Third Thursday October 2018: Westerfeld House...

By Serena Brown

What better place to spend our October Third Thursday than San Francisco’s own ‘House of Legends’? The iconic Westerfeld House in Alamo Square is shrouded in lore and legends. Once home to Russian diplomats, various communes, and the founder of the Satanic Church himself, the home has seen its fair share of uncommon dealings. We were lucky enough to score a private tour with the home’s current owner, Jim Siegel, who purchased the house back in 1986. We arrived on a windy Thursday evening, wine and cheese in hand, with varying expectations as to what was in store. Upon entering the home we were all blown away by the gorgeous work Mr. Siegel has done to restore the house to its original beauty, classic Victorian wallpaper and all.

After depositing our offerings in the dining room, Jim began our tour with an informed recap of the unique history of his home. Commissioned back in 1889 by a German confectioner by the name of William Westerfeld, the house has changed hands numerous times throughout its history. Jon Mahoney, a famous San Francisco contractor, bought the house after Westerfeld’s death in 1895. He and his brother Jeremiah are most well-known for their restoration efforts after the great fire, as well as for building the Palace Hotel, St. Francis Hotel, and Berkeley’s Greek Theater.  The Mahoney Brother were also large fans of entertaining, inviting honored guests such as Guglielmo Marconi and Harry Houdini to attend and perform at their dinner parties.

In the 1930’s, the house ended up in the possession of a group of Czarist Russian immigrants, who opened a night club in the ballroom called “Dark Eyes.” It was during this time that the house earned the nickname ‘The Russian Embassy’, which is still prevalent today. Jim told us that a Russian colonel was allegedly murdered in one of the house’s many rooms, supposedly during a fight over a woman. In the 1940’s and 50’s, the space was converted into a boardinghouse that attracted many jazz musicians from around the city. John Handy, Art Lewis and Jimmy Lovelace were all said to have been boarders at the house during this time, though John Handy later claimed this was false.

Leading up to the 1960’s and 70’s, a series of communes came to call the house home. Jim mentioned that in his younger years he had a large fascination with the Woodstock era and has since dedicated one room in the house to the communes that once lived and played between its walls. During the commune years, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger came to live at the house and filmed a number of his cult classics. Featured in the films was Bobby Beausoleil, a Manson family sympathizer who is currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, as well as Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. During our walkthrough, Jim eagerly pointed out a photo he had of LaVey and his pet lion sitting calmly in the upstairs library. The final commune to occupy the house was a 50 member collective called Family Dog, who held concerts and shows at the Avalon Ballroom and invited musicians such as the Grateful Dead to hang out with their members.

Jim recounted during his explanation that he always knew he would one day purchase the house. When he was boy he likened the exterior to that of the Adam’s Family House and since then has harbored a dream to own it. When he was only 19 he began buying and restoring old Victorian homes throughout the city. His first house he bought for $10,000 in Dogpatch and has since then purchased, restored, and scavenged tons of homes throughout San Francisco and beyond. He told us about a barn he has up north full of Victorian molding, doorframes, doorknobs, furniture, and more. He bought the Westerfeld house for $750,000, an enormous sum of money back in the 1980s, much to the chagrin of his father. Since then he’s spent thousands of hours fixing up the 25 rooms.

As we wandered the house all of us were in awe of the care put into each and every room, as each had its own character. Personally I was struck with the thought of the potential for hauntings, but Jim informed us that one of the first things he did upon purchasing the property was have it blessed by Buddhist monks, putting that thought to rest. One of the most impressive rooms by far was the upper tower, where one can experience views of the San Francisco skyline. Jim mentioned that he’s watched the skyline change over the years, and misses the days when he could see clear across the bay.

The house is full of stories, even in places we can’t see. Evidently there’s a satanic pentagram carved into the floor of the tower, and you can find teeth marks from LaVey’s pet lion on the occasional doorframe. In the kitchen there are paintings by Janet Joplin’s lead guitarist, and quirky furniture, such as a coffin coffee table, in every room. The last few hours of our visit were spent talking over wine and charcuterie about Jim’s outstanding work, and our similarities and differences as “modern architects.” Despite our firm having more modernist sensibilities, all of us can appreciate and love the traditional beauty of San Francisco Victorian mansions like Jim’s.

Although not open to public tours, there are various ways in which one might be able to take a peek inside the Westerfeld House. Jim occasionally opens his home up to various events, such as the Gallery Girls Haunted Mansion on October 27th.  A few of us took advantage of the opportunity to see it once again and attended this past weekend. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Westerfeld House, I encourage you to visit The House of Legends, a website dedicated to a documentary coming out in November about the house’s eclectic history.

We’d like to extend an enormous thank you to Jim for taking off from work early to show us his masterpiece.  Hopefully we can all visit again soon!

