“Don’t do what’s hip.  Do what’s you,” advised one of the owners of a recently renovated SoMa loft as he stood in his new kitchen.  An executive coach to early age start-ups, he and his wife, an attorney, use the loft as an urban pied-a-terre after downsizing from Silicon Valley, splitting their time between the city and their weekend wine country home.

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Their new loft strikes a balance between modern minimalism and the kitsch of the accoutrements they’ve collected over years of travel.  It features both the crispness of uninterrupted lines in its casework and the curves of conch shells gifted from relatives, as well as an all-white palette integrated with coins of color.  These complimentary design elements are a result of extensive collaboration between the architects and the owners, and prove that strong relationships are the foundation for good design.

At the core of the collaborative design process was Steven Stept, who designed the project with his previous partner Irit Axelrod and saw it through construction at Feldman Architecture.

“Steven and I are a lot alike,” explained the start-ups coach, who situated himself at the heart of the design discussion by managing the project with the help of a superintendent in lieu of hiring a general contractor.  “We are focused and unafraid to disagree.  I can tell if something is off by an inch from 50 feet away.  It comes down to attention to detail, and Steven is absolutely zealous about that.”

Indeed, the project’s success as a coherent whole is built from thoughtful details, from a slight lift in counter height to accommodate the stature of one of the clients, to a discreet corner designed specifically with the needs of the couple’s cat in mind.

“When you’re anticipating a vision,” explained the attorney, “you see the pieces of the design, but you can’t know the usefulness of their whole until you live in it. The design functions exactly as we had intended it.”

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When the couple, first encountered the space, they were attracted to its “warehouse vibe,” reminiscent of the 1924 building’s previous stint as a printing business.  The loft’s high ceilings and abundance of concrete kept it from being a “cookie-cutter space,” but its maple floor was worn and warped, and a lack of storage would leave personal belongings exposed and the space cluttered with trinkets.  With an initial vision centered on simplicity, balance, and symmetry, the couple and their design team set out to bring the space to its full potential.

To do so, Axelrod + Stept Architects crafted a precise plan to integrate the concrete structure into a fluid design, where carefully orchestrated spaces behind a horizontal sliding door would offer privacy for the bedroom, master bath, and laundry.  The successful execution of their design incorporated carefully selected products and materials, proving the clients’ and designers’ commitment to design excellence from design vision to reality.  The end result was a striking design, based on precision and expertly executed.

The remodel pulled one of the long, narrow apartment’s walls back from its previously angled position, allowing natural light from the space’s largest window to wash down the entire length of the apartment.  The new wall is covered in sleek custom casework, whose elongated lines accentuate the loft’s length and flow into the kitchen and whose bright white offers a striking contrast to the dark wood of the loft’s floor.*  Across from the casework, horizontal slatted aluminum and glass sliding doors from the Italian designer Adielle hide the master suite and a powder room when closed, creating defined spaces within a coherent whole.  When open, the doors allow one space to flow into another, adding a sense of agility to a home characterized by rigid lines.  So, too, an Ecro-USA track fixture with LED lights running the length of the corridor, splashing spotlights onto the doors and casework, can be adjusted for both intensity and angle.  Throughout the apartment, the design team devoted careful thought to the integration of the space’s interior design and lighting, tapping into the expertise of local lighting designer Tali Ariely.**

With a new laundry and utility room, a guest Murphy bed that recedes into the casework, and extensive storage, the space remains free from clutter, and its sight lines stretch uninterrupted from one end of the apartment to the other.

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“The casework is a wonderful looking piece of architecture,” commented one of the clients. “But, more importantly, the space just became more usable.”

Just as the architects brought a design centered on white casework and dark floors and the clients added animation and dimension through souvenirs and select art, the character of the neighborhood had a role in shaping the loft’s design.  Just a few blocks from South Park, the loft is immersed in the energy of its growing neighborhood.  New office buildings stretch towards the sky, and at street level lines for hole-in-the-wall lunch destinations stretch around the block.  The modern aesthetic of the design anticipated the new life the past few years has brought to the neighborhood.  Yet, while it reflects the freshness of its environment visually, the loft’s thick envelope keeps the space quiet.  And, just as they find the minimalism of the space as calming rather than cool, the clients find a serenity in the apartment that sets it apart from its busy surroundings.

-Abigail Bliss

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*The corridor casework is a custom linear cabinet by Bartlett Cabinets in Oakland, CA.  The kitchen cabinetry comes from Downsview Cabinets.

** The ultimate lighting design warms the modern loft with surface mounted wall washers from Kreon, recessed linear lighting from XAL, bath wall sconces and pendant fixtures from Vibia, and wall uplight sconces from Leucos.