House Tour: Lisa & Jack's Old/New Victorian

House Tour: Lisa & Jack's Old/New Victorian

Maxwell Ryan
Mar 14, 2006

(Back in the Bay Area, this is Lisa's second to last post. We had some trouble with the order in the slideshow. Apologies. Comment away).

Name: Lisa & Jack
Location: San Francisco, CA

When we moved from a tiny 550 square ft one-bedroom apartment in New York a few years ago into a one-hundred year-old Victorian in San Francisco, it seemed like we were moving up in the world.

Not only did our new L-shaped apartment have high, coved ceilings, but there was an extra room, one that the previous tenants had used as an office and that we planned to use as a living room because of its beautiful bay window and dazzling light. [more below]

Do you have an idea for a house tour? Let me know!

But as we moved in our furniture, we found that the usability of this room was marred by a strange diagonal wall. It ran the length of what once had been a grand parlor room and now was a living room and separate bedroom. In the living room the wall shortened all the sight lines, making it impossible to have a conversation or see a TV screen depending on where you stood or sat, and forcing us to configure the furniture in a tight little grouping; in the bedroom it created awkward, wasted corners where the 90 degree angles of our queen bed abutted the diagonal.

So we focused initially on the things we could control: we covered the red, green, and mustard yellow walls with white paint and hung mirrors to maximize the sunlight (only the front room was bright; the long part of the L is quite dark). We removed two layers of old, filthy wall-to-wall carpet, revealing shopworn (but still nicer than the carpet) hardwood floors. And by the time we were done with all this physical labor we were tired of renovation. The work came to a premature halt, and a couple of years went by.

When we learned last spring that we were having a baby, the renovation bug reared its head again, this time as a nesting urge. But since the apartment is a rental and we still hope to buy a home, we decided to limit the effort and expense this time to things that we can take with us when we move. So part II of this "renovation" began with that limit, and also with reframing the diagonals and the other architectural peculiarities of the apartment as design features instead of flaws.

The first big challenge: finding room for the baby. Our home office had to go. To make way for an abridged work space, we divided the living room, this time with furniture. By adding a sleeper sofa (for visiting relatives) and using it to create a boundary, we made better sense of the tightly-grouped furniture. Now the built-in shelves behind the sofa could be transformed into a functional workspace.

Other architectural flaws throughout the apartment became opportunities for serendipitous beauty: a weirdly-angled corner in the living room created by that cursed diagonal wall became the perfect spot for a fishtrap lamp that casts web-like shadows on the obtusely-angled walls at night, and a sliced-out corner by a window in the new nursery formed the perfect cozy niche for a nursing rocker. And by the time the baby was born, just this past Christmas Eve, the apartment finally felt like a home.

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