In a city of hills and valleys, what’s most coveted in San Francisco are its views—those sweeping, unobstructed panoramas of the unique nature-abutting-urbanity that define Northern California’s cultural capital. Such prospects are rare, but unlike in other, taller-built cities, easier to maintain. In 2001, architectural designer Abigail Turin and her then fiancé, now husband Jonathan Gans went hunting here for a new home— a modern design with a Bay vista—or so they thought. Instead, they quickly fell in love with the charm and potential of a 1925 Italianate manse in Pacific Heights. Two stories tall, it had a garden accessible via its small basement, with a large eucalyptus tree whose curved branches had grown in a tender, yet respectful embrace of its architecture. It didn’t have a view of the water, but sunlight dappled the tree’s lightly scented blue-green leaves and nature felt closer than ever. After a quick renovation, the couple moved in the following year. Then, in 2003, Turin established the Bay Area branch of Kallos Turin, the SF-and London-based design firm she leads with Stephania Kallos.
A marriage, a good 15 years, and the birth of their daughter went by before Turin decided to revisit her home’s quaint yet not entirely functional object in a landscape feel. “Architects are like shoemakers,” laughs the Golden State native, who met her international business partner in London when they were both designing for architect David Chipperfield. “We never quite get around to our own projects.” The slow and steady method, however, allowed her to ponder her house’s “big gestures.” What had made it so enchanting was its secret backyard garden; strengthening the connection between this and the house was crucial.
Thankfully, like many old buildings on a hill in San Francisco, the best way to expand was down, following the natural slope of its site. In late 2019, the family moved out and an excavator moved in to dig an entirely new lower level. Kallos Turin conceived of this concrete box as both a plinth—supporting the generous original floor plan of the gut-renovated historic house and its terraces above—and a home for a new sitting room, architectural office, library, wine cellar, and bath directly off the garden. (Local architect of record Jones|Haydu helped manage the project.)