modern times can be risky,” said Bret Walters, a principal at JLA. “We were able to preserve the architectural integrity and spirit of the house without compromising its character”.

The bold move paved way for a capacious kitchen and dining room, a living room that spills onto a backyard deck for al fresco dining, a single main staircase resulting in extra square footage for a spacious master closet, hall closets, and an upstairs sitting room and office. To maximize natural light throughout, a four-paneled operable skylight over the stairwell was added. The clients also lightened their dark wood floors for a more modern overall feel.

“We wanted our house to feel light, open and contemporary,” said Hilary. “We were delighted with the high impact we achieved by eliminating walls, adding skylights and sliding glass doors to the garden. The remodel and open floor plan allows us to use the entire house on a daily basis. Each room is now warm, inviting and bathed in sunlight.”

For the decor, the Armstrongs blended their traditional tastes with their newfound love of modern furniture and contemporary art. Having lived in the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento as a baby (Hilary is the granddaughter of California’s late Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown), Hilary credits her traditional tastes to her family roots, and her affinity for modern art to travel, her favorite museums, and to San Francisco’s eclecticism. To pull off the juxtaposition, they tapped multitalented Regina Callan Designs for project management and design work. Regina worked closely with the Armstrongs from the start of construction, through installation and move-in, to ensure they achieved the desired results.

Sophisticated, uncluttered interiors in neutral tones, underscore the airiness and connection to the outdoors. A soft color scheme reflects a quiet stateliness, affording colorful pops of art to be the focus of each room.

“The new direction makes all the rooms feel much larger, more usable and welcoming,” said Hilary.

Photography by Paul Dyer.

For more like this Presidio Heights beauty, check out this lakeside home in Texas

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