Located in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, the project site presented unique and complex site conditions. Comprised of a historic 1908 shingled house designed by the renowned architect, Willis Polk, and an earthquake cottage, the project underwent lengthy historic preservation and design review processes with the City. In addition, the property is situated on a steep hillside with up to forty feet of grade change, making access from the street challenging. The site was excavated to accommodate architectural renovations, including a driveway tunnel, subterranean four-car garage, and two-story tall gallery space, all under the existing main house and garden.
The project site also offered exciting opportunities. Situated on two adjacent lots, the main house and cottage are located at opposite ends of the property, making the expansive garden the centerpiece—a rarity in a dense urban environment. The hilltop location offers unrivaled panoramic views of the city and bay. The design of the garden honors the spirit of the original garden, with a flourishing planting palette and meticulously detailed amenities in the heart of the city. Wellness and joie de vivre are main themes for the property, and the garden’s design program focuses on providing opportunities for privacy, relaxation, entertaining, and overall wellbeing. After decades of neglect, the garden was underused and depreciated, ecologically and recreationally. Now, in this restored urban oasis, both people and nature can thrive.
A raised dining area with fireplace sits beneath a large trellis covered with climbing roses, hanging glass chandeliers, and surrounded by 100-year-old field grown olive trees. Below, an expansive native lawn is large enough for play and games. A heated concrete sofa built around a firepit sits in the middle of the garden, showcasing the breathtaking views of the city and bay. There is also an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven and bar. Aromatic herbs and lemon trees are planted in large pots within arms’ reach, and bees and butterflies flutter in the adjacent pollinator flower beds.
Materials that complement the historic architecture were carefully selected for the landscape. White concrete, dark plaster and steel, limestone paving, and gravel offer a neutral palette against the shingled architecture as well as the city skyline. More luxurious materials and refined touches, such as the glass chandeliers hanging from the trellis and the Norwegian emerald granite cladding the 40-foot long cantilevered infinity pool, inspire jaws to drop. Even a hawk enjoys the pool and pays regular visits to take dips.
Privacy and security were priorities for the Client, so concrete walls, corten planters, and wood gates at the entrance shield the property from the street. The board-form texture of the concrete walls brings a tactile interest next to the corten and wood, and is a nod to the board-form concrete of the neighboring SF Art Institute. For additional privacy, mature trees were craned into custom steel wells anchored into the steep hillside, and hanging vines were planted to drape over the retaining walls.
An entrance stairway and path constructed of Italian limestone blocks anchors the hillside garden, while ascending over twenty feet of grade change. Large, terraced retaining walls were constructed to fit the driveway, stairway, subterranean rainwater tank, and other utilities. To create a seamless transition where the garden is built on structure, adequate soil depth was made available to plant the vegetation in the ground and limit the use of raised planters. Large, mature trees were strategically planted in areas not on structure, while an array of planting frames views of the city and bay.
Consistent with the project’s commitment to wellbeing, the property is currently in the process of a LEED Platinum certification review. To meet the certification’s rigorous requirements, numerous best practices were implemented. Low water use plants comprise 50% of the planting plan, and a native lawn and pollinator plants were carefully selected to restore the ecological integrity of the site. A subterranean rainwater storage tank was installed under the garden, original cobblestones were reused for the water feature, and a limestone with a high solar reflective index comprises 90% of the paving on site.
Driveway Paving, Raven Granite, Eco Outdoor
Crushed Stone Paving, Monterey Gold, Wheeler Zamaroni
Paving, Pietra piasentina
Cottage decking, 1×4 wood, Machiche
Spa, Diamond Spa
Outdoor Kitchen Grill and accessories, Hestan
Planters, Atelier Vierkant
Planters, Ore, Inc.
Pool Veneer, Norwegian Emerald Granite, Davinci Marble
Stone Blocks at Pool, Pietra piasentina
Fire Feature Ceramic Balls, Rasmussen
Outdoor Shower, Boffi
Fontana, Pizza Oven, Forno Toscano Mangiafuoco
Category: Private Residential Garden
Design Year: 2015
Construction Year: 2018
Image Credits: Paul Dyer, Jacob Elliot, Ive Haugeland, David Livingston