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The Bay Area’s most beautiful homes of 2019

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Yes, there’s a conversation pit here

Photo by Jason Wells Photography, courtesy of Compass

Once again this year, you could not afford to buy a home in San Francisco or most of the Bay Area. Alas. But at least you could see what you, and so many others, were missing.

While this year’s aesthetic offerings weren’t nearly as striking as what we saw in 2018 or 2017, the stock for sale was still none too shabby. Rare abodes designed by William Turnbull, Albert Farr, and Bernard Maybeck landed on the market. There were even a few contemporary houses, like this polarizing Atherton construction from Stanley Saitowitz, that cleaned up. We even saw a conversation pit.

And now, in no particular order, here are the homes for sale that made us stop and say, “Whoa.”


Photo courtesy of Henry Kei at Trio Properties
Sherwood Forest Tudor

Featuring five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and approximately 4,315 square feet, this circa-1931 Tudor in San Francisco’s smallest neighborhood measured four stories tall. It came with 18-foot vaulted ceilings, leaded glass windows, oakwood arches, coved ceilings, and five—five!—outdoor decks. It sold for $3,100,000.

Photo by Open Homes Photography, courtesy of Compass
Ernest Born’s Modernist home on Great Highway

Designed by Ernest Born in 1949—one of the masterminds behind the Glen Park BART Station—this Great Highway home in the Outer Sunset came with a living room that wowed with 21-foot ceilings, a brick fireplace, and a wooden pole structure affixed to the wall for hanging art.

Photo by Open Homes Photography, courtesy of Compass
Willis Polk mansion in Russian Hill

Fanny Osbourne Stevenson, a magazine writer and former wife of Robert Louis Stevenson, commissioned Willis Polk to design this Mediterranean- and Tudor-style mansion near the top of Russian Hill around 1900. Among the home’s many highlights—including a marble-floored foyer and a sweeping staircase with carved bannisters—was a stained-glass window, designed by Polk himself, depicting the ship Hispaniola, which was featured in Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The house remains on the market for $13.8 million.

Photo by Jason Wells Photography, courtesy of Compass
Belvedere Island stunner

This gingerbread-style house with double gables, perched high on the hill in Belvedere, scored top marks for curb appeal alone. Designed by Albert Farr, this six-bed, five-and-a-half-bath, 5,574-square-foot home at 334 Golden Gate Avenue asked $7.995 million before being temporarily pulled off the market.

Photo courtesy of Vanguard Properties
Tiny Victorian treasure in Bernal Heights

The biggest homes for sale weren’t always the best. Take, for example, this darling little Victorian in Bernal Heights, which landed on the market just under the one-million-dollar mark. Set away from a series of sidewalk steps, this home came with gardens in the front and back. Downright adorable. It sold for $1.1 million.

Photo courtesy of Mary Thomson of Marin Home Team
Rare Sausalito A-frame

“This house is so much fun to sell because there is just nothing like it,” said Mary Thomson of Marin Home Team, who was in charge of this Sausalito home’s listing. Indeed, there aren’t many A-frames in the seaside town. When this geometrical specimen hit the market, people swooned over its peaked roof. But this home, which sold for $1.31 million, also offered clean white interiors that provided much needed positive contrast to its dark facade.

Photo by Daniel Lunghi
Presidio Heights Versailles replica

Then again, sometimes big is better. This noted number in Presidio Heights came with headlines galore even before it hit the market—it played host to the 2019 SF Decorator Showcase; housed an uninvited squatter, who lived in the long-vacant home and sold the pricey valuables inside; and briefly sparked Taylor Swift’s real estate interest—but the real story is its unabashed wedding cake-like beauty. Featuring nine bedrooms, seven and a half bathrooms, and 17,895 square feet, 3800 Washington, known as Le Petit Trianon, was inspired by King Louis XV’s Chateau at the Versailles Palace in France. The 1904 mansion, which, withstood the great quake and fire of 1906, is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It has, inexplicably, yet to find a buyer.

