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Architect Visit: Cary Bernstein Resurrects a Circa 1908 Garage


Architect Visit: Cary Bernstein Resurrects a Circa 1908 Garage

February 18, 2014

Before Cary Bernstein got to it, behind this circa 1908 San Francisco home lay a two-story detached garage with a top floor for parking and a bottom floor that was barely accessible. The top floor, accessible via an alleyway around the back of the house, functioned as the entryway of the home for its full-time residents. 

Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory member Cary Bernstein remedied this dynamic with a complete remodel of the garage, retaining parking while adding usable space in the basement. When they drive into the garage at the end of the day, the owners now see across a landscaped courtyard to the back of their home. Says the architect, “By giving the garage a real architecture, the owners are already ‘inside’ when they arrive home by car.” 

Bernstein led an extensive excavation in the basement, turning it into a playroom for the owners’ two young children. In the courtyard, a useless patch of grass was replaced with ungrouted sandstone pavers better suited for tricycles and outdoor furniture.

Above: Painted siding on the remodeled garage. I asked Bernstein about the relatively modest exterior materials: “The understated materials are intentional,” she said. “The clients have a strong sense of propriety, and the modest exteriors give just a few hints of the warm and articulated interiors.” 

The exterior materials are also intended to echo the early 20th century main house, but in a different, modern shape. Photograph by David Duncan Livingston.

Above: A glass wall on the parking level is flooded with light from a skylight above the stairs, which makes an otherwise dark space bright and welcoming. The stair and its surrounding walls are made of ipe boards, which match decks at both ends of the garden. Photograph by Sharon Risedorph.

Above: A glass-and-steel canopy over the stairway lends some protection from the rain. In the garden, fast-growing podocarpus and jasmine vines were planted along the perimeters to create soft, green walls. Photograph by Sharon Risedorph.

Above: The outbuilding’s basement level became a playroom outfitted with magnetic chalkboard walls and a foldaway bed for overnight guests. Photograph by Sharon Risedorph.

Above: A full bath and wine cellar will make the basement more usable when the playroom is no longer needed. Photograph by David Duncan Livingston.

Above: The landscaped courtyard. Only the two tree ferns were retained from the previous garden; the rest of the landscaping is new. Photograph by Sharon Risedorph.

Bernstein thinks the interplay between the main house and the outbuilding is critical to understanding the home, saying: “Because of the unified architectural and landscape design, the garage feels as if it’s part of the house with the garden being an incidental insertion between the spaces rather than a front and back building which share a landscape.”

Above: A detail of the floor plan across both the main house and the outbuilding; for reference, note the garage and playroom are at the bottom. 

Above: The facade of the main home has a pedestrian-only entry. Bernstein notes that the home is “a builder’s house: functional and direct in plan, clearly built with off-the-shelf details and trim.” That’s another reason to keep the outbuilding’s materials modest. Photograph by David Duncan Livingston.

For more cleverly designed parking spaces, see Designer Visit: A Carport Makes a Difference and The World’s Best Carport

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