November 13, 2023
In the cultured Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco, the fanciful facades of stately homes – Italianate, Craftsman, Mediterranean and other styles – enliven the streets. But there’s one Victorian that has a hidden asset: its light-filled kitchen looked out to a backyard garden that was designed by Thomas Church.
The family had occupied the house for ten years before contacting Malcolm Davis Architecture about making better use of space throughout the 4,000-square-foot residence. There were many aspects of the building that they loved, and it was important to them that their home be recognizable after the remodel. By the same token, they were also very familiar with the aspects of the home that they wanted to change. At the top of that list was the kitchen.
Focus on the Heart of the Home
The existing kitchen was serviceable, but small and generic. Squeezed into a corner of a larger space, it didn’t engage with the architecture at all. And while a floor-to-ceiling glass wall framed a view of the garden, the layout did not facilitate the connection to the outdoors.
A peninsula ran parallel to the rear wall of the house, cutting the interior space into two parts and effectively acting as a barrier – rather than a conduit – to the backyard. Windows on the side walls were undersized for the 17-foot by 19.5-foot room, which has a ceiling height of nearly 11 feet.
Turning to the Light
Davis’ design reorients the space towards the landscape. A central island now provides a locus for the functions – sink, dishwasher, prep and dining counter – that were formerly concentrated on the peninsula. The island defines the flow of foot traffic within the kitchen and also directs it to the glass doors leading out to the garden.
“The kitchen serves as a bridge in both space and time,” said the architect. “The design and materiality reflect its importance as an in-between space. The kitchen acts as a physical bridge between the indoor spaces and the Church garden. Similarly, it bridges the modernity of a 21st century kitchen and the historic nature of the existing Victorian building.”
A major part of the project was replacing and upgrading the exterior wall of the kitchen. The old door/window wall was made of wood with single-pane glazing. It leaked at the mullion joints and the door tended to bind when operated.
The goal of the new steel door/window wall (called a moment frame, in reference to the deforming stresses – such as high winds or earthquakes – it is able to withstand) was to expand the opening to the full width of the building while also providing a more thermally efficient assembly that still reflected the original character of the house. The design team also added a second swinging door to the new unit to further smooth the connection between the garden and the light-filled kitchen.
“The installation of the moment frame was complicated because it had to be assembled in the field within the existing structure,” said Davis. “The posts were first bolted to the existing retaining wall below the finished floor. The beam was then welded to the posts.”
To keep the walls free of light-obstructing cabinets and preserve the newly clean, open lines of the room, drawers account for much of the storage in the kitchen. Between the kitchen and the dining room, the architect created a combination pantry and utility room that centralizes storage. On one side of this space, the door style from the kitchen is continued, with full-height cabinets concealing pull-out trays. A closet on the opposite side of the pantry is camouflaged by using a blind door that matches the tongue and groove wall paneling.
“The clients were really pleased with how our design kept the original spirit of the Victorian home but allowed for so much additional daylight to penetrate the interior spaces throughout the day,” said Davis. “The house is an infinitely more successful entertaining space, a light-filled place to gather with their grandchildren and extended family.
—By Leslie Clagett, KBB managing editor
Design: Malcolm Davis, architect; Pat Blackburn, project manager, Malcolm Davis Architecture
General Contractor: Vonnegut Thoreau Construction
Structural Engineering: Semco Engineering
Photography: Mariko Reed
Cabinets: Malcolm Davis Architecture
Dishwashers, Wall Ovens, Wine Cooler: Miele
Faucets & Sinks: Dornbracht, Lacava &Toto
Lighting: Louis Poulsen
Range Hood: Best