Photo courtesy of Compass
Erlanger House in Forest Hill

From the mind of the man who built the Roos House and the Palace of Fine Arts, Bernard Maybeck’s Erlanger House, built in 1916, used Samlesbury Hall, an English medieval manor, as a prototype. Featuring four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and 3,620 square feet, 270 Castenada Avenue came with interiors made up of warm redwood, heavy beams, a grand hall, a castle turret, a huge fireplace, cathedral ceilings rising to 20 feet, and hand-hewn and hand-crafted details. It sold for $4 million.

Photo by Christan Klugmann, courtesy of Red Oak Realty
1885 Oakland Victorian

Built in 1885, this exquisite Victorian, nicknamed the de Rome House, hits the market for $2.8 million. It came with over 80 arch-topped windows, embossed wallpaper, crown moldings, four wood-burning fireplaces, pocket doors, and those skinny bathrooms that, pardon the pun, reek of charm.

Two wooden exterior structures that make up the home, as seen from the back, with redwoods surrounding the home. Photo by Paul Kozal, courtesy of Hanne Liisberg
Binker Barn in the Sea Ranch

Designed by William Turnbull, who helped develop the Sea Ranch community along the Sonoma coast, this 1968 property, this the Binker Barn is one of California’s most prestigious homes. Highlights here included two interior loft spaces accessible by ladder, picture windows, Douglas fir flooring, skylights, and aboral views.

Photo by Open Homes Photography, courtesy of Vincent Tore San Nicolas of Green Bridge Properties
1910 Tudor in Alameda

The Tudor at 1234 Hawthorne, reportedly the largest house in the East Bay town, was a sight to behold. Originally constructed in 1910 for Charles Appleton Hooper, a lumber mogul and philanthropist, the mansion measured 9,349 square feet and came with exposed beams, a grand staircase, and a secret bookcase door leading to another room.

The middle of the room had a conversation pit lined with red-orange cushions around the perimeter. A fireplace, wood paneling, clerestory windows and plush carpeting can also be seen. Photo by Christian Klugmann Photography, courtesy of Red Oak Realty
Berkeley midcentury with conversation pit

Built in 1956, this John Hans Ostwald home came with all of the straightforward trappings that midcentury aficionados love so dearly. But of far greater importance was the conversation pit smack dab in the middle of the living room.

Photo by Dennis Mayer, courtesy of Compass
Palo Alto farmhouse

The renovated farmhouse trend was major this decade, many of which were contrived. A few exposed beams, a Napa setting, and an over saturation of Restoration Hardware furnishings does not a farmhouse make. But this one, located in Palo Alto’s historic Professorville district, was the best one on offer. And how could we not love the TV antenna still sprouting from the roof? UHF never looked this charming.

Photo by Bernard André Photography, courtesy of Compass
Minimalist Stanley Saitowitz in Atherton

Love it or loathe it, this exceedingly contemporary home in Silicon Valley came with cohesion and a clear design point of view: stark and excessive. The concrete-and-glass behemoth, made up of two L-shaped structures, sold for $21 million.

Photo by Christian Klugmann, courtesy of Marvin Garden Real Estate
Normandy Village condo in Berkeley

Designed by William Raymond Yelland, the 1927 Normandy Village (née Thornburg Village) complex in Berkeley remains one-of-a-kind—a blend of different architectural styles, including storybook and medieval revival, that results in a fairytale-like residence. The one-bedroom unit here, measuring a mere 909 square feet, came with dowelled wood floors, walls that resembled hand-hewn stone and timber, two earthen brick fireplaces, archways, and a stone patio. It sold for $875K.

Photo by Open Homes Photography, courtesy of Thomas Westfall at Alain Pinel Realtors
Double A-frame Eichler

This list wouldn’t be complete without an Eichler, the popular midcentury homes built by iconic developer Joesph Eichler. Our favorite in 2019? This circa-1963 specimen designed by A. Quincy Jones. It sold for $1.365 million.