When San Francisco–based architect Ryan Leidner was approached by a couple with two young children looking to develop a new home in the Mission District, he was immediately intrigued by two things: the clients’ desire for a collaborative working relationship, and the unusual opportunity to construct a home from scratch in the city.
"The project brief called for adding a ground-up structure, which is very rare in San Francisco, making the project very compelling, especially as the new building would share a site with a building from 1885," says Ryan, referring to the lot’s run-down Italianate-style commercial corner structure that had originally been used as a saloon and had seen other commercial uses over the years.
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Although the compact property was large enough to accommodate a second structure in the rear, the existing 19th-century building is classified as a Historic Resource—it's one of the oldest single-story commercial properties in the Mission. This imposed strict restrictions on not only alterations to the exterior of the former saloon, but also on the height and footprint of the new construction, which had to be set back far enough to preserve a certain amount of open space between the two buildings.
Fortunately, the clients welcomed the legally designated open space as an opportunity to indulge in their love of gardening and outdoor entertaining. "In early discussions, we were able to align really quickly on a vision for the property, and the indoor/outdoor lifestyle that we could create with the central courtyard space connecting the two structures," notes Ryan.
Since the changes to the exterior of the historic building were limited to repainting and replacing windows in-kind, Ryan and the clients took cues from the existing structure to inform the rest of the design.
"The existing building has a very distinct butterfly roof profile in section," explains Ryan. "In the early design phases we considered echoing that form in the new structure, but found that any attempt to do so seemed to undermine the historic building, whereas a clean, minimal box allowed both structures to have their own identities in a more deferential way."
"Also, the existing building had a lot of ornamentation (cornice, window moldings, etc.) that reflect the care that went into the construction and appearance of the building. My approach to the new building was to echo that level of care—not with ornamentation—but with clear design intentions, whether that be precise alignments of windows and siding layouts or refined trim details and elements like the flush garage door."
Precise planning was also key in making the most of the new construction’s compact 1,320-square-foot size. As a "home in two parts," the new two-story building would house the private areas, while the remodeled 1,075-square-foot front building would be used for social functions. Bedroom sizes were kept to a minimum in the newly built Back House to allow for a spacious ground-floor living area that connects seamlessly to the courtyard and the Front House through glazed sliding doors.
Named the Harrison St. House after its location, the home adds not only a modern counterpoint to the Mission’s historic context, but renewed street interest. The property’s corner location provided an opportunity for the architect to replace parts of the sidewalk with planting beds—an extension of the interior courtyard—that are taken care of by the homeowners and help soften the custom redwood fencing that wraps around the home.
Builder/ General Contractor: Sykches Construction
Structural Engineer: Sung Engineering