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In 2007, as Richard and Dina Dwyer were walking through the Potrero Hill home they had just bought, the couple came across a manhole cover lodged in the wood floor of the second-story apartment on their property. "When we ripped the carpeting, we saw this cover," recalls Dina Dwyer, who is an interior designer. She lifted the cover and peered down. "I was like, 'Who's there?'" Richard went downstairs to try to find the other side. They called to each other from across the house. "I could hear his voice," says Dina. "I was like, 'OK, it's getting closer.'" Finally, when Richard was standing directly beneath her, he found himself in the dark, cavernous space tucked behind what's now the couple's living room.
Behind the bar: the requisite Big Mouth Billy Bass, which sings "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
The property began its life in 1906 as a store—where the living room is now—with living quarters upstairs. When Prohibition started, the store owners got ahold of some stills and began making their own booze in a back room behind the grocery, explains Richard. But they needed a way to sell it without the product, as it were, appearing to come from the grocers. At the time, roads were being constructed all over the city, and new sewer covers were there for the nicking. Installed between the floors of buildings, they made a quick, readymade portal to distilleries concealed below. "Bourbon & Branch has one," says Richard, himself the grandson of a San Francisco bootlegger (albeit not at this address). "You'd just hand up the bottles through the sewer cover, and you sell them out the door of the apartment upstairs."
Dina and Richard filled their home with pieces brought back from their travels to Indonesia, Laos, and South America. Above all, their style is eclectic. An antique French mirror hangs above a Lucite chair, which is not five feet from a tufted leather chiropractic table from England. Dina likes to say there's only one piece in the living room that came new from a store, and that's an HD Buttercup chair embroidered with the four Beatles. The living room's library shelves are original to the old store, but Richard had to search for a library ladder to fit the shelves. He found one that had been in a New England library, via eBay.
Upstairs, the Dwyers tried to make updates that felt true to the property's origins. They opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining areas, adding trim around the new doorway that would read as a simpler riff on the original molding. They painted the kitchen and dining room floors red—similar to what the owners of the old store had done—but kept the remaining floors in natural wood. Above the dining table hangs a light fixture from the Warfield, which Richard bought from a friend who had restored a pair of old fixtures the theater had been keeping in storage. "It's very abstract in our setting," he says. "It looks like a flying saucer."
When Richard and Dina got married, in 2009, they commissioned a wedding cake based on their house. In lieu of bride and groom statuettes, the couple (who met through yoga) appear as rooftop yogis. Photo courtesy the DwyersFollow Curbed's House Calls on Pinterest.
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