A Massive “Megacabinet” Hides a Secret Room in This San Francisco Home

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By Lucy Wang
A secret reading niche, ample shelving, and even a feeding station for the family dog are integrated into this “Megacabinet” that invites light and play into a revamped dwelling.

With three children and two pets in tow, the McDougals found their family’s active lifestyle and love of entertaining at odds with the dark and cramped layout of their historic San Francisco home. In search of a light-filled renovation, the couple turned to local architect Beverly Choe of BACH Architecture to help realize their dream dwelling without breaking the bank.

Yet the home's renovation and expansion did more than deliver daylight and a spacious feel—the key to the redesign is an innovative "Megacabinet" that unites the home’s three floors with built-in functionality ranging from storage to a hidden reading nook.

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On the basement level, the Megacabinet shelving is mainly used for books and toys. The floors throughout the home are engineered white oak.

On the basement level, the Megacabinet shelving is mainly used for books and toys. The floors throughout the home are engineered white oak.

A panel in the Megacabinet swings open to reveal a hidden reading nook.

A panel in the Megacabinet swings open to reveal a hidden reading nook.

"A typical cabinet is passive: It sits at the edge of a room and holds stuff," Choe says. "The Megacabinet aspires to be an active element that controls views, guides movement and elicits delight...while also holding stuff."

Megacabinet axon diagram

Megacabinet axon diagram

The inspiration behind the Megacabinet came from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. Choe explains: "He packed all the service spaces (like the kitchen, bathroom, fireplace) of the building into a singular volume in the middle of the house. This inner cube is like a piece of cabinetry on steroids."

Reveals and windows built into the unit help bring the cabinet down to a more human scale, while hidden panels provide functionality with minimal visual clutter.

Reveals and windows built into the unit help bring the cabinet down to a more human scale, while hidden panels provide functionality with minimal visual clutter.

"At the end of the cabinet, one finds a small compartment for their beloved dog, Lucky, to eat her meals," Choe shares. "The client told me their cat also likes to nap in this nook. This wasn't the intent, but I'm delighted that the cat has found a way to make a room out of it."

"At the end of the cabinet, one finds a small compartment for their beloved dog, Lucky, to eat her meals," Choe shares. "The client told me their cat also likes to nap in this nook. This wasn't the intent, but I'm delighted that the cat has found a way to make a room out of it."

"I wanted to explore this kind of multiplicity in a more vertical fashion at the new stair. All we really needed was a simple guardrail, but with the clients' storage needs and appreciation of play, I wondered if a single element could anchor the circulation of the house and also push the idea of what a cabinet can do. I tried to pack many of the typical architectural elements (wall, window, door, furniture) into a single cabinet."

On the second floor, the Megacabinet culminates in a desk with a buffet and a wine fridge, as well as a sofa with hidden storage.

On the second floor, the Megacabinet culminates in a desk with a buffet and a wine fridge, as well as a sofa with hidden storage.

Built by Greg Bergere and his team at Go build, the Megacabinet is made of plywood and finished with blue paint. 

A before image shows the home's main living areas received scant natural light.

A before image shows the home's main living areas received scant natural light.

The light-filled kitchen features Leo Bar stools from Room and Board, Doo-Wop pendant lights by Louis Poulsen, and GE Monogram appliances. The backsplash is Heath Tile and the countertops are Solid Surface.

The light-filled kitchen features Leo Bar stools from Room and Board, Doo-Wop pendant lights by Louis Poulsen, and GE Monogram appliances. The backsplash is Heath Tile and the countertops are Solid Surface.

The team built out the rear of the home with a contemporary addition. Two new decks and the excavation of the entire basement provide much-needed breathing room.

The Crate & Barrel dining table is paired with Bottega Side Chairs in Ice Grey from Design Within Reach.

The Crate & Barrel dining table is paired with Bottega Side Chairs in Ice Grey from Design Within Reach.

"Through a spirited and thoughtful exploration of cabinetry in the domestic realm, this project aims to weave delight into everyday life," Choe says. 

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The kitchen also contains a custom casework "cube" that conceals appliances and a hidden powder room.

The kitchen also contains a custom casework "cube" that conceals appliances and a hidden powder room.

A hidden powder room is concealed behind the kitchen unit's sliding chalkboard door.

A hidden powder room is concealed behind the kitchen unit's sliding chalkboard door.

On the first floor, the office powder room is hidden behind a door disguised as a bookshelf.

On the first floor, the office powder room is hidden behind a door disguised as a bookshelf.

Megacabinet House basement floor plan

Megacabinet House basement floor plan

Megacabinet House first floor plan

Megacabinet House first floor plan

Megacabinet House second floor plan

Megacabinet House second floor plan

Megacabinet House third floor plan

Megacabinet House third floor plan

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: BACH Architecture

Builder/ General Contractor: Blair Burke General Contractors

Structural Engineer: SMWA Structural Engineers

Lighting Design/Interior Design: Steve + Filip design

Cabinetry Design/ Installation: Go Build Studio