Halloween 2k18!...

Our office quite enjoys Halloween. Or at least our social coordinator does. This year, we celebrated the spooky holiday with decorations, pumpkin carving, and a costume contest. Take a look!

To transform our normal office into a spooky firehouse, we placed webs around the fire pole, along the bookshelves, and up the staircase. Complete with plastic spiders of course.

Pumpkin carving was held during lunch. One of our designers (Luigi) carved a pumpkin for the very first time, while most of us relived childhood nostalgia. Faces were a big theme, and all but one of the office pumpkins got a makeover!

Seven and a half designers dressed up this year, a new record! The costumes ranged from the classic cat and dinosaur to the more out there Blue Angels and Budweiser stock boy. The two categories up for grabs were ‘Best Overall Costume’ and ‘Most Creative Costume.” Liza won Best Overall dressed as Luigi and after a tight race, took home Most Creative as well!

From all of us at Feldman Architecture, we hope you all had a spoOoOoOooky and enjoyable Halloween!

Staff Spotlight: Jess Stuenkel...

Q: Where are you from?

I was born in Hawaii but grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My family actually lived in San Francisco for two years before moving to the Midwest. Growing up, I never truly felt Midwestern. We’d do things like eat avocados and papayas and my mom shopped at the local co-op, all things I equated to San Francisco and Hawaii as a kid. I think feeling like I was from here was what drew me back.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I went to Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan for undergrad and studied theatre arts with a focus on set design. I almost minored in biology and French—I was one class short for both of them. After living in SF for a couple of years, I decided to go to California College of the Arts to get my Masters of Architecture. In my mind it seemed like a natural progression. I saw the connection as being about creating a vision, spatial relationships, and design at a human scale. I also liked that I would be able to engage with ideas of sustainability through architecture.

Q: Who is in your family?

My two parents and one brother who is six years younger than me. My brother, who I convinced to move to San Francisco after college, lives a few blocks from me which is awesome. My parents recently moved to Doha, Qatar from Michigan. My dad is in the midst of creating the college of Health and Life Sciences at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

My partner Chris and I got married last September. He’s also an architect with a focus on school design. We met in architecture school but initially bonded over climbing.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in architecture?

I think I’ve always had an interest in architecture but it took me a while to think about it as a career. As a kid, I always loved traveling to the ‘big cities’ and oohing and ahhing at all the buildings. I can’t remember exactly when it started but I’ve always wanted to live in a warehouse. I think the idea first came to me when my family visited Cleveland and drive through the old industrial district. The old buildings had so much character and looked they had so much potential for new life!

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?

I really enjoy the small buildings. I like small houses where I can really focus on how the design concepts carry throughout each aspect of the design and then nailing the details.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

Since 2010. I worked at one other firm for about 3 months, and then came to FA, so I would say I’ve essentially gained most of my professional skills here.

Q: What makes our office unique?

I think the openness, collaboration, and ability to create your own path, and focus on things that are exciting to you, is unique. Also to be able & expected to work on every part of a project.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?

The people. J I think it’s a really good group of people and your coworkers can definitely make or break the workplace.

Q: What’s your design process like?

Iteration. I like the testing of ideas. Coming up with a concept or idea and tracking it through all the different parts and scales of the project, then refining or revising that same concept so that it’s even stronger. It’s a cyclical process.

Q: What is something that you don’t like that everyone else seems to enjoy?

Pop culture references. It’s not that I have a dislike for pop culture, it’s just that I don’t really care to follow it at all. In terms of celebrities and memes and all that stuff that literally everyone else knows—I’m usually in the dark.

Q: What kind of music would you choose for the soundtrack of your life?

I would say my childhood is the Rolling Stones, middle school & high school consisted of a lot of  90s alt rock radio. Later in  high school I became an emo / Indie kid which carried me through college. More recently I’ve been into the local garage rock scene like Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and King Tuff.  Of course as goes with all music, the scene is ever evolving and I’m excited to see what’s next. I guess that’s more of a history of the soundtrack to my life, but there you go.

Chairity 2018: “Sculptchair”...

By Liza Karimova

When we first walked into TWO, our eyes were drawn to it: a soft paisley seat, four prancing legs, and a whirl of curves on its back. A short, tiny metal chair; a challenge, we recognized. A challenge that we ended up taking on.

Late last June, a few members from Feldman Architecture decided to participate in the annual “Chairity” event, spearheaded by TWO Furnish. Every year, “Chairity” invites designers from all disciplines to deconstruct, re-upholster and reinvent a used or forgotten chair, which is then auctioned off to raise money for charity. This year, the money was raised for Project Color corps, an organization that creates change by painting inner city neighborhoods, and Raphael House, which helps low-income families find stable housing and financial independence. Feldman Architecture were excited to participate in a design project that benefitted local organizations, and brought together a multitude of local designers.

