Saturday, May 16, 2015

Seeing the Bones Beneath the Glamour - Julia Morgan

Advice For Open House Attendees in this City of Elaborate Staging

Yesterday an artistic, architecturally fluent client/friend and I attended a Zephyr party at the Decorator Showcase, held this year in a Julia Morgan designed building at 3630 Jackson.

Julia was really quite something. Read about her here, and here, and here, and here.

In retrospect I really wish I had focused my phone camera less on beautiful flowers and eye popping design details, and more on the window arrangements and proportions of the rooms, which were consistently wonderful. Happily, there have been many camera's trained on these interiors, so you can see lots of photos here and here - keep an eye out for the windows.

Beautiful arrangements of windows in most rooms. Intimate spaces flowing into and contrasting with more grand, but still comfortable, spaces. Large bay window assemblages, bringing in more light from more directions and bringing the viewer out into the world.  Prospect and Refuge.

She really understood live-ability and light. My client and I discovered our mutual appreciation of "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander, and agreed that beautiful livable spaces are possible to create at most price points, through intelligent use of patterns, such as "light on two sides".

We also agreed that spending 10 or 20 million dollars does not guarantee live-ability or comfort. Not all of the Showcase houses, or other very high end homes, are actually that pleasant to live in. You really have to look beneath the staging for proportions and light and flow, which as you can see by my personal photos is hard to do, especially if you are a visual person easily distracted by flowers or wallpaper or art. On the other hand, it can be hard for most people visualize living in empty homes, hence the popularity and effectiveness of staging. Here are a few photo's before the designers arrived.


I was encouraged recently by my clients architect to"go through the whole place at least twice" and look more deeply at how the building is constructed, how the weight and spaces are distributed and how the building has been maintained. Don't just think about where you would put your TV.  Look at long term comfort issues like orientation of rooms, windows, flow, function, adaptability of space. Also how the building connects with the ground and community surrounding it.

These are the things that will support you in your life in the home, or not. Massive renovation is not for everyone, and even those who love it prefer to start with "good bones."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Noisy Buildings: Good Sound Mitigation Makes Good Neighbors

Most old buildings in San Francisco are built of wood (even if there is stucco or other siding on the exterior), and sound transmission can be intense. So you can pay a million and a half for a gorgeous historic condo and still hear every footfall or shriek from the teenager or toddler upstairs. Or you could have these horrible neighbors upstairs (heaven forbid). This is why many condo associations require 75% carpet over hardwood.


Newer concrete buildings are much quieter so they are the best bet if you are especially sensitive to sound or a very light sleeper. These quieter buildings are usually newer construction, or sometimes older industrial conversions. Typically they are larger concrete buildings in more urban neighborhoods. Also these buildings are more likely have access to Internet alternatives to Comcast or AT&T, such as MegaPath or Monkeybrains.

If you prefer the older San Francisco architecture, or smaller buildings, or you are already in a neighborhood that is mostly older construction, you may have to navigate noise issues with your neighbors. Tread carefully here. I have seen drama over sound escalate between neighbors, create a lot of stress, and reduce property value more than 15%.

Saving money by not doing sound reduction ended up being expensive for my clients who eventually chose to sell their home in order to feel peace in their lives. They did the right thing and disclosed the sound conflicts, thus avoiding lawsuits, but the conflict affected the property value. Not everyone wants to move into the middle unit of a 3 unit building with a history of acrimony over sound. 

Total "sound proofing" is not really possible, but you can definitely take the edge off. At a minimum a carpet and a pad on 75% of the floor is a good start, which is a typical condo requirement. Double paned windows and solid core doors make a big difference. If those are not enough there are multiple vinyls for sound blocking and foams for sound absorption available; also products like Green Glue, Whisper Clips and Quiet Rock
Acoustic dampening materials can be put in the floor or the ceiling or both, (or even the walls if your noise is coming from the sides) depending on ceiling heights. Pete Fisler of Pacific Union did extensive research into methods. In his personal condo he had the ceiling dropped 11/2 " with metal channels (Whisper Clips are a brand name), then applied with Green Glue Sheetrock, which is a double layer of sheet rock with Green Glue product in between. He says it solved his noise problem.  Here's a useful article summarizing soundproofing methods, which also includes legal information should relationships deteriorate.


If you are in a small building I suggest discussing with your neighbors the idea of installing sound reduction materials in all of the units, before tempers flare. Treat it as a building expense and pay for it collectively with the HOA dues. Teamwork is soooo much more fun than neighbor wars.

Thanks to Chiare Hwang, Pete Fisler and Diane Hourany. May you all know peace and quiet in your buildings.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Golden Gate Real Estate is back to Blogger

Well friends, since I am a full time realtor, not a full time blogger who speaks HTML and can fix things like redirect loops, Wordpress and I were not a match made in heaven.

So now I'm back to wonderfully functional, if not as hip, Blogger. Thanks for
sticking with me. I'll be back soon with thoughts on noisy buildings, but here's
a sunset from our "winter" to hold you for now.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

Orange Season

There were at least six varieties of citrus at my favorite produce market today, glowing in the golden hour sun. Such are the small miracles of life here in golden land in January. I am on the steep learning curve of moving this blog to Square Space, so thank you for your patience, it may be awhile. Go buy some oranges while they are going off! Yum.