exploring The Silver Lining House in san francisco
The Silver Lining House in the Bernal Heights Neighborhood of San Francisco serves as a showcase for its occupants’ remarkable furniture and art collection, as well as a laboratory for their work. The renovated, three-story home, designed by Mork-Ulnes Architects, is the product of a longstanding collaboration and friendship between architect Casper Mork-Ulnes, photographer Bruce Damonte, and interior designer Alison Damonte. For over a decade, the trio conceptualized and completed the residence as a 3-bedroom 3.5 bath space framing scenic views of San Francisco’s twin peaks and westerly sky.
‘We had been visually collaborating with our friend, architectural photographer Bruce Damonte, for over 15 years when he approached us with his wife (and also friend) Alison Damonte, interior designer, to renovate their house in San Francisco. We knew from the outset that this project would be an interesting collaboration, balancing our reductive tendencies with the more exuberant and maximalist impulses of our client/friends – whose style we had always admired and wanted to celebrate,’ writes the architect.
all images © Bruce Damonte
casper mork-ulnes teams up with alison & bruce damonte
In 2010, interior designer Alison Damonte and architectural photographer Bruce Damonte purchased the modest wood residence more than a century old in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. As the years passed, the couple slowly began the extensive renovation process. A friend and early champion of Bruce’s photography career, architect Casper Mork-Ulnes, founder of San Francisco and Oslo-based Mork-Ulnes Architects, was a natural choice to lead the redesign.
While the project was deep in the stages of redesign, a fire ravaged the home on Christmas Eve 2017, forcing a reevaluation of the scope and scale of the redesign. Despite this incident, the couple’s goal remained the same— to create a home that acted as a capsule of art and inspiration. The original 1908 wood house, built for a roofer and his family of five, had a single-story with a low-pitched roof and stood out among more traditional two-story gabled rooflines flanking the steep San Francisco street. The fire forced a critical rethinking of the design goals. Mork-Ulnes proposed a new structure with the proportions, scale, and exterior massing that took cues from the gabled Edwardian neighbors. The exterior cedar cladding echoes the local vernacular, in particular, the horizontally paneled siding of the neighboring homes.
The Silver Lining House in the Bernal Heights Neighborhood of San Francisco
from small victorian home to modern, black-toned silhouette
The previously small and purple Victorian dwelling was replaced with a modern design that harmoniously blends with its streetscape. ‘For the exterior, the charredblack painted silhouette of this Bernal Heights home was intended to take cues from its quintessential San Francisco neighbors. The proportions, scale, and massing is derived from its gabled neighbors that step up the steep typical San Francisco streetscape, but reinterpret Edwardian design cues into more abstract decorative elements like siding patterns and solid-void composition. The intention being that the house would slip into the void that was created when the fire destroyed the former Edwardian home,’ explains Casper Mork-Ulnes.
As demonstrated in numerous projects by Mork-Ulnes Architects, tradition is reinterpreted here with a decidedly contemporary perspective, where formal research and construction techniques are integral to creating an original and innovative outcome that engages its surroundings while also prompting further inquiry. The Silver Lining House is thoroughly modern, abstracted, and simplified, it is a large geometric object that hints at the architectural language and collection of objects inside. Meanwhile, the interiors boast a vitrine-like setting for the couple’s art and furniture collection and a space to showcase their interest in materials and textures.
a renovated Victorian home with a black-coated exterior
a gallery-like interior with maximalist aesthetics
Initially conceived as a gallery for art and furniture and a laboratory for decorative experiments, The Silver Lining House also includes a disco-inspired music parlor, a photography studio, and a penthouse room which opens to views of both a San Francisco panorama and its Victorian neighborhood. A central curved and sculpted staircase allows light from the third-floor skylight to funnel and refract down to the ground floor with half-polished chrome slats bouncing mirrored reflections around the stairwell — a request of Alison to mimic the experience of walking through a disco ball. Ribbed textures are repeated throughout the project in tambour-clad pods, mirror slats, and custom resin tiles.
The mirror is used in playful elements like a black disco ball, but also for spatial and light-generating effects with the stair slatting, underneath kitchen cabinets which appear to float, on a ceiling in a powder room, and over a tambour-clad pod in the great room. Already with scenic city views from the original home’s second level, the owners wanted to capitalize on the even better views from the new third level and celebrate the vast views west of San Francisco’s Mission and Twin Peaks and east towards the more intimate view of Bernal Heights.
penthouse space with views toward the neighborhood
The interior architecture, a collaboration between Mork-Ulnes Architects and the studio of Alison Damonte, is also based on objects. Mork-Ulnes set the formal and volumetric stage with an organization of simplified objects, allowing Alison Damonte to outfit them with materials and finishes in line with her vision for the interior. The owners opted for a flipped floor plan with the lowest level providing privacy for a primary suite and small, sunken garden; the second level containing the entry, guest room, and more intimate rooms for entertaining and leisure; and the new third-story penthouse living space and kitchen offering the most transparency with both distant views of Noe Valley and Twin Peaks and closer views of the neighboring houses and Bernal Hill.
Offering a compelling counterpoint to the restraint and rigor of the architecture, each room in the home provides a tactile, vibrant experience of color, furnishings, and art. Objects clad in textures, patterns, and materiality reflect the owners’ collective creative spirit. The finishes and furnishings are quirky, tactile, and colorful, recalling the emerging and established artists and Art Deco, Mid-Century Italian, Scandinavian, Post-Modern, and contemporary furniture.
‘After several rounds and iterations of plans and variations, we found what the project needed: an organizational system of objects that could be used to showcase the various and eclectic materials and finishes that Alison wanted to use. While we often minimize the number of materials in a project to create and refine the essence of a space, this project needed a structure or framework of objects that could become sculptural and textured objects within the blank canvas of white walls and white terrazzo floors – much like the Damontes’ wildly varied and exciting collection of modern art and sculpture. We thought of the home as a Gallery to showcase the materials and experiments that Alison Damonte wanted to push and play with, so that their art collection would also include pieces of the house itself,‘ explains Lexie Mork-Ulnes.
each room in the home provides a tactile, vibrant experience of color, furnishings, and art
the silver lining house is powered by a low-carbon design
Lastly, The Silver Lining House is built with sustainability in mind, with over 65% of the original vertical wall structure preserved and re-used. It has operable glazed walls on the upper floor to allow complete cross-ventilation, and the central stair void acts as a chimney circulating air through the whole building. Operable exterior solar shading provides respite from the home’s sunny southern exposure. It also features solar panels covering the roof that provide electric energy to the house, supply a power wall battery with energy to use during peak surge hours, and feed power back to the grid when not in use. The project also has high performance energy-efficient windows and low-energy emitting appliances.