Renovating in a city like San Francisco can come with a long list of pros and cons. For the latter, close proximity to neighboring lots ensures the footprint of a property must remain relatively the same. But for the former, inspiration abounds. In this Bernal Heights home, designer Alison Damonte worked within this ebb and flow of restriction and possibility. The style is classic California Modern and includes bold accessories and handcrafted furnishings. The result is a fresh, modernized home that still feels right at home in the colorful neighborhood.

What can you tell us about this home? Where is it, and how did the neighborhood affect your design plan?
The home is in Bernal Heights, which is a historic, working-class neighborhood with a village feel. The homes are in close proximity to their neighbors so that influenced the design in the sense that the original footprint of the home couldn’t expanded. With the renovation we had to make use of all available light and space. 

For the exterior of the home, we created a connection to the neighborhood by designing a colorful tiled entry. When you walk around the neighborhood you see a lot of this tile in commercial spaces from the turn-of-the-20th century. We chose something that felt like it could have been there originally but with a modern pattern and colors.

What can you tell us about your clients? What were their goals for the home’s renovation?
The clients are a young family with two teenage daughters. They had lived in the house for several years before they decided to renovate so they had a good sense of what they needed and how they lived in the house. They hoped to make better use of the space now that the children were older.

The home didn’t have a lot of historic detail, but we did try to keep a connection to the past wherever we could—for example, we preserved the original stair rail and avoided putting in accents like recessed lighting which weren’t true to the period when the home was built.

The idea was to maximize the potential of what was already there. It was a small house when we began the renovation (1600 square feet) and it still is (with the finished cellar it is now 2000 square feet), but we tried to make the best use of available light and space. The client wanted the home to be the best version of itself that it could be.

How much needed to be done to transform the space? What was your scope of work?
It wasn’t a total a gut renovation but close to it. We salvaged what we could. We put in new windows and window treatments, new floors, and new lighting throughout. The general flow of the spaces was good but there was some construction including transforming the cellar into a living space with an entry, full bath, laundry, and family room. There’s a large custom built-in storage piece and a wet bar in the family room for a more polished, high-end feel. 

Did this project have any challenges? 
This is the opposite of a challenge, but the owner was very involved in the management and details of the project in the best way possible. So, the project, which definitely had a budget and a timeline because the family was living in the house, ran like a well-oiled machine. She kept everything on schedule and was lovely on top of that. It was amazing!

What did the clients say when they saw the space complete?
They were living in the home before we were able to do a final install so there wasn’t a “reveal,” but the family is enjoying the home very much. I think what they love most of all is that it still feels like their home and that didn’t change. It just feels like a better version of itself.