Hence, a team of five – Johnny, Mike, Nick, Chris Kay and I (Liza) – showed up at the TWO showroom one evening to pick out their chair. Being the last to pick in the white-elephant style draw, the team ended up with the short, tiny metal chair; a challenge. Encouraged by the originality of the pick, and the fact that it was the only metal chair in the show, they decided to procrastinate for another many months, before finally attempting the transformation.

When the time came, the team started out by holding a few informal design charrettes. The common desire was to treat this project like an experiment, where there would be not successes and failures, just variations on a hypothesis.

Because of the nature of the raw material, which was not easy to work with given the lack of tools, the team agreed to focus on the seat of the chair after it was given a new powder coat. They took the paisley fabric, and decided that they would try to replicate this piece with different materials. Johnny etched the pattern on a wooden top, while the others cast concrete into fabric. The result was named “Sculptchair”.

The team used a combination of nylon and spandex, which was stretched between wood sheets to create the formwork. Fishing line and wire was tied underneath to create a mesh that would to push and pull on the fabric. Quick Crete was then poured into the resulting concave and convex form, and was left for a few days to set. The process was repeated with different fabrics and meshes.

At the chair auction, the description stated:
“Sculptchair” is an experimental exploration of the cushioned seat, which features interchangeable chair tops as a playful ode to our interaction with the sitting surface. While molding concrete into fabric, and engraving the original upholstery pattern into the seat, we have literally and figuratively pushed and pulled at the limits of comfort, treating the seat as an object in itself.

Although the chair did not win any prizes, the team had a lot of fun experimenting with wood and fabric-formed concrete. We tried to stay true to the materials and aesthetic that we use in our designs – humble and lasting.

Who knows, maybe we will participate again next year! We want to thank the rest of the members at Feldman Architecture for their encouragement, witty critiques, and their support!

Dzine SF – Medici by the Bay: A New Renaissance for Clients and Architects...

By Lindsey Theobald

A month or so ago, Dzine SF hosted an SF Design Week event entitled “Medici by the Bay: A New Renaissance for Clients and Architects.”  Jonathan was invited as a guest speaker to the luncheon panel, which also included Bay Area architects Matthew Mosey and Irit Axwelrod, as well as developer Greg Malin.  The speakers were also joined by Lissoni Inc.’s CEO Stefano Giussani, representing Pierre Lissoni and their interior design practice.  Lissoni is also a prolific furnishings designer, several pieces of which are well represented by the DZine showroom.

The panel’s discussion focused on design within SF and how it compares to the caliber of design across the world.  Topics they debated ranged from SF’s implementation of cutting edge design practices compared to Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia as well as how we as architects can push our clients out of their comfort zone to then expand our own design boundaries. They questioned how to push forward design in SF while still respecting the regional vernacular of the city, and what could potentially come next.

I was interested in much of what Irit Axelrod discussed.  She often found herself frustrated by the limits of design that local clients typically prefer.  Few clients have been willing to put total trust in her as a designer, choosing instead to play it safe and design up to known regional modernism.  Her aesthetic tends to lean towards raw, warehouse/loft spaces with modern minimalism, but she admitted that she’d be equally as interested in creating an edgy and minimalist interior within a traditional SF Victorian.  Perhaps that juxtaposition would show future clients that the two can coexist.

Jonathan was sympathetic to the struggle between the freedom of pushing design versus responding to our clients own aesthetic comfort level, as well as their pragmatic requests.  Jonathan feels that as a firm we are lucky since most of our clients are great collaborators and put a large amount of trust in us as designers.  We are able to push the envelope on design frequently, knowing that our clients’ design values align with our own, as well as with the world of architecture.

 

Staff Spotlight: Jeff Wheeler...

Q: Where are you from?

I was born in Jefferson, Iowa when my Dad was in the Air Force, but moved to Spirit Lake, Iowa in the fourth grade.  It’s located in the northwest part of the state near the Minnesota border in the midst of three large natural lakes and is a major tourist location for boating, camping, fishing and golf.  The Sioux name for the area is Okoboji and it is infamous for a Santee Sioux raiding party led by chief Inkpaduta and the resulting massacre of white settlers in the winter of 1857.

Q: Where did you go to school?

Iowa state University in Ames.  It was a very solid and practical program and not particularly weighted toward theory – it’s primarily an engineering school which probably has something to do with it.  I particularly enjoyed architecture history, which continues to influence and inform my design aesthetic.

Q: Who is in your family?

