James and Julie’s Bernal Beauty

published May 13, 2010
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Name: Julie, James, and Possum (dog)
Location: Bernal Heights, San Francisco
Size: 1,275 square feet; 2 bedroom, one bath
Years lived in: Eight

Julie and James don’t consider themselves “hard-core DIYers.” And yet—wait for it… they demolished the kitchen all by themselves. That little tidbit alone should give you some idea of these two: their rare blend of enviable talent and genuine humility. Fittingly, their home exudes style and warmth without so much as an ounce of pretension or posturing.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Julie, a video producer and editor, and James, a writer and comedian with the hilarious Kasper Hauser, also clearly share a strong creative drive that’s carried them through a series of daunting renovations. The kitchen demo, for example, all started with a leaky dishwasher. Water seeped beneath the laminate floor; during the repairs they discovered the lovely fir planks underneath and couldn’t resist exposing them. In the process some cabinet damage occurred, so they figured, why not? New cabinets! Ever resourceful, they chose inexpensive Ikea cabinets to stay within their budget, but went with custom-built door panels to achieve a more elegant look.

Thoughtful design details fit together seamlessly to make this home feel comfortable and chic. A woolly pocket vertical garden hanging in the kitchen window disguises the peeling paint of the neighbor’s wall. Small-scale artwork hangs low over a plush sectional sofa, where it can be appreciated up close and in detail. Heath ceramic tile extends even above the kitchen cabinetry, drawing the eye upwards to make the room feel airy and expansive. It’s clear why James and Julie’s friends all gravitate here to hang out.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My/Our style: Warm modern, with a sprinkling of old cottage.

Inspiration: Beautiful craftsmanship. I (Julie) am also fascinated by what makes a space feel right – what makes you feel at home in some spaces, and off-balance in others?

I love Christopher Alexander’s thoughts on this in A Timeless Way of Building: How deep does a front porch need to be to make it comfortable for sitting? At what ceiling height, in relation to the size of the room, does a space lose its intimacy?

In all of our projects, we’ve seen how good (or bad…) design can influence how we feel and can change where (and how) we spend our time.

We’re also junkies of Dwell Magazine, Taschen, and all manner of design blogs.

Favorite Element: We are really country mice living in the city, so it is very important that our home feel like an oasis, especially since I (Julie) work from home. We really wanted to make the house feel enveloped by green – as much as that’s possible with neighbors so close by.

In so many SF homes, the garden area is accessible only by descending an outdoor staircase, which, given the weather here, makes them seldom used. I absolutely love that we are able to enjoy our garden from our sunroom – where we spend most of our time.

Biggest Challenge: In our recent kitchen remodel, we decided to uncover the beautiful original fir floors. What we didn’t predict were the many problems its unevenness would cause (it’s easily half an inch lower on the north side of the kitchen). Clearly, this is why the previous owners installed the laminate floor on top! This affected everything from the height of the counters to the choice of refrigerator (there was only one that would fit) to the awkward step into the sunroom.

What Friends Say: We decided to ask a few of them to comment. Here’s what they said:

Julie and James’ house is like the house in “The Big Chill.” Everyone who visits says, “We’re not leaving. We’re never leaving.” – Laura

May I have a key? It’s so inviting I’d just like to camp out here – even when you’re away. Best bathroom remodel in SF. I’m moving in. Great modernization for comfy living while keeping true to the good elements of the Victorian architecture. – Gretchen

They’ve added clean modern improvements but also uncovered old charming imperfections. The result is a home that looks unique and feels really comfortable. We all feel smarter and funnier hanging out in that kitchen. – Cameron

God, I love that bathroom! – Wendy

Biggest Embarrassment: The color we chose for the exterior! It’s an awful light blue (James says, “It’s not awful, but it’s definitely not us.”). But all of our project funds went into the kitchen remodel – the re-paint will have to wait.

Proudest DIY: For the kitchen remodel, we cut costs in order to reserve funds for nice counters and tile (we went with IKEA cabinets with custom wood shaker doors). We’re not hardcore DIY-ers (Ed. note: Whatever you say, Julie!), but we did demo the kitchen ourselves.

Biggest Indulgence: Two things… Health tile in the kitchen and bathroom. So worth it!! And hiring a great architect/designer for the bathroom.

Best advice: What’s worked best for us is to take one room at a time, and wait until we can afford to do it right. My grandmother always said, “Don’t buy cheap furniture. Sit on the floor until you can get something you’ll be happy with for a long time.” I don’t always follow this rule, but I always think about her when I’m lamenting flimsy purchases.

I worked in art galleries for years before becoming a video editor. During those years, I was always paying a little bit from every paycheck on some piece of artwork. I now have the art, and no memory of that dress I didn’t buy instead! I try to take a similar approach to our home.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)



Tile – Heath Ceramics
Counters – Concreteworks
Cabinets – Ikea boxes, Scherr’s Doors custom faces
Light globes from Julie’s grandmother
Woolly Pockets – Flora Grubb Gardens
By sink – Ed Musante
Under clock – Scott Smith
On fridge – Emma Day (niece, age 7)
To the right of stairs – Jayson Wynkoop
To the left of the stairs – Freida Hamm


Cabinet design – Gayle Tsern Strang
Cabinet builder – Peter Beecher
Rug – Flor
Table – Room & Board
Chest – Great Aunt brought back from Burma in the 50s
Pillows on sofa – John Robshaw
Gray chair – Zonal
Side table – Room & Board
Dog Door – Moore Pet (This dog door is awesome!! Pricey, but the only one on the market that guarantees no unwanted critters.)
Framed poster leaning on ground – Wayne Thiebaud
Painting by orange lamp by dog door – Kim Frohsin
Behind sofa – Catherine Maize, Bill Coleman (photo, center), Paul Stempen
On east wall – The architect’s drawing is by my grandfather when he was in architecture school;
small painting to its right is by Michael Tompkins
In the cabinets – Small painting by Michael Tompkins; wood truck, one of Howdy’s hippy friends in the 60s made it (Howdy is James’ father). It’s a model of the actual truck Howdy drove at that time, named “The Wooly Mammoth.” ’46 Chevy Panel truck.


Design – Ron Lutsko
Table and chairs – Smith & Hawken


Design – Gayle Tsern Strang
Cabinet design – Gayle Tsern Strang
Cabinet builder – Peter Beecher
Floor, tub and counters – Concreteworks
Tile – Heath Ceramics
Light fixture – City Lights
Curtain rack – Medicalproductsdirect.com
Mirror – Alemany flea market
Vase – Simon Pearce
Sink and tub fixtures – Kohler

Front living room:

Orange sofa – Zonal
Wedding photo on piano – Anna Kuperberg
Big painting behind piano – Fred Nelson
Other artwork – Alice Neel


Art left of bed – Fred Dalkey
Art right of bed – Ted Faiers

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

(Thanks, Julie and James!)

Images: Julie Caskey

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