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When a San Francisco couple contacted design-build firm building Lab about renovating the lower level of their Bernal Heights neighborhood home, the goal was to create a multipurpose family space, guest quarters and laundry in the partial basement.
What they got was an extreme transformation from dingy garden-level space to modernized great room that includes a family/entertainment room, kitchenette, full bathroom, office, laundry closet and mudroom.
It was a major renovation that involved extensive demolition, excavation and drainage, and required the house to be suspended on cribbing while new foundation was installed. The stylish outcome ended up winning building Lab a 2016 Remmies award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for best basement renovation over $100,000.
Designer Stephen Shoup identified several design goals after early consultations with the homeowners, who were “fully engaged in the design process,” he says. The finished project offers smooth transitions between the home’s upper level and the newly renovated garden level, as well as to the outside patio area. And the space no longer feels like a basement — a primary requirement of the clients.
“While they may initially have seemed more focused on simply satisfying functional needs, as the project developed and began to materialize, they became inspired to extend it beyond the utilitarian,” Shoup says.
Floating reclaimed oak stairs connect the main level to the garden level space, with a new play nook created under the stairs. A mudroom with bench for storage is to the left and leads to the garage. Cedar paneling on the ceiling wraps around and extends up the vertical surfaces of the stairwell.
The floating stairs created from the salvaged solid oak beams of an Oregon barn are supported by a stringer — or support structure — of black painted steel. A laundry closet concealed by a large sliding door is behind the stairwell.
“Materials interlock and embrace one another while the verticality of the stairwell makes the descent into the new space a dramatic experience,” Shoup says.
The stairwell windows, chandelier and cedar paneling further accentuate the vertical area between the home’s upper and lower levels.
A home office is tucked into a corner next to the great room. Throughout the space, a concrete slab floor with a matte charcoal cement-based microtopping “was chosen for its cool modern look as well as easy maintenance,” Shoup says.
A splash of color from the diamond-patterned Heath Ceramics backsplash anchors the kitchenette, which houses an undermount sink and undercounter refrigerator.
The homeowners’ desire to create a patio area with a seamless interior-exterior transition proved to be a design challenge, “as the landscape has to step back up to the grade somehow,” Shoup says. Horizontal layering helped achieve the connection between outside and in, he says, because it “leads the eye from the concrete floor to the wood bench, up the steps to the low retaining walls, the raised vegetable planters and finally the fence with horizontal slats.”
The entry to the back is now a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with glass sliding doors. A large portion of the backyard was excavated to create the patio area adjacent to the family room.