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Modernity and the End of the Painted Ladies

Modernity and the End of the Painted Ladies

On an architectural walk through the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, one can see perfectly historically preserved Victorian style homes… Or so it appears!
Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Homes JAN BUTCHOFSKY-HOUSER / CORBIS
Though the majority of the neighborhood was built up by 1940, there has been series after series of interior and exterior remodeling. It is sometimes hard to believe that these Victorian style homes exist in the same city as the modern high rises of the financial district, but that is what some people call the charm of the great city of San Francisco.

The clean lines and sleek look of modern architecture typically overshadows the delicate beauty of intricate Painted-Lady Victorian detailing. Nevertheless, much of the neighborhood is architecturally frozen in time; there is much to be said about the preservation of historic architecture in San Francisco. But can these opposing design styles peacefully co-exist in one neighborhood? And what’s more, should they?

As an architecture student at Cornell University, I pledged my solemn allegiance to Le Courbusier, a French architect who tackled the issues of urbanismexterior view of Villa Savoye - LeCorbusier during the 1920s-1940s. The timeless beauty of his foray into modernity and urbanism produced contemporary architectural wonders including: the villa savoye (France), the Curutchet House (Argentina), and the Swiss Pavilion in Paris. These works are a testament to his design genius as they have stood the test of rapidly changing times. A big apology to all the preservationists out there because, beautiful though it may be, Victorian Architecture has become an outdated design style.

The exclusion of the contemporary branch of architecture within neighborhoods undermines the essential progress of the architectural industry. In fact, a place must be found for Benches at the Swiss Pavilion France contemporary design even if that means, in time, there might not be a place for the Victorian style. Many neighborhoods in San Francisco appear generally frozen in time. Seemingly preserved in their early 1900’s “glory”.

The question:

Why should modern architecture be introduced into neighborhoods, fundamentally changing the community aesthetic?

My answer:

With the amount of advancements in building technologies and materials and the highly specialized training of modern architects, it is almost a shame how quickly contemporary architecture is dismissed as “destined to be outdated in the next 5 years.” Modern concrete, steel, and glass technologies are highly customizable, affordable, and durable. Architecture is an industry that must advance with material and building technologies, and preservation of an aesthetic simply for the sake of not letting go of community tradition undermines the fundamental purpose of architectural design. Many define architecture as a physical manifestation of the local people’s way of life, a means of gauging the way of the times. Architecture must be designed with consideration to contextual realities of society and climate; times are changing and our city’s architecture must change with it.

The real question:

When will the allure of modern architectural design supersede antiquated notions of preservation?

  About the Author

Lauren R Jordan is a Junior Architectural Designer at Ashbury General Contracting & Engineering, a design-build company located in San Francisco, CA.

Custom Deck – Design to Enjoy your Own Backyard

Custom Deck – Design to Enjoy your Own Backyard

On a rare warm afternoon in San Francisco you can see multitudes of people gathered in local parks, at the beach, at Fishermen’s wharf, or on the piers at the Embarcadero. Public parks and plazas are a great way to enjoy the outdoors. But, perhaps you are one of the lucky few in this city who can enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of their own backyard, from a custom deck or custom patio outdoor space.

We take pride in our city and our neighborhoods by investing in the quality of public amenities and green spaces. We are quick to take advantage of exploring the variety of places and events San Francisco has to offer, but seldom do people take full advantage of their own place of solace and comfort: their home.

I believe that we are shaped by our built environment as much as we shape it. Spending time outdoors is an important, and often ignored, factor of our mental health – a fact I was reminded of recently when reading an article called “Spending Time in Nature for Your Health – How Outdoor Activities Improve Wellbeing.”  In the piece, Dr. Susanne Preston, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling instructor at South University, Virginia Beach states “Research has shown that spending time in nature has been associated with decreased levels of mental illness, with the strongest links to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to increased self esteem… Spending time outdoors is also linked to positive effects on physical health.” With hectic schedules and an endless list of household chores, it might not always be possible to get out and hike Mount Tamalpais, or take a jog through Golden Gate Park. But it is possible to use your own backyard to facilitate healthy outdoor activity and provide a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Build Your Outdoor Space

Consider the installation of a new deck or patio. This may seem like a splurge you just cannot afford right now, but consider what it can add to the value of your home. Your Outdoor space can function as an extension of your living space. Putting a few dollars into capital improvements could prove more satisfying to you than buying the latest and greatest electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing.

Try creating various levels and/or designating activity zones. Is there something you enjoy doing, something you frequently find yourself doing inside? Find a way to do it outdoors. A table for playing cards, a zen garden to do yoga in, perhaps even a small outdoor kitchen.

If you search the Internet, you can find hundreds of suggestions on how to upgrade your backyard, ranging from simple and inexpensive DIY projects to million dollar landscapes. Good design, in my opinion, is a blend of aesthetic appeal and functionality. A backyard that
looks like a picture out of Better Homes & Gardens might not necessarily be best suited to your enjoyment of your outdoor space.

 Check out Dwell Magazine’s Seven Great Outdoor Spaces of 2012:

Church Residence. Michigan City, IN.Jeff Sherman. Brooklyn, NY.

  About the Author

Lauren R Jordan is a Junior Architectural Designer at Ashbury General Contracting & Engineering, a design-build company located in San Francisco, CA.

Garage additions in San Francisco, what you need to know.

Garage additions in San Francisco, what you need to know.

