written by:
photos by:
June 10, 2016
Originally published in Smaller & Smarter
as
Level Headed

To convert a musty mid-century house with a nonsensical floor plan into a modern and space-efficient family home, three intrepid designers played a bit of architectural Tetris.

multi rooms with exposed wooden rafters
Architect Christi Azevedo, along with homeowners Lorena Siminovich and Esteban Kerner, transformed this 1,485-square-foot, multilevel, mid-century maze into a modern and efficient family home in just three months. “It was the craziest frickin’ thing,” laughs Azevedo. “It was like a Tetris game, putting it all together, trying to squeak out space wherever we could.” Purchased as if straight out of 1955, the home is now the ideal small space for Siminovich and Kerner to raise their young daughter, Matilda.
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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Modern living room with exposed wooden rafters

The exposed wooden rafters and grid of windows in the living room are original to the house.

Photo by 
Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
2 / 13
Modern dining and living room with exposed wooden rafters

The couch and dining room table are from Room & Board; the Patrick Townsend Orbit Chandelier is from Velocity Art and Design.

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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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custom floating shelves in kitchen

In the kitchen, artist Riley McFerrin installed custom floating shelves.

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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Modern wall-mounted oak bar

A wall-mounted oak bar is where Siminovich and Kerner drop their keys, pound away on their laptops, and occasionally eat a quick meal with Matilda, their two-year-old daughter.

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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Modern children's room with custom cabinets

Custom cabinetry isn’t cheap, but squeezing every usable inch out of a small space is often worth the expense. Norodd Wellman optimized Matilda’s room by building a cabinet around pipes; soon, he’ll transform a hollow, under-the-stairwell storage area into a sliding shoe drawer. “Custom cabinetry can be a fairly affordable way to add interest, maximize storage, and upgrade your space,” advises Azevedo.

noroddwoodworks.com

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Modern children's room with customized shelving
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©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Home office with windows

What was once a storage space is now a sun-drenched home office where the couple writes emails and stores their design magazines. The jute rug is from West Elm; the desk is a door on Ikea legs.

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©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Modern bedroom with rolling wooden doors

The ultra-organized Kerner has lots of sneakers—not to mention all those perfectly folded hoodies. To accommodate the couple’s clothes without adding clutter to their 130-square-foot bedroom, Azevedo carved out a 17-foot-long closet along the wall facing the bed. She built rolling wooden doors, and Kerner and Siminovich ordered custom shelving from EasyClosets. Total cost: $900. “They’re the cheapest way to go,” says Kerner.

easyclosets.com

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©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Guest bathroom with altered furniture

Though only two feet deep, the Ikea cabinet Azevedo bought for the guest bath didn’t quite fit, so she sliced off eight inches with a table saw. “It might be unorthodox, but it was just easier, faster, and cheaper to do it myself,” says the former furniture designer.

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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Modern bathroom with tall glass doored soaking tub

Designing two narrow bathrooms–one with an encroaching concrete retaining wall—required major creativity. A wall-mounted Duravit Starck toilet was a big space saver, as was the four-foot-long Kohler soaking tub, a foot shorter than the standard size.

duravit.com

kohler.com

ikea.com

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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Modern outdoor deck with fiberglass rocking chair

A pair of deck chairs from the Conran Shop brighten up a deck designed and built by Mark Congdon Landscape. Visible through the window are a Praying Mantis floor lamp from White Furniture and a fiberglass rocking chair from Modernica.

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Courtesy of 
©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC
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Floor plan of the Clipper Street house in San Francisco, California

The Clipper Street home's plan. 

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13 / 13
multi rooms with exposed wooden rafters
Architect Christi Azevedo, along with homeowners Lorena Siminovich and Esteban Kerner, transformed this 1,485-square-foot, multilevel, mid-century maze into a modern and efficient family home in just three months. “It was the craziest frickin’ thing,” laughs Azevedo. “It was like a Tetris game, putting it all together, trying to squeak out space wherever we could.” Purchased as if straight out of 1955, the home is now the ideal small space for Siminovich and Kerner to raise their young daughter, Matilda. Image courtesy of ©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC.
Project 
Clipper Street House
Architect 

Halfway through a pregnancy isn’t exactly the ideal time to buy a house. So after spending months scouting San Francisco’s Victorians and turnkey cookie-cutters—and almost defecting to the East Bay—Lorena Siminovich and Esteban Kerner decided to put the hunt on hold until after their baby was born. But then one afternoon Kerner, a design director with Old Navy, logged on to Craigslist on a whim. He saw a below-market listing for a single-family home in Noe Valley, their neighborhood of choice.

With crumbly brick cladding, peeling rust-brown paint, and rotting garage doors, the house lacked curb appeal. But the Argentine couple was drawn to the interior. “It was amazing and strange at the same time,” says Kerner of the 1,485-square-foot, multilevel, mid-century maze. “Mind-boggling,” adds Siminovich. “It was just a knot of doors and a series of insane stairs to nowhere.”

Modern living room with exposed wooden rafters

The exposed wooden rafters and grid of windows in the living room are original to the house.

