House Calls, Curbed’s weekly original tours series, takes you inside homes of eye-catching style and big personality, from bohemian apartments with funky decor to contemporary behemoths with designer furniture.
We’ve selected the homes and homeowners’ stories of the last decade that best captured the vibe of the Bay Area: Multimillion-dollar affairs, like this major remodel atop a famous San Francisco hill or this empty-nester couple’s colorfully postmodernist apartment in SoMa, will thrill even real-estate and design aficionados who don’t pull in eight figures annually. But Curbed also stepped inside more approachable, yet no less stunning homes, like this Castro artist’s unabashedly maximalist apartment teeming with found objects, or a tiny Hayes Valley studio where a closet was transformed into a sleeping space.
Even the midcentury trend (which, mercifully, reached its zenith this past decade) is represented in all of its retro glory at Oakland’s circular Nolan House.
Without further ado, may we present our favorite Bay Area homes.
Alamo Square’s Westerfeld House: San Francisco’s most storied Victorian
When Jim Siegel was just eight years old, he saw his first episode of The Addams Family, and fell in love during the opening sequence. Not with the “creepy” and “kooky” characters shown snapping their fingers in a staccato cadence, but with the gothic Victorian house pictured in the first frame. Siegel, watching in his parents’ suburban ranch house, was smitten.
”I was obsessed with that show and the house,” he says. “I think it was because the family and their home were quirky and different. Even back then, I knew I was gay, and I felt different from everyone around me—maybe I identified with it.”
He was still a boy when he saw the Westerfeld House, a Stick Italian Villa in Alamo Square, from the window of his parents’ car. “To me, it looked like the Addams Family house,” he says. (...more)
Castro apartment: Inside an artist’s maximalist home
“I don’t like looking at TVs,” says fine artist and Radical Faerie Brian Busta. “They’re so ugly.” And that, in part, is what makes his expansive, sun-dappled Castro apartment so special—its fantasy decor with nary an inkling of anything from the contemporary world.
Television sets and laptops are tucked away in favor of rustic and used objects collected over the years, which Busta has strewn about in careful, loving fashion.
For the last decade, Busta (who also goes by the name “Chickpea,” a Radical Faerie sobriquet he picked up during a stay at Oregon’s Wolfcreek commune in the ’90s) has been at the helm of designing glowing installations for Comfort and Joy, an LGBT nonprofit that began as a bawdy, sexually-charged Burning Man camp. (...more)
SoMa warehouse: Empty nesters upgrade to make room for their quirky passions
When Lloyd and Dana Taylor’s six children departed, the couple left their suburban family house and began searching for a space in San Francisco. They weren’t looking for just any empty-nester condo, they were after something different; and several months in, they realized that they wanted a warehouse.
The Taylors are involved in a number of organizations that support arts and ideas, ranging from We Players, a group that turns public spaces into site-integrated theater, to Jeffersonian Dinners, gatherings of thought leaders to discuss issues. (...more)
Mission District Victorian: An artist finds a home, and community
The name Christian Robinson is familiar to legions of parents and children across the nation. He’s the illustrator of 10 children’s books, including bestsellers such as Last Stop on Market Street, Leo: A Ghost Story, and, most recently, School’s First Day of School. His work, usually a mix of painting and collage, is instantly recognizable for its joyful, almost childlike, quality.
Many of his books include sweet interiors, such as the vaguely Victorian rooms in Leo: A Ghost Story. Robinson says that details in Leo’s haunts were partly inspired by his own home: A four-bedroom apartment in the Mission District he shares with three other roommates. To understand what his place means to him, you have to know the home of his childhood. (...more)
Duboce Triangle studio: A writer’s life, loved ones, and design philosophy
“As San Francisco becomes blander, we old-timers have a responsibility to be weirder,” John Vlahides, a travel writer and San Francisco Symphony Chorus member, explained as he looked out the window of his 1920s studio. His view, which once captured the bay and downtown San Francisco, now looks out onto the beige stucco back wall of Linea, the contemporary glass condo behemoth on Market Street.
And although weird can come with all sorts of affected connotations, especially in San Francisco (think cat eye glasses, tiki lamps), Vlahides, a gentleman in his own right with rapid-fire cadence and honed wit, has reclaimed the term and elevated it with a glug of storied elegance.
