This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary

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By Jen Woo / Published by Dwell
This lively live/work studio in San Francisco's Dogpatch is a constant work-in-progress that mirrors its inhabitants' creative processes.

The live/work space of painter Heather Day and musician Chase McBride is what many would expect of a creative couple’s artist loft—high ceilings and an open floor plan saturated with sunlight pouring in through large warehouse windows and skylights, white walls swathed with canvases, and a floor coated in paint splatters. Guitar strumming permeates the three stories, drifting down to coexist with the sound of mixing paint, brushes scratching canvas. As in a painting or song, balance is key, which infiltrates every element of the 2,200-square-foot apartment in the Dogpatch district of San Francisco. 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 1 of 9 - "We both love the Dogpatch for many reasons. It’s the right amount of balance, being a little removed from the bustle of San Francisco, and there’s a great sense of community among the eclectic inhabitants. It feels like an island within a city."

"We both love the Dogpatch for many reasons. It’s the right amount of balance, being a little removed from the bustle of San Francisco, and there’s a great sense of community among the eclectic inhabitants. It feels like an island within a city."

"During winter rainstorms the tin roof fills the space with a calming clatter. Those are great days to hunker down and binge through an entire Netflix series, scroll Instagram endlessly or, you know, read a book." 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 2 of 9 - "When we buy something new, it’s usually with the intent to replace something we are ready to part with. It’s a delicate balance of give-and-take."

"When we buy something new, it’s usually with the intent to replace something we are ready to part with. It’s a delicate balance of give-and-take."

Each level is broken down with a specific cause, and naturally everything is multipurpose—the bottom level functions as a living room, kitchen, and art studio. The second floor has a full bathroom, music studio, canvas storage, and a converted guest bedroom with a collapsable Murphy bed. The third floor, accessible only by a handmade walnut ladder, is their bedroom and personal space. You can also peer down each tier to the first floor from the bedroom nook on the third floor. 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 3 of 9 -  "The setup really works for our lifestyles, since work and play are often the same thing." 

 "The setup really works for our lifestyles, since work and play are often the same thing." 

Developments were made by the previous tenant, also a notable artist, with interior designer Sarah Owen to allow the space to function as both a home and studio. The top floor was extended to make space for a bedroom with the bed tucked away, working out nicely as there are no real walls dividing rooms. The goal was to minimize visual clutter in tight accommodations which translated to clean, white surfaces with subtle wood accents. 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 4 of 9 -  "The artist who made the changes called the third floor ‘the tree house,’ a named I’ve adopted too."

 "The artist who made the changes called the third floor ‘the tree house,’ a named I’ve adopted too."

The second floor has been reconfigured since McBride moved in to accommodate a workspace, where he hosts rehearsals, writes, and records rough demos before doing final sessions in Oakland and Los Angeles. With Heather painting voraciously in prep for her upcoming solo show in San Francisco, the space is teeming with art. 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 5 of 9 - "There’s an interesting form of communication that happens when we’re both working. The music that is coming from the second floor starts to inform the painting that is happening on the first floor, and visa versa. It’s like we’re collaborating in an indirect way." 

"There’s an interesting form of communication that happens when we’re both working. The music that is coming from the second floor starts to inform the painting that is happening on the first floor, and visa versa. It’s like we’re collaborating in an indirect way." 

 "We love the energy that the constant creation and color give to the space, especially against the minimal aesthetic of the loft. It feels like a living, breathing entity. A cycle of turning nothing into something." 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 6 of 9 -  "There’s a mutual tendency to stay in and work all the time because we have big creative appetites. We have to remind ourselves to take regular breaks to get out, see friends, interact with our community, and explore the many hidden gems on the California coast."

 "There’s a mutual tendency to stay in and work all the time because we have big creative appetites. We have to remind ourselves to take regular breaks to get out, see friends, interact with our community, and explore the many hidden gems on the California coast."

Day found the space when she moved to San Francisco four years ago. She walked by with a friend, peered in the window, and said, "One day I want to live there." Starting out with what felt like a blank canvas, she focused on the natural light. Her primary focus was to make the space mobile for convenience and comfort. A point of concern was the lack of storage, which meant letting go of belongings that would have otherwise lived in a closet or basement. Tight quarters paired with throwing regular events like Studio Table—a dinner series that Heather hosts with her business partner Michelle Wei—and photoshoots, the space needed to be able to metamorphose quickly. 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 7 of 9 - "The dining room table, the flat files bench, and the mobile shelving unit on the second floor were designed by Justin Godar specifically for the space. They all serve multiple purposes, and also marry form with function."

"The dining room table, the flat files bench, and the mobile shelving unit on the second floor were designed by Justin Godar specifically for the space. They all serve multiple purposes, and also marry form with function."

 "In a matter of a couple hours, the space can transform from a painting studio into a dinner party venue, so a lot of our furniture is modular, and easy to move between floors." 

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 8 of 9 - "It’s very industrial. The extra pillows, blankets, plants and natural wood tones helped soften the harsher lines."

"It’s very industrial. The extra pillows, blankets, plants and natural wood tones helped soften the harsher lines."

In terms of the building itself, they’d heard that it was a car mechanic warehouse before it was divided into units. "The guts of the building are certainly industrial, so it does have a mysterious past life. Chase has heard the faint sound of disco music late at night, so he thinks it might’ve been the center of a burgeoning dancehall scene back in the 70’s. That’s up for debate," says Day. The community is equally colorful, bustling with a couple of scientists across the hall, a mathematician a few doors down, and a handful of designers, photographers, bloggers, and other creative minded people. "It’s not uncommon to find a few doors propped open while dinner is being cooked or a house concert is underway."

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary - Photo 9 of 9 - "The design encourages the concept that less is more."

"The design encourages the concept that less is more."

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