Neutra's Overway-Schiff House

Ensconced in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco, the Schiff house was completed by Richard Neutra in 1938 for a pair of Berliners who wanted to move down the hill from Lombard Street. The occasion for the tour was a lecture sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of the AIA and featuring Neutra's son, Raymond, who wrote quite well about his father for Dwell in 2007. He walked us through his lauded father's career, biography, and thinking, and ended with an overview of the famed VDL compound in Los Angeles, where he grew up, his father and brother worked, and is now in something of a state of disrepair.
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Not only did Raymond talk about the state of his boyhood home, recounting anecdotes of architectural giants such as Otto Wagner, RM Schindler, Gregory Ain, and photographer Julius Shulman, but the present owner of the 1938 house, architect, Chad Overway, told us about how he came to the place. He bought it in 1993, worked hard to restore it to it's original details. "My stewardship hasn't been to renovate the house, but to return it to what it was, or might have been," he said.

As you head up the stairs of the Schiff-Overway house, you know that you're in store for a treat. This is a house very much of the 1930s and it feels just right. Photo by Mark Darley.

I was lucky enough to wander the backyard, two floors and the 800 square-foot roofdeck, which looks directly onto the Golden Gate bridge. As far as I know, this is the first Neutra house I've seen in person, and I'm now very curious to seek out the other two in the region. I understand that there's one at the foot of Union St. A long seems very near at hand. 

Glass panels surrounding the stairwell allow a nice amount of gentle light into the living room. Photo by Mark Darley.

Have a look at this slideshow of the house as Overway has it now to see some of the details and layout of what makes the Schiff house such a success.

Architect Chad Overway did a lot of restoration to the house (San Francisco AIA chief Erin Cullerton said that toward the end of her life Mrs. Schiff made a number of trendy changes) and one detail that endures is the dark wooden plank that divides the dining room from the entry and living room. The curtain runs just above it. Classy touch. Photo by Mark Darley.

Here is a nice head-on shot of the living room with a Barcelona daybed by Mies, a Corbu chair, and an end table by Eileen Gray. Machines for living indeed. Photo by Mark Darley.

As you look through the curtained divider between the living and the dining room, you see a long wall extending toward the windows in the living room. Apparently when Mrs. Schiff had Neutra design the place in the mid-30s it was largely to suit the specifications of her furniture. Where the hutch in the background now sits was a massive entertainment console with a humidor and all manner of fun. Photo by Mark Darley.

Some 50 people must have been packed into this part of the living room to hear Raymond Neutra's talk. A tight squeeze for sure. I'll have to get myself invited back for a less populated affair. Photo by Mark Darley.

Here you get a pretty clear idea of how much light Overway gets in his living room. Raise the blinds and thank heavens you're a couple floors up, because the views of the northern slopes of Pacific Heights are splendid. Photo by Mark Darley.

The dining room is lit in part by this frosted window that actually looks out into something of a dead zone between the building and the one next door. Nonetheless, the diffuse glow warms the place up. The steel tube chairs continue the Bauhaus vibe and pick up on the metal window frames and railing. Photo by Mark Darley.

Here is Chad Overway's living room again. The view to the south through the big bank of windows is truly something, and if you poke your head west you'll see the glowing rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts, a bulbous Neoclassical thing. You can see Overway's love of Le Corbusier's furniture, and overall there are far more nods to 20s and 30s modernism in the house than to the warmer American stuff to come a generation later. Photo by Mark Darley.

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One of the most exciting bits at the house was seeing the original hardware. I loved this door knob, and was even more wild for some 30's-era louvers in the kitchen and handles on the bank of south-facing windows. Photo by Mark Darley.

The living room is actually fairly modest. Though the 2,500-square-foot unit is generous by many standards, you have a real sense of flowing space, or useful divisions and a desire to avoid opulence. Photo by Mark Darley.


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