We’re a pretty small family.  I have one younger brother ten years my junior.  Mom (Karen)and Dad (Danny) were high school sweethearts and married when they were 18, but tragically, we lost my Dad when I was 12.  Mom remarried and her husband, Roger, has three kids of his own, their ages equally ranged between mine and my brother’s.  Roger has a son named Jeff too, which was pretty funny and quite confusing to callers who had to specify which Jeff they wanted to talk to.  Mom and Roger are still in Spirit Lake and most of my relatives live in central Iowa in and around Des Moines, but my brother eventually moved to California as well and lives in Belmont with his wife Cyndi and their two dogs.

Megan and I have been married for 18 years and our only son Cole is 15.  Stella is our third Bernese Mountain Dog – she comes to the office with me on occasion.  Meg is the Director of Special Events at Marin Academy High School in San Rafael and Cole is a sophomore at Sir Francis Drake High School in Marin.  We live in funky little Fairfax in Marin County.  Meg’s family is quite small as well and she is sixth generation Californian.  Her Mom comes from a family of grape farmers in Lodi and her Dad is originally from West Virginia.  Her older sister’s family lives in Fairfax too.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in architecture?

I used to deliver newspapers all around the Lakes in the summer and got to know all the cool, big houses of affluent families on West Okoboji – very much like Lake Tahoe, but with expanses of corn and soybean fields instead of pine trees and mountains – but there were also a lot of run down properties too, which I always wanted to rebuild.  A high school aptitude test signaled architecture as a potential career path, even though I really had no idea at the time exactly what that entailed.  But I managed to make it through calculus and physics to graduate in the Spring of 1986.  After a short stint drafting log houses in Wisconsin post-graduation, I packed up my Firebird and headed West for California.  I consider myself lucky that I always pretty much knew what I wanted to do and was intrepid enough to leave the Midwest and pursue life on the Left Coast.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?

My background is quite varied, with early experiences on Victorian remodels in San Francisco, which eventually led to managing predominantly large scale commercial and retail projects during the DotCom days for reputable mid-size firms, but I tired of navigating the politics (and the too frequent economic downturns) that come with larger firms.  Custom homes provide a lot of hands-on opportunity for unique structural and technical solutions.  We’re blessed with fabulous clients, beautiful sites and healthy budgets, so it’s a great feeling to be challenged each and every day to create wonderful and enduring architecture.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

It will be three years in February.  Before FA I was at at Swatt Miers Architects for six years.  Steve Stept was a partner there and hired me after six years at Sutton Suzuki Architects in Mill Valley.  It wasn’t too long after Steve came over to FA from SMA that he recruited me to come over as well.

Q: What makes our office unique?

Everyone here is just so normal, nice and smart.  It’s a fairly young office, which creates many opportunities to share knowledge and experiences and be a resource to help others grow as architects.  Modern project delivery is very complex and technology continues to advance at a rapid clip, so the group sense of comradery and teamwork here is something special.

Q: If you have to give up one of your 5 senses, which would you choose?

My hearing is so bad it’s like I don’t have it anyway, but music is too important to give up.  I’m primarily visual and it’s essential to what I do.  The same goes for touch – I’m constantly touching different textures of materials.  I love to cook and eat every sort of cuisine so taste isn’t really an option either.  So I’d have to say smell, which would help when I’m picking up after Stella…

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?

Every day is a new opportunity to solve another set of challenges, which are rarely the same one day to the next.  Plus I love the new Firehouse spaces – it’s wonderfully conducive to thinking about and producing great architecture.  I also get to spend a fair amount of time on numerous job sites, which is still as much fun now as it was the first time I set foot on one – there’s just nothing better.

Q: Do you have a professional role model?

There have always been many, not just one.  Each past office experience taught me specific lessons that molded me into the architect I am today.  Famous architects whose work I gravitate toward all have a special way with elemental materials (stone, wood, glass, steel/aluminum and concrete) and how they go together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, which is what makes architecture so unique and incredibly satisfying as a profession.

Tom Kundig, Peter Bohlin, James Cutler, Glenn Murcutt, David Samella and Lake/Flato are living examples that I admire.  Other modern masters such as Lou Kahn, Jean Prouve, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra are equally inspiring.  They all demonstrate a great respect for the integrity of materials and how a building ages in place.  I try to emulate their examples and think about how every material can be assembled in a lasting and pleasing way.

Q: What’s your design process like?

I try to break complex problems into smaller pieces first and then focus on fundamentals (insert any sports metaphor here) and how those fundamentals then inform the appropriate technical solution – all the while with an eye toward nurturing and improving the intended design direction.  I try to achieve elemental and rational compositions that tame the inherent complexity of modern building materials and assemblies, while maintaining a sensitivity to the building trades that actually interpret and then construct our designs.

Q: What is your equivalent animal? (looks or personality)

I’ve always been a chameleon that quickly blends in and adapts to any situation.

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