Green Tour: Suzanne & Joe's Green San Francisco Flat

Green Tour: Suzanne & Joe's Green San Francisco Flat

The first thing we felt when we walked into Suzanne Dehne and Joe Wrigley's flat during the Build It Green San Francisco Green Home Tour was the urge to sit down and stay for the afternoon. Maybe sip a glass of wine or a cup of tea ... We're not sure if it was the radiant heat or the rich color of the wood flooring, but their home exuded warmth (and it definitely wasn't of the energy-wasting variety).

Suzanne, Joe, and their son Stian moved into the downstairs flat (Suzanne's sister, Tanja, lives upstairs) of this San Francisco duplex in 2006. Because the two architects own their own firm, Sujo Design, they quickly realized that they would need more space for their home office.

The remodeling began almost immediately and hasn't really stopped since. They're a busy family; but, Suzanne took some time to answer a few of our questions:

Square footage: Each Apartment: 900 sq.ft, Laundry: 80 sq.ft., Office: 225 sq.ft., Entry/ Garage: 600 sq.ft.

Years lived in: We have lived here since June 2006. Tanja has been here since Sept 2005.

Average Gas/Electric Bill: For both apartments $120 per month. (or $60- for each).

How long did your remodel take?: 2 years approx. That is what happens when you are your own general contractor and you take on a tile mosaic job.

How would you describe your style?: Eclectic, but not in a crazy way... more a just mixture of old, new & reused

What is the inspiration for your home?: I don't know that I would say it was inspiration per say, but more the goal of regaining space.... maximizing space -- similar to boat design or the VW minibus/ Vanagon. Joe is also a big fan of boat design, so I guess you could say that actually was our inspiration.

What are your favorite green elements?: Joe --"Insulation."
Suz -- "The reuse of the redwood shelving for bed frames, vanity, countertops etc. Actually giving a new life to any of the items we salvaged."

What is your proudest DIY element?: The mosaic tile. And I also love our headboard.... a simple design and a joint effort between Joe and me.

What was the biggest challenge in your remodel?:
Time ... Never enough time! Same complaint as most folks, I would imagine. Not enough time to devote to the research and the actual remodel. And even though we are architects, every remodel brings its own set of challenges.

What do friends say about your home?: Warm, cozy & comfortable.

What is your biggest embarrassment in your home?: Stian (our son) says "our home is not big enough." You have to laugh. He is 5 and our place, compared to grandma's, is quite small. I do get space envy every time I leave SF, but you know, deep down, I know I don't need more.

Also, we would have to say our poor patching job of the insulation holes in our apartment. We truly should have hired our painter to do the job, as we did in my sister's apartment. And the second biggest one: After 2 years, we are really still not finished. But do you ever finish? Isn't there always more to do?

Invisible Green?: Insulation. Not something that you can see, but it is one of the best things you can do, if you haven't already.

Radiant heat. Healthier, as it doesn't blow the dust around, like a forced air system.

Low VOC paints.

The home office. The office is noticeable, but the fact that we have no daily commute might not be the first thing that comes to mind.

What was the biggest indulgence in your remodel?:
Oh geez ... I guess I would have to say the new windows. We could have gone with less expensive ones, but hopefully these will last ages.

Tell us a little about your mosaic tile work: I have to start off by saying that we originally did not intend to entirely redo the bathroom or kitchen. But when we realized we could gain some additional space in these areas (due to the new heat system, water damage, and other things), it became apparent very quickly that removing the existing portions of the tile and adding to the new cabinets was not going to be enough.

The thought of doing some tile myself sounded fun, and what better place to try it out than my own bathroom and kitchen. I loved the idea of a water theme in the bathroom. At first I was going to just do simple blue waves and, of course, it evolved and all the little creatures appeared. And I loved the idea of a sun at the center of home -- the range. But it never dawned on me that it would be so time consuming! A lesson learned the hard way. But, once the ideas were in place and we started, there was really no turning back.

I had hoped to find various tiles through salvage yards and to purchase seconds from dealers, but it was tough to find tile (even broken) that was not white. Comes down to the same old thing -- lack of time. I resorted to purchasing the most standard tile I could find. Color choices were minimal but it became a fun challenge to make it work with a basic color palette.

It took a long while, and for about 6 months we were showering in my sister's flat. A project like this only works if you have access to another bathroom or lots of friends to help you get it done quickly. And towards the end we had lots of help from family, friends, and neighbors. A big thanks to all of them. We still wouldn't be done if it weren't for them helping us out!

Best advice you'd give to anyone trying to green their home?: Compost, easy and no remodeling is required. Reuse/ salvage whatever you can -- we wish we would have done more. ( Again, time was our worst enemy.) Ebay, Freecycle & Craigslist are my best friends for finding treasures and for giving them away. Recycle. Insulate, great value for your buck. Invest in energy & water efficient appliances. Savings in monthly bills make it worth while. Not only that, most cities offer great rebates. Use no/ low voc paints when you need to paint.

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