written by:
photos by:
May 4, 2009
Originally published in Small Is the New Big

In architecturally conservative San Francisco, this house built on a 20-foot-wide lot proves that modern design can fit—literally and figuratively—in any neighborhood.

The houses that circle San Francisco's Buena Vista Park run the gamut from wedding-cake Victorian to Scandinavian modern. Architect Cass Calder Smith aimed to create a façade that contextually relates to the adjacent ornate ones yet is purely modern.
The houses that circle San Francisco's Buena Vista Park run the gamut from wedding-cake Victorian to Scandinavian modern. Architect Cass Calder Smith aimed to create a façade that contextually relates to the adjacent ornate ones yet is purely modern.
Photo by 
1 / 9
A private raised patio in the small backyard further extends and expands the space into the outdoors.
A private raised patio in the small backyard further extends and expands the space into the outdoors.
Photo by 
2 / 9
A long, narrow rectangle functions as a kitchen, dining, working, and general gathering area. Skylights set at a 90-degree angle to the workstation boost the dynamism in the room and cast a bright glow over the unit's walnut-and-steel seam.
A long, narrow rectangle functions as a kitchen, dining, working, and general gathering area. Skylights set at a 90-degree angle to the workstation boost the dynamism in the room and cast a bright glow over the unit's walnut-and-steel seam.
Photo by 
3 / 9
Neither the owner, a self-declared "card-carrying-modernist," or his girlfriend, Stephanie Kiriakopolos, miss having a big bulky refrigerator.
Neither the owner, a self-declared "card-carrying-modernist," or his girlfriend, Stephanie Kiriakopolos, miss having a big bulky refrigerator.
Photo by 
4 / 9
The theme of casual living is reinforced with plush, oversize couches designed by the architect. Like the versatile workstation, they play multiple roles by incorporating beautiful walnut shelving into their construction.
The theme of casual living is reinforced with plush, oversize couches designed by the architect. Like the versatile workstation, they play multiple roles by incorporating beautiful walnut shelving into their construction.
Photo by 
5 / 9
Messiness is not allowed, but creative storage, like drawers that slide into the platform beneath the stair, makes organization easier.
Messiness is not allowed, but creative storage, like drawers that slide into the platform beneath the stair, makes organization easier.
Photo by 
6 / 9
The unifying elements of walnut and steel—with a little marble and concrete thrown in—continue downstairs in the bathroom and bedroom.
The unifying elements of walnut and steel—with a little marble and concrete thrown in—continue downstairs in the bathroom and bedroom.
Photo by 
7 / 9
The master bedroom.  "The small size of the home inspired me to design it as an  urban retreat for casual living based on radical simplicity," says architect Cass Calder Smith.
The master bedroom. "The small size of the home inspired me to design it as an urban retreat for casual living based on radical simplicity," says architect Cass Calder Smith.
Photo by 
8 / 9
It was a happy accident the way that the floating Fire Orb, which was designed by architect Doug Garofalo, echoes the onion-dome-inspired architecture beyond.
It was a happy accident the way that the floating Fire Orb, which was designed by architect Doug Garofalo, echoes the onion-dome-inspired architecture beyond.
Photo by 
9 / 9
The houses that circle San Francisco's Buena Vista Park run the gamut from wedding-cake Victorian to Scandinavian modern. Architect Cass Calder Smith aimed to create a façade that contextually relates to the adjacent ornate ones yet is purely modern.
The houses that circle San Francisco's Buena Vista Park run the gamut from wedding-cake Victorian to Scandinavian modern. Architect Cass Calder Smith aimed to create a façade that contextually relates to the adjacent ornate ones yet is purely modern.
Project 
Haus Martin

Sitting above the tie-dye-dipped corner of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco is Buena Vista Park, the city’s oldest and most beautiful hilltop recreation spot. The park, which was established in 1867, was eventually encircled by large, ornate Victorian homes. Infill throughout the 20th century resulted in an odd assortment of lot sizes and a mix of architectural styles. It was here that inveterate bachelor Martin Roscheisen recently found a small house squeezed between two grand old painted ladies.

“The house was built in 1946 and really wasn’t much of anything,” explains Roscheisen. “What I did see was potential. The lot is situated high up on the hill and it’s adjacent to the park. It has amazing views of Cole Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean.”

