A San Francisco Renovation Inspired by “American Gigolo”

When an interior designer and a software engineer set out to renovate their new home, they had no idea what it would entail.

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Like many new homeowners, Kevin Sawyers and Peter Steinauer knew they wanted to make a change when they bought their home in San Francisco’s Dolores Heights neighborhood in 2015.

And as an interior designer, Mr. Sawyers, now 53, the founder of Sawyers Design, thought he could go further than most in updating the look of the place. (Mr. Steinauer, 51, is a software engineer at Apple.) But even he did not realize how much the project will eventually expand – that it will include top-to-bottom, almost total reconstruction of the house.

“It’s very rustic, with a lot of wood, and sort of dilapidated,” said Mr. Sawyers. The house has been updated and expanded in fits and starts after the original portion was built in the early 1900s, which has created an awkward hodgepodge of architectural styles.

However, he and Mr. Steinauer liked the way the house was set back from the road on a steep hill, and they were amazed by the huge Monterey Cypress tree in the backyard. They bought the property for $2.1 million in March, knowing that the loose floor tiles, beige carpet and 1970s appliances all had to go.

“I want to put a modern layer in the house, for sure,” said Mr. Sawyers. “I have a great idea for what we can do inside – basically tear it down, which we did – but everything is also changing outside.”

The couple moved in before starting renovations, and the longer they lived there, the more they sensed an opportunity to make some big architectural moves. For help, Mr. Sawyers contacted Hulett Jones, a partner in the architectural firm Jones Haydu, whom he had worked with the architecture and design firm Gensler before the two established their own studio.

“I went with an architect instead of just trying to do it myself, because I didn’t want it to be a big vision,” said Mr. Sawyers. “I had some idea of ​​what it was, but they really took it to another place and created a project that was bigger than we anticipated.”

The site, which is not permitted under current zoning regulations, provides some unique opportunities, Mr. Jones: “The great thing about the house at the back of the property is that it has amazing views of the city. and north, and great views from different angles, which was the driving factor of the design. He and his partner, Paul Haydu, also want to create a line of sight to the big tree in the background.

Jones Haydu removed many interior walls and added new floor-to-ceiling windows, and decks on multiple levels, to open up the home. On the first floor, which was raised above the street and had been used as an independent workshop, they added a cantilevered addition at the front containing a guest suite and a new patio shade below. Behind the guest suite, they designed a space for Mr. Sawyers’ home office, which is large enough to accommodate several employees, and added a staircase that connects to the rest of the house.

In the second floor living room, they blew out a wall with only a few windows and replaced it with floor-to-ceiling glass under the cathedral ceiling, again pushing it a few feet closer to the street. To create more space for the primary suite on the third floor, they raised the roof and changed its pitch. In the primary bathroom, they positioned a free-standing tub in the nook with a glass wall.

“That’s probably my No. 1 favorite thing in the house,” Mr. Sawyers said. “You’re sitting in the tub and you can see out the window to Twin Peaks. It just makes you feel like you’re in this glass box.

For exterior cladding, Jones Haydu replaced the old cedar-shingle siding with a mixture of standing-seam metal, used as roofing and siding, and cedar slats.

With a clean lined modern architectural envelope, you can expect a series of pure white boxes inside. But that didn’t happen on Mr. Sawyers’ watch. To create a personal color palette, he drew inspiration from unusual sources: a luxurious Tibetan suit and the set of the 1980 film “American Gigolo.”

“I was thinking about making myself look and feel as good in this house as we can,” said Mr. Sawyers, too the arrangement in “American Gigolo” flattered Richard Gere. “I want to make this set for us – for me and Pete.”

The results include walls painted in Benjamin Moore colors such as Grape Juice (inspired by the saturated tones in some of the film’s scenes); kitchen cabinets finished in teal (which served as a foil for warm colors, as in the movie); a leafy wallpaper mural on one kitchen wall; and the living room fireplace surrounds Phillip Jeffries’ grass cloth painted with gauzy clouds.

It took two years of construction, at a cost of more than $1,000 per square foot, but the couple finally moved back into their rebuilt 3,200-square-foot home in September 2020, confident that they had created the one-of-a-kind. – kind of gem.

“It’s fun, it’s open and it embraces the outside as much as possible,” said Mr. Sawyers. It’s also filled with unexpected personal touches, which is the point: “It really fits our lifestyle.”

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