Taking in the View

When the owners of a 1950s mid-century modern ranch house wanted to update the space, taking advantage of the home’s biggest asset — the panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay — was of the utmost importance.

The Belmont, Calif., home is part of a relaxed suburban neighborhood situated along a cul-de-sac. Although it’s a single-family home, it has the distinct feel of a chic, loft living space, thanks to design work by Zeitgeist Design, San Francisco.

Florian Speier and his design team initially presented a proposal the clients loved. “At the next meeting, however, they said to forget about it, start again and see if we could come up with something even better,” Speier recalls. “We were very surprised about that. They explained that is what they do when they buy shoes, too. They try to find the best shoes and when they do, they look again to see if they can find something even better. So we restarted the design process to come up with an alternate solution. It wasn’t as good as the first one, and then they were satisfied they really had what would work best for them. We went ahead and built it [to the original plans] with very minimal changes from that point on.”

San Francisco is a prime earthquake zone and, as such, buildings in the area must meet rigid structural requirements. This poses certain challenges to houses like this that have an entire side with a dedicated view. “We want to maximize the glass area, but in this location you need a lot of solid walls,” Speier explains. “You need walls on all sides of the house. From the beginning of this design, we had to give the impression there was glass everywhere but do it in a way we have some areas to get that solid wall in.” Speier also wanted to avoid steel frames because of project cost and also to avoid the thermal bridging steel framing would have created.

The three-bedroom house was about 1,800 sq. ft. The addition was 1,200 sq. ft. and used some existing space, as well as adding new space, to bring the finished structure to about 2,800 sq. ft. Also, much of the interior was redone to keep a consistent design throughout the old and the new.

The existing low-pitch roof was lifted up to 17 ft. at the east side to open the new living and kitchen area. Large-span doors open the area onto a porch overlooking the bay. “The owners wanted to regain the yard space they lost through building the addition and did so by building a giant deck overhanging the cliff,” Speier says. “The whole remodel was done while maintaining the same amount of outdoor space that’s even more usable than before for entertaining because the view is so good.”

Because entertaining and flowing connection between the indoors and outdoors was vital, Speier convinced his clients to use sliding doors rather than the folding glass walls more typically utilized. Each glass piece is about 10 ft. long. “When it is closed, it is much more beautiful than a folding glass wall, yet it still opens up nearly all the way,” he says.

The sliding doors also were available in a meranti wood, which is reddish in color, as opposed to standard aluminum frames. This wood contrasted well with the metal siding used on the rest of the house. “The whole building would have looked too cold then, but this way it has a beautiful, modern look,” Speier says.

Despite weighing 500 to 600 lbs., each door is easy to open and close because of its lift slider design. Speier explains when you turn a handle, it lifts the leaf of glass up and pushes it on rollers. “You can move these doors with two fingers,” he says.