In early 2006, Katie and John Eller reached out to a friend for a reference. "She said, 'I want your architect and your contractor,'" recalls Sarah Willmer, founder of Studio Sarah Willmer, Architecture. "Katie had heard so many renovation horror stories and saw that her friends were having such a good time with us; we just had a such a good rapport with her friend." Soon after, the couple sat down with Willmer to plan the renovation of their old Victorian home in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Photo by Ken Gutmaker
The roughly 5,000-square-foot Lens House renovation, which was finished in 2012 and just won a 2014 RIBA National Award, required six years, major remedial work on the roof and walls, approval from the planning committee, and even a sign-off from a horticulturalist to guarantee the backyard excavation didn't interfere with a walnut tree. "These things aren’t for people who are in a hurry," says architect Alison Brooks. The focus is the ten-sided trapezoidal office addition. "It wraps itself around the house with a completely different set of rules than the Victorian building," she says.
“Sustainability is very important to us,” lead architect Heather Dubbeldam says. “It is easy to design with passive systems, to use passive sustainable principles to influence the design and layout of the house.” Her team reduced the need for air conditioning and artificial lighting through carefully positioned doors and windows that draw in natural light and breeze. New insulation, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and low-energy lighting also minimize the homeowners’ dependence on utilities.