It was keen foresight that brought Roscheisen from Germany to the United States in 1988, and it was that same vision that helped him drive several Silicon Valley technology ventures to success a few years later. His knack for seeing potential where others might not, and his ability to move from concept to completion, propelled him to purchase the house and take on the daunting renovation project.

A mutual friend introduced Roscheisen to Cass Calder Smith, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley’s architecture program, and one of the Bay Area’s rising architectural stars. Known for designing sleek modern interiors at standout restaurants in and around San Francisco, Smith was excited to take on the project and add to his growing list of residential work. “The existing house was typical of its period: a postwar shoe box with lots of tiny rooms and very few  windows to take advantage of the great location,” Smith affirms. “We decided to start over.”

Neither the owner, a self-declared "card-carrying-modernist," or his girlfriend, Stephanie Kiriakopolos, miss having a big bulky refrigerator.
Neither the owner, a self-declared "card-carrying-modernist," or his girlfriend, Stephanie Kiriakopolos, miss having a big bulky refrigerator.


The two-year-long collaboration commenced with a series of candid conversations. At about the same time, Roscheisen launched a new company dedicated to pioneering solar technologies, and even swapped his sports car for a gas/electric hybrid. Attention to sustainability became a guiding principle, and also meshed with Roscheisen’s desire for a home that was modern, highly textured, and a reflection of his European heritage. Most of all, the house had to be casual and comfortable. Restrictions, including a lot that was only 20 feet wide, figured prominently in Smith’s thinking. Com-munity concerns about changes to the historic character of the neighborhood ruled out building anything taller than the original structure. The architect settled on a solution that would fit within the footprint of the original home, limit resource use, and make the house feel much more spacious.

Inspired by the language of classic modernism, Smith synthesized the celebrated idiom with his own contemporary standards, assessing how Roscheisen would interact with different areas of the house and even gauging how much time he would dedicate to each. The result was an innovative design for an 1,800-square-foot home that stripped away the excesses of personal accumulation and focused attention on transparent and rational living. That logic and sensibility can be traced back to de Stijl master Gerrit Rietveld, who, with his longtime collaborator Truus Schröder, championed progressive ideas for diminutive spaces with the groundbreaking 1924 Schröder House.         

The results of Smith’s design are captivating from the outside in. The blocky, rectangular front façade is softened by thin, stained-cedar slats set horizontally over dark blue plywood. An inset garage, also clad in cedar, and a deep, overhanging eave give the house playful dimensions and instant interest among its larger, more colorful neighbors. Windows on the second floor run the width of the fascia, further lightening the structure and offering expansive views of Buena Vista Park.

With no internal walls or visual barriers, each interior environment flows generously into the next. The first floor consists of a single bedroom and bath area framed by sliding glass doors. The spacious walk-in shower offers the best views of the sensational vista. A private raised patio in the small backyard further extends and expands the space into the outdoors.

The unifying elements of walnut and steel—with a little marble and concrete thrown in—continue downstairs in the bathroom and bedroom.
The unifying elements of walnut and steel—with a little marble and concrete thrown in—continue downstairs in the bathroom and bedroom.

With only one bathroom in the original floor plan, Smith admitted concern and even considered adding a half bath for guests. “Martin loves to entertain, but he was very clear that we shouldn’t give up any more square footage,” the architect explains. Smith solved the problem by tucking a small guest room, with full bath, under the patio.

The upstairs is imaginative and open, a warm meld-ing of dark walnut, stainless steel, expansive glass, crisp white walls, and ample natural light. A 30-foot-long multifunction workstation is set off axis from the rect-angular plan and energetically shoots through the room toward the Pacific. Designed by Smith, it’s the home’s main engine, serving simultaneously as the dining table, kitchen, and home office. Starting at one end in walnut, it flawlessly morphs into stainless steel midway down. The unit includes plenty of storage, and a matching stainless steel dishwasher and small refrig-erator are slipped under the hip-height counter. A flat-panel monitor sits across from the sink, connected via optical cable to a computer that provides Internet access and runs the home’s extensive media center.