His two-room studio in the Castro attests to his peculiar yet cohesive mishmash of style. Located at the nexus of Duboce Triangle, Castro, and Hayes Valley, Vlahides prefers to think of his neighborhood as the Castro. (...more)
Oakland’s Nolan House: Vintage-loving couple decorate an architectural time capsule
You could say that Julian Goldklang and Desiree Myers started furnishing their unique round house in Oakland years before they ever laid eyes on it. As the owners of midcentury Møbler in Berkeley, the largest midcentury showroom in Northern California, they are in a good position to score the best furniture of the era.
”Before moving into our home, it had been our dream to fill a midcentury house with concurrently designed furniture,” Goldklang says.
”Over the last 10 years, I’ve been putting away my favorite pieces with the idea that they would all live harmoniously together in a perfect, untouched midcentury time capsule home.” (...more)
Hayes Valley micro-apartment: Sleeping in the closet and making it work
When Catie Nienaber moved into her Hayes Valley apartment almost seven years ago, she kept what you might think of as a typical studio: a desk, some space-conscious shelving, and a bed right smack in the middle of the main living space.
”When you have people over, there’s the unacknowledged vulgarity of the bed right there in the living room,” she says. “I wanted this to be more of a space where I can have friends over and have chairs for people to sit in. Hence I turned my walk-in closet into the world’s smallest one-bedroom.” (...more)
Bernal Heights Edwardian: A succulent existence on Cortland Avenue
Back in 2007, Ken Shelf was an accountant and a musician looking for more. His wife, Amy Shelf, inadvertently found his calling on online. “At the time, I had a serious Craigslist habit. I was always checking to see what was for sale in the neighborhood,” she says. “One day, I found a post about the local video store, Four Star Video, being for sale. When I emailed it to Ken, I thought I was sharing a piece of community gossip, he took it another way.”
The Shelf family had been friendly with the owner of the video store before he died. David Ayoob was often in front of his business, sweeping up and greeting the neighbors. “He was a community character. When I read that the business and building were up for sale, I thought ‘I could be that guy,’” says Ken. (...more)
Alamo Square apartment: An architect embraces all things vintage
San Francisco’s Alamo Square is most famous for its iconic row of Painted Ladies, the colorful Victorian homes that run along its east side, which became a pop culture icon when they appeared in the title sequence of the late-’80s, early ’90s television show Full House.
But just on the other side of the park sits another stately building, with an arched entryway of marble and dark wood, its large bay windows hugging a corner of the building. This yellow-brick pile has been home to architect John Toya for the last decade. (...more)
Forest Hill home: The dream house next door
Although Tina and Jochen Frey had committed to a house, they kept looking longingly at the neighbor’s dwelling. It made no sense to abandon their remodel plans and move next door—or did it?
The couple had relocated from the Marina (like the name suggests, a neighborhood along the San Francisco Bay) to Forest Hill (located atop the hilly area on the city’s southwest side) just two years ago. They loved many things about the new house, but it needed updating, and they were busy planning a remodel with architect George Bradley. It was increasingly clear that the plans were shaping up to be a major project. (...more)
SF Edwardian: Inside an art director’s sanctuary—and festive dinner parties
Two years ago, San Francisco artist and art director George McCalman found himself living alone for the first time in many years and grieving the end of a long-term relationship. His road to recovery involved reimagining the apartment he had shared with his partner and reinvigorating his three community-building groups.
McCalman’s journey to the one-bedroom unit—which is tucked into an Edwardian dwelling on a narrow street—is circuitous and (seemingly) charmed. Prior to his occupancy, it was rented by his friend and her boyfriend. “When she applied to live there, I provided a reference letter for her,” he says. “I always loved the place, and I would joke with her, telling her that when she died, I wanted the apartment. It was kind of a gallows humor between us, and my meaning was that the place was so great, death would be the only reason you would ever leave.” (...more)
Twin Peaks contemporary: “Even the developers wouldn’t touch it”
When architects Robert Edmonds and Vivian Lee moved from New York City to San Francisco, they discovered something many outsiders don’t know about the City by the Bay: The fog is not distributed equitably.
As anyone who has spent time in SF will attest, there are parts of the city that are warmer and sunnier than others. This couple, partners in life and in the firm Edmonds + Lee Architects, found this fact out the hard way—they moved to Twin Peaks, a neighborhood that’s foggier than many. (...more)