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Even Stately Victorians Can Have a Rebellious Streak

Traditional in the front, party in the back.


Multifamily home, Noe Valley (front). Levy Art & Architecture.

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Multifamily home, Noe Valley (back). Levy Art & Architecture.

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Painted Ladies may be charming, but they’re the bane of imaginative architecture. “The San Francisco Planning Department is really restrictive about any changes to the outside of a building that’s over 50 years old,” says Ross Hummel of Line Office Architecture. “Which, of course, covers most of the city.” Striking a balance between preservation and shifting tastes leaves designers playing the architectural version of the kids’ game Operation: How do you modernize a home’s interior without disturbing its historic window dressing? “It’s often like there’s a little old house encapsulated in a new, modern house,” says Ross Levy of Levy Art & Architecture, who designed the flip trick above. The reason: While San Francisco facades are protected by red tape, out back anything goes. (If the Planning Department prefers the equivalent of an impenetrable gray bob, consider this the rebellious mullet.) “We can do some kooky things to the back of a house,” says Hummel. That includes staggered patios, spiral staircases, outdoor bathrooms, and wall-spanning panes of glass. “On one side, at least, you get to create some of these interesting, fun, exciting moments.”

Read more New Rules of Design coverage here.

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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