When asked about the decision to forgo a full-sized refrigerator, or even an oven, Smith says, “It wasn’t just about saving space. The house is in many ways a simple machine that responds to the homeowner. In that respect, we’ve done away with superfluous items that wouldn’t get much use.” For Roscheisen it was an easier choice: “A smaller refrigerator is perfect. I try to eat fresh and there’s always enough room for a few bottles of wine.” Between the sitting area and the full-height windows that drape the rear wall is a futuristic hearth of spun steel. The Fire Orb, designed by architect Doug Garofalo, is suspended from the ceiling and can rotate 360 degrees. Its irresistible curvaceous form evokes the plastic-fantastic designs of the 1960s, befitting the house’s flower-power locale.

The additional levels of meaning built into Smith’s design transcend a simple bachelor-pad approach. Here, along Buena Vista Park, the neighborhood’s Gold Rush and psychedelic roots inform its modernist pedigree. Need and space drive content, so that objects in the home share divergent and unexpected roles. And with today’s traffic-clogged commutes and mountains of email, the best revenge just might be an evening with close friends relaxing in front of the Fire Orb, watching the sun drop below the Golden Gate.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Custom cabinetry and trim in Chicago apartment renovation.
The Second City is second to none when it comes to inventive modern architecture, from Louis Sullivan to the present day.
February 12, 2016
Kitchen of 1956 midcentury modern Palm Springs home.
Celebrate Palm Springs Modernism Week, which runs from February 11–21, with a look at some of our favorite modern desert oases.
February 12, 2016
Gustav bicycle by Coh&Co
Designmuseum Danmark unveils a permanent collection highlighting new developments in Danish design.
February 12, 2016
A Seattle studio's courtyard
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 12, 2016
Chalet in the French alps
An innovative glass addition adds contrast to a timber mountain lodge in France.
February 11, 2016
Aumas' assorted collectables.
Bright colors and vintage furniture are abound in these French homes.
February 11, 2016
Kogan designed a number of the built-in furnishings, including the headboard and cupboard in the master bedroom.The cupboard is deliberately reminiscent of a mid-century stereo speaker. The vintage lounge chairs are by Percival Lafer.
Need to relax? Make your bedroom an oasis from the rest of the house.
February 11, 2016
Modern Florida seaside home with corian island, dornbracht faucet, cees braakman combex chairs and marble knoll table in the kitchen
Read more about Knoll's impressive career here, but in the meantime, explore just a few of her works in these contemporary homes.
February 11, 2016
Modern small box home in Mexico
Letting the warm climate indoors is a common thread through these diverse dwellings.
February 11, 2016
Modern white cabinets under the stairs with skylight above
What could be better than a modest-sized house in a quaintly historic city?
February 11, 2016
dining room lighting
These renovations connect rustic, classic, and modern design in Italy.
February 10, 2016
12362509 211441865858796 1743381178 n1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 10, 2016
modern outdoor garden room plastic polycarbonate
From colorful living rooms to a backyard retreat, Belgian designers reimagine vernacular forms and materials for the modern world.
February 10, 2016
Tel Aviv kitchen with custom dining table and Smeg fridge
Would you go for an out-of-the-box palette for your major appliances? See how these kitchens tackle the trend.
February 10, 2016
Exhibition view, of Klaus Wittkugel works at P! gallery, New York
On view through February 21 at New York's P! gallery, a new show explores the politics of Cold War-era graphic design with a presentation of works by Klaus Wittkugel—East Germany's most prolific graphic designer. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy walks us through the highlights.
February 10, 2016
Reclaimed cedar and gray-stucco home outside San Francisco.
The new kid on the block in a predominantly Eichler neighborhood, this Menlo Park home breaks the mold and divides into three pavilions connected by breezeways.
February 10, 2016
A third floor addition and whole-house renovation modernized a funky cottage on an unusual, triple-wide lot in San Francisco.
From modern interiors hidden within historic structures to unabashedly modern dwellings, these seven renovations take totally different approaches to San Francisco's historic building stock.
February 10, 2016
Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen and gyrofocus fireplace in living room of Villa Le Trident in the French Riviera, renovated by 4a Architekten.
The Aegean's all-white architecture famously helped inspire Le Corbusier; these five dwellings continue in that proud modern tradition (though not all are as minimalist).
February 10, 2016
San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016