Image courtesy of ©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC.
Owned by an elderly woman who hadn’t updated a thing since 1955, the house wasn’t staged in the slightest. “It had grandma’s furniture and musty rugs,” says Siminovich. Still, the couple recognized its potential. “We knew it was a diamond in the rough,” says Kerner. “But it was rough.” Such a fixer-upper, in fact, that despite the under-a-million asking price (a rarity in the neighborhood), the only other bids were from flippers.

For this duo, though, even with a baby on the way, it was a no-brainer. As the founder of Petit Collage, a line of vintage-inspired wall decor and accessories for children, Siminovich knew that she and Kerner were up to the challenge. “We’d finally found a house we could make our own,” Kerner says. “At Old Navy we strive to make the best clothes for the least amount of money; you know, give fashion to those who can’t afford it. That’s what simple mid-century modern like this is all about: quality design for the masses.”

Having sunk most of their savings into buying the house and with little money left for the actual renovation, the first thing they cut from their budget was a general contractor. “We sourced all of the materials ourselves, comparison shopped, selected every knob and paint color, and coordinated everything: the plumber, the electrician, the drywall guy,” says Kerner. “It was crazy! All-consuming.”

custom floating shelves in kitchen

In the kitchen, artist Riley McFerrin installed custom floating shelves.

Image courtesy of ©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC.
They did, however, need an architect. Most architects they interviewed struck them as standoffish—and even paranoid. “They didn’t want to offer any ideas. They seemed afraid we would steal them and then not hire them or something,” says Siminovich. Christi Azevedo made a different impression. “Christi was so down to earth. And she fell in love with the house immediately! She couldn’t sleep the night she first saw it. The next morning she sent us a sketch and we were like, ‘Wow, she is a genius.’”

Good thing, as it would take an adept spatial thinker to resolve the home’s five-level, one-bath, three-bedroom puzzle. “It was the craziest frickin’ thing,” laughs Azevedo. “It was like a Tetris game, putting it all together, trying to squeak out space wherever we could.” Which is exactly what they did—and in just three months.

Azevedo’s plan involved “blowing a hole in the center of the house” and creating a continuous stairwell to replace the multiple half flights that led to individual rooms. As a cost-saving measure, they picked up the existing staircase and rotated it 90 degrees. By working some stair wizardry and consolidating the laundry room, furnace, and water heater into a crawl space, Azevedo managed to carve out a small hallway, landing, and a relatively whopping four-by-nine-foot guest bathroom.

Modern children's room with custom cabinets

Custom cabinetry isn’t cheap, but squeezing every usable inch out of a small space is often worth the expense. Norodd Wellman optimized Matilda’s room by building a cabinet around pipes; soon, he’ll transform a hollow, under-the-stairwell storage area into a sliding shoe drawer. “Custom cabinetry can be a fairly affordable way to add interest, maximize storage, and upgrade your space,” advises Azevedo.

noroddwoodworks.com

Meanwhile, Siminovich’s first priority was the kitchen, which she describes as “dark, dated, and Mad Men–like” (and not in a good way). So they gutted the room, knocked down a wall that had enclosed it, and replaced the original mahogany plywood cabinets and brown-tiled countertop with white cabinetry from Ikea. With an open plan, Siminovich and Kerner can now see all the way through the living room’s floor-to-ceiling grid of windows to the backyard and keep an eye on two-year-old Matilda as she plays.

The other major goal was to transform the dungeonlike laundry room into Matilda’s room, but there were obstacles. One wall was rough concrete, and waste piping protruded from another—hardly babyproof. Rather than box out the pipes and suck up space, Azevedo suggested they hire Norodd Wellman to build custom cabinets around them. They added insulation, drywall, carpet, and a long window overlooking the backyard. And, suddenly—accented by Siminovich’s cheery artwork—Matilda’s room went from scary to sweet.

Modern outdoor deck with fiberglass rocking chair

A pair of deck chairs from the Conran Shop brighten up a deck designed and built by Mark Congdon Landscape. Visible through the window are a Praying Mantis floor lamp from White Furniture and a fiberglass rocking chair from Modernica.

Image courtesy of ©2011 DANIEL HENNESSY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC.
In the new bathroom, installing the toilet sideways freed up more space for the vanity, an Ikea hack made of three chopped-up Akurum kitchen cabinets with Abstrakt doors. They also redid the 13-by-4.5-foot master bath, wall-mounting a toilet, installing a four-foot-long Kohler tub to maximize space, and splurging on custom cabinetry with solid walnut doors. “It’s easy to do a large master bath in a large house,” says Azevedo. “But in this house, to try and create a space for the baby to bathe while Kerner shaves was much trickier. To figure out this whole house, really…it was fun.”

“Fun” isn’t the first word Siminovich and Kerner would use to describe their breakneck three-month renovation. “I’d call our approach guerrilla-style. And I wouldn’t advise it,” Siminovich warns, smiling but not joking. Now that it’s all over, though, this busy family of three couldn’t be happier in their four-bedroom, two-bath home. “We still have so many ideas!” she says. “We just need to save more money. That’s what we do: Save, then renovate. Save, then renovate.”

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