When most urbanites begin looking for a second home, they dream of finding a pastoral landscape or beachfront place as a refuge from hectic city life. But Zachary Lara and Sonya Yu, who live in San Francisco, wanted something else: a foothold in a second city where they could find more creative energy.
So they set their sights on Los Angeles.
“There’s so much art to see here, and a real diversity of culture, perspective and people that we really like to engage with,” said Ms. Yu, 32, a business coach and art collector who is on the boards of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hammer Museum.
“It’s something that we really crave,” said Mr. Lara, 44, a technology consultant who also works in real estate development with Ms. Yu.
But with plans to start a family — they now have two children, Evelyn, 4, and August, 1 — they weren’t immune to the appeal of outdoor space and a less vertiginous lifestyle.
“In San Francisco, our house is on one of the steepest hills in the city. It’s four stories, and there are lots of stairs,” Ms. Yu said.
For their getaway, “I wanted a single story where we didn’t have to go up and down stairs all day,” she said. “And we wanted a pool for the kids.”
After a year of hunting for a Spanish Colonial-style home that checked those boxes, they were thrilled to find an online listing for an ideal-looking 1920s house in the Sunset Square neighborhood, just as it came on the market at the end of 2015.
“We were here in less than 48 hours, ready to make an offer,” Ms. Yu said. They closed on the property two months later, for $2.1 million.
They liked a lot about the 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom house, including its arched windows and doorways, and the abundant sunshine. “The bones were beautiful,” Ms. Yu said.
But as creative individuals, they wanted to put their stamp on the house. For help, they turned to Síol Studios, a San Francisco-based architecture and design firm they had worked with on several projects, including a home for Ms. Yu’s parents and parts of their primary residence.
The plan was to make some quick, targeted changes, said Robo Gerson, an architect and principal at Síol. But before long, the project grew into a full-blown renovation that aimed to expand upon the original details Ms. Yu and Mr. Lara admired.
“It started as, ‘Bang it out: We want a vacation home,’ but it turned into this glorious gem,” Mr. Gerson said. “We took our cues from the ornate triptych arches at the front of the building, some of the nice woodwork details and the natural environment.”
The vision, he said, was to enhance the connection between indoors and outdoors, while adding more arched details throughout the house.
For improved indoor-outdoor living, Síol moved the kitchen to the back of the house and introduced a NanaWall folding-glass-door system that allows the room to open wide to the backyard and pool. The designers covered a custom banquette in outdoor-grade pink fabric capable of withstanding wet swimsuits and children’s spills, and installed hand-painted arabesque terra-cotta floor tiles from Tabarka Studio that extend from the inside to the outside.
“The tiles have texture to them and aren’t perfect,” said Jessica Weigley, a principal at Síol, who oversaw the interior design. “We wanted it to feel like you’re experiencing the outside, even when you’re inside.”
The designers also introduced a corridor with an arched ceiling at the center of the house, hiding skylights and LEDs above that bathe the walls in light through gaps between the ceiling and walls — a move that reminded Mr. Lara of the architect Louis Kahn’s work at the Kimbell Art Museum, in Fort Worth.
“I’m a huge fan of the Kimbell Art Museum,” Mr. Lara said. “They used the same technique in our hallway. The walls get painted with diffuse daylight throughout the day. We can hang art, and it’s beautiful.”
In the backyard, the designers renovated a 300-square-foot, stand-alone studio that includes a bathroom, kitchenette and covered outdoor dining space. And they reconfigured the pool, reducing the shallow end to a child-friendly depth of six inches and adding a connected hot tub with a waterfall edge.
After a year and a half of work, Lannen Construction completed the renovation at the beginning of 2018. The total cost was about $600 a square foot, including the house and the studio.
It wasn’t until the end of the project that Ms. Yu and Mr. Lara chose the artwork to display in the home, although those pieces are now defining features of the rooms that contain them. They include Barry McGee surfboards in the dining room, a light-based work by James Turrell integrated into the wall at the entrance to the master suite (which required some minor demolition and rebuilding to install, after the renovation was completed) and a clear Plexiglas coffee table containing boulders by Nicole Wermers that sits at the center of the living room.
“I’m a huge fan of using art as furniture,” Ms. Yu said.
Even with such valuable works installed throughout the house, the couple insist that nothing is off limits to their children. “The whole house is really open to them,” Ms. Yu said.
“We just open the front door and the NanaWall at the back,” Mr. Lara said. “They run straight through the house, and around the side, over and over and over again.”