The San Francisco remodeling industry is defined by architectural styles, building regulations, and lifestyle preferences that are entirely unique to this city. Our new Q&A series calls on the voices of local architects and designers to find out how their work is catered to homeowners in the Bay Area. Our third installment comes from Jonathan Feldman of Feldman Architecture: a San Francisco-based firm that designs new construction and remodels alike.
Jonathan speaks frequently as an expert on architecture and sustainable design and has appeared on the panel, “Creating a Sustainable Environment in the Preserve” presented at the Santa Lucia Preserve among others. Jonathan has also served on competition juries including the AIA Monterey Bay Design Awards and the Remodeling Magazine Design Awards.
Jeff King & Co: Where do you look for design inspiration?
Jonathan Feldman: I’m addicted to all these design blogs like Contemporist, Remodelista, and Houzz as well as image-sharing social media like Pinterest (my new favorite).
But photos of good design is fundamentally superficial, so I try to get out and see as much as I can first-hand. I just got back from New York. Four days of walking around and looking at great architecture totally inspired me and re-invigorated me.
Improvement is the motivation behind all remodels. How does your design improve a client’s experience in their home? How do you know you’ve provided a good design?
I strongly believe that the spaces we inhabit shape the way we live. Adding more light to a dark house can make the residents happier. The way we layout a floor plan can help bring a family together. Providing smart and abundant places to store all our stuff can help keep us sane. One true test of whether or not we have succeeded in these areas is to go back and see how happy a family is in their house; how much pride they have in what we all have created.
In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with preexisting structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?
Many of these old houses have some awful layouts. Unfortunate piecemeal renovations often leave them pretty confused. The challenge is to figure out how to make the greatest improvement with the least amount of intervention. Which walls can I move or remove to create a nice result?
Many of these narrow SF houses only get light from the front and back, so our challenge is opening them up to let the light into the core. When done well, this can completely transform how they feel.
As we live in them today, kitchens are often times the most important room in the house. They can also be the most complex and expensive rooms to remodel. How do you design a kitchen for the 21st century homeowner?
Most people these days want their kitchen to be the heart of informal family activity. But they also want more counters and storage than in the past. So the challenge is to open them up but still provide all this function (cooking and storage). I often like to have a whole wall of floor-to-ceiling storage so that I can allow the rest of the kitchen to be much more open.
Bathrooms can be simple and functional for one person or a place of retreat and spa for another. How do you approach bathroom design for each type of client? What are a few of your favorite elements to include in a bathroom?
For me, one key to good bathroom design is to keep it simple. Too often I see designers going nuts mixing different tiles and dramatic plumbing fixtures. I try to create bathrooms that are more tranquil and (hopefully) timeless.
Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?
Recently, I’ve had a lot of fun designing home offices and libraries. I love books and creating a nice, comfortable place to work or read can lead to some of the nicest spaces.
In the San Francisco design community, are there any trends you hope to see disappear in the near future?
Over the last five years or so I’ve been seeing too many modern buildings that try to mix together multiple materials on their exteriors: stucco and wood siding, metal and ipe, etc. I like all of these materials but I think some designers try to differentiate each part of the building, and that usually sacrifices a sense of continuity.
Thanks for the chat, Jonathan! Take a look at our most recent collaboration with Feldman Architecture: the Fair Oaks residence.
Read more interviews from this series: