A Steep, Sloping Lot Becomes a Hillside Family Oasis in San Francisco

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By Sarah Akkoush / Photos by Joe Fletcher
Perched high above the city, John Maniscalco’s Tank Hill Residence celebrates the dual experience of engaging with, as well as retreating from, urban life.

In a quiet residential enclave, steps away from the small but spectacularly scenic Tank Hill Park, an existing midcentury home on a challenging site has been completely reimagined to take advantage of both panoramic city views and a private wooded landscape. The home’s residents, a young well-traveled family, wanted to create a place of refuge where they could be both engaged and removed from their beautiful surroundings.

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Earthy, organic materials were favored in the home's composition. The exterior palette features Pietra Serena limestone, color-integral stucco, metal panels, and stained cedar.

Earthy, organic materials were favored in the home's composition. The exterior palette features Pietra Serena limestone, color-integral stucco, metal panels, and stained cedar.

From the start, the steep, sloped lot proved to be both a challenge and opportunity. "On a hillside site, we often try to use the differing topography to provide a variety of spatial experiences that reveal themselves as one moves through the home," explains John Maniscalco, founding principal of John Maniscalco Architecture.

The double-height, fully glazed volume at the home's rear "brings significant light into the home, while simultaneously creating a moment to experience the verticality of the surrounding trees which loom above the home," explains Maniscalco.

The double-height, fully glazed volume at the home's rear "brings significant light into the home, while simultaneously creating a moment to experience the verticality of the surrounding trees which loom above the home," explains Maniscalco.

Above the kitchen and dining room, a glass bridge connects bedrooms on the third floor. "The glass flooring allows the southern light to penetrate farther into the space, but also creates a special moment of pause to experience the scale and volume of the space below and towering trees beyond," says Maniscalco.

Above the kitchen and dining room, a glass bridge connects bedrooms on the third floor. "The glass flooring allows the southern light to penetrate farther into the space, but also creates a special moment of pause to experience the scale and volume of the space below and towering trees beyond," says Maniscalco.

For Maniscalco, the first order of business was carving back the hillside to create new space and volume that would bring light deep into the home. "Given the space and orientation, the previous home was dark and starved of natural light," Maniscalco explains. 

"The creation of a 'functionally active' series of retaining walls with our colleagues at Surfacedesign activates the space for use with an outdoor fireplace, bar-b-que, and climbing wall," notes Maniscalco.

"The creation of a 'functionally active' series of retaining walls with our colleagues at Surfacedesign activates the space for use with an outdoor fireplace, bar-b-que, and climbing wall," notes Maniscalco.

"To accentuate [the] seamless connection to the outdoors, we created a pair of retractable glass walls that meet at the corner. The effect when open is one of completely dissolving the corner and creating a feeling of being surrounded by nature," describes Maniscalco.

"To accentuate [the] seamless connection to the outdoors, we created a pair of retractable glass walls that meet at the corner. The effect when open is one of completely dissolving the corner and creating a feeling of being surrounded by nature," describes Maniscalco.

Digging out a chunk of the hillside in the rear allowed the jmA team to introduce a rear yard that didn’t exist before, as well as create a void in space that would let light in. Beyond carving away the hillside, the jmA team was also able to capture additional space beneath the existing home.

The home's main entry—two levels off the street—forces guests to get intimately acquainted with the steep topography of the site. Although the home's residents have the option to enter via garage and interior stair, guests instead travel up exterior stairs at the corner of the site, passing the planted neighboring lot to reach the home's front door.

The home's main entry—two levels off the street—forces guests to get intimately acquainted with the steep topography of the site. Although the home's residents have the option to enter via garage and interior stair, guests instead travel up exterior stairs at the corner of the site, passing the planted neighboring lot to reach the home's front door.

"We used the steepness of the site to do something a bit unusual: we carved out an additional floor of occupied space below the living levels, but still within the envelope of the previous home," says Maniscalco. "In San Francisco, finding new space in that manner is a bit of a magic trick."

The living room, positioned centrally on the second floor, has access to both the private backyard and northern city views.

The living room, positioned centrally on the second floor, has access to both the private backyard and northern city views.

Intimately tied to the steep topography, views and experiences change as one travels through the home. Traveling up the steep entry to the living level on the second floor, the entry space offers access to both the living room to the north, and private dining and kitchen area to the south. Wide-plank European white oak flooring, and Pietra Serena limestone slab inlays bring an organic warmth to the space.

Intimately tied to the steep topography, views and experiences change as one travels through the home. Traveling up the steep entry to the living level on the second floor, the entry space offers access to both the living room to the north, and private dining and kitchen area to the south. Wide-plank European white oak flooring, and Pietra Serena limestone slab inlays bring an organic warmth to the space.

The dramatic gathering space enjoys seamless connection to the hillside backyard on one end, and unobstructed city views on the opposite end. Traveling vertically through the home, "the experience shifts to expansive city views and views to the Marin Headlands and beyond, creating a sense of your place in the larger environment," reflects Maniscalco.

"From most areas of the living level, you can simultaneously see and experience both the towering trees to the south and sweeping city and bay view to the north," says Maniscalco. "The careful placement of this floor level and creation of this spacial experience was a real cornerstone of the project."

"From most areas of the living level, you can simultaneously see and experience both the towering trees to the south and sweeping city and bay view to the north," says Maniscalco. "The careful placement of this floor level and creation of this spacial experience was a real cornerstone of the project."

In the living room, rift cut white oak millwork marries wax steel detailing at the striking fireplace.

In the living room, rift cut white oak millwork marries wax steel detailing at the striking fireplace.

The second floor powder room reflects the glass bridge above.

The second floor powder room reflects the glass bridge above.

A new interior stair allows vertical circulation and funnels light into the interior space.

A new interior stair allows vertical circulation and funnels light into the interior space.

The master bedroom, on the home's top floor, offers panoramic views of the city, bay, and beyond.

The master bedroom, on the home's top floor, offers panoramic views of the city, bay, and beyond.

The bright master bedroom, with vessel sinks and Caesarstone counters, also enjoys sweeping city views.

The bright master bedroom, with vessel sinks and Caesarstone counters, also enjoys sweeping city views.

Anchored in nature, the residence is entirely site and client specific. "The house would not make sense anywhere else, even in other locations on its block," says Maniscalco. "It’s a connection to the site and to the city that gives the house a sense of grounding and serenity."

Horizontally-oriented windows emphasize and frame sweeping San Francisco views. A careful manipulation of light, volume, and elevation, the home offers unique vantage points of the city in different ways—both panoramic and private.

Horizontally-oriented windows emphasize and frame sweeping San Francisco views. A careful manipulation of light, volume, and elevation, the home offers unique vantage points of the city in different ways—both panoramic and private.

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — ground floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — ground floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — first floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — first floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — second floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — second floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — third floor

Tank Hill Residence floor plan — third floor


Project Credits:

Architect: John Maniscalco Architecture / @john_maniscalco_architecture

Builder: DesignLine Construction

Structural Engineer: Holmes Structures

Mechanical Engineer: MHC Engineering

Landscape Design: Surfacedesign (@sdisf)

Cabinetry Design: Midland Cabinet Company

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