It’s no secret that San Francisco has long since run out of land for new housing and that real estate prices are skyrocketing again.

Whether you are considering buying a house contingent upon the feasibility and cost of repairing or  adding a garage, or are looking for information on a new garage addition to your existing home, or want to estimate your potential return on investment from adding a garage before selling, then you’re in the right place.  We can arm you with the information, and resources you’ll need to make an informed decision.  We are happy to provide referrals to any one of our trusted advisors, who are well regarded as leaders in their field to provide you with the high level of expert advice you will need.

We recommend starting by reading the Planning Department’s publication ‘Guidelines for adding garages and curb cuts”  to give you a sense of what the policies look like.  You’ll then need to start seeking guidance and professional advice.  We are happy to talk with you about your goals and make an introduction to a couple of the best people for the job.  It’s always best to get more then one estimate and opinion on the project, and we will gladly make a few different introductions for you. To get started contact us now at Contact Frank.

 Garage additions in San Francisco: finding and hiring the right company.

When interviewing contractors you want to make sure they have direct experience working with the San Francisco Planning Department and relationships with the folks who will be issuing approvals and inspecting the project along the way.  Be sure to ask for a list of  their last 5 or more recently completed projects and references and then call those people to find out what their experience was like.

We sat down with Kevin Born, Founder & General Contractor/Residential estimator and Joshua Slocum from Ashbury Construction.  They are finishing a beautifully done garage addition in San Francisco on 30th Street in Noe Valley.  I watched this complex and well executed project unfold that involved raising the house and keeping all of the key elements in tact to meet the guidelines of The San Francisco Historical Preservation Committee .

Kevin Born, Frank Castaldini and Joshua Slocum at Ashbury Construction

Ashbury Construction

Here is a picture of the house before work begins, notice the detailing on the front facade as well as the stair case leading up to the house which is set back on the lot. Then underneath you can see the cement foundation and rail that was obviously added later and has no historical significance.

Garage before Ashbury Construction garage addition.

Ashbury Construction was founded here in San Francisco and has a long history of completing hundreds of diverse construction projects, specializing in high end residential remodeling and renovation. They have a reputation for providing quality construction services at the most competitive pricing.

From Our Interview with Kevin Born on Garage additions in San Francisco, what you need to know:

Frank: “At what point in the project do clients need to bring in someone like yourself?

Kevin: “As a design-build firm we should be brought in right from the start to talk with clients and understand their goals and from there we do a very thorough  inspection, our architects help answer all their initial design related questions and address feasibility, and our construction experience helps us accurately estimate the cost. we can also work with their architect to help them price the cost of construction” “We have a long history of working together with the both members of the planning department and historical planners. We meet with them right away to make sure they are on board and work with them to make sure we address their concerns and get their valuable feedback.”

Frank: “Can you help a client that is considering making on offer on a home but would only do so if a garage addition could be done, ”

Kevin “Absolutely, I go out on appointments frequently to meet with buyers and their agent.  We take the same approach to inspecting and estimating the cost of the job based on their needs and working with the planning department to ensure adding a garage is possible.”

Frank: “Are there cases when a garage simply is not on option?”

Kevin; “Rarely, because we can work with the building department to figure out what can be done with the property. At times, getting a garage put in can be a real challenge. We have to ensure maximum compatibility with existing on-street parking, existing dwelling units and the structures context, which is why meeting the planning department up front is key. Usually, something can be figured out.”

Ashbury Construction building garage addition.

Kevin: “Slope of hills that require underpinning, this is a process where we have to dig deep down under the house and across underneath their neighbor’s house to install a soldier/pier under pinning and requires permission from their neighbor. We will meet with all of them together to explain the process, and address any questions or concerns they have.” “We work very hard to ensure we address any of your neighbors’ concerns both before and during construction.”

Frank “When Ashbury Construction puts in a new foundation or garage is there anything about your process or materials that sets you apart from your competition?”

Kevin: “Yes, several key differences; we use the most cost effective methods for foundation and garage upgrades. We have invested heavily into owning the equipment necessary to perform foundation work. Using shotcrete, typically found in commercial applications, allows for greater PSI strength in concrete walls and cuts the time and costs associated with pouring into concrete forms. Ashbury completes foundation and garage work with stronger walls and a cleaner finish, while saving our clients time and money.”

Garage addition in progress.

As you can see in the picture below Ashbury Construction has doon an amazing job.  A great example of meeting the planning department guidelines of “Maintaining the integrity of the building and its original design, proportions, and relationship to adjacent building.”  The house remains setback and all original period detail is on only preserved but highlighted by their skilled painters.  Even with the garage they have acutually created a more open feel from the street putting in wider stairs and then keeping the wood staircase by turning it.

Garage addition by Ashbury Construction.

Garage additions in San Francisco, what you need to know:  In neighborhoods like Bernal Heights and Noe Valley, there is a great deal of demand right now and with people paying more for homes they naturally look for ways to cut costs. Your foundation is just that, the foundation that holds up your entire home, protecting you and your family, it is critical to get specialized expert advice, especially in these neighborhoods where your dealing with so many different types of slope on hillsides and a wide variety of unique historical preservation requirements.


This article is posted with thanks and authorship attributed to Frank Castaldini – Leading San Francisco Realtor and Trusted Advisor – (415.846.1899)

I will be following up with pictures of the completed project once the new door has been installed…so stay tuned.

Kitchen Resurfacing

So, you are ready to revamp that kitchen and give it a new look. You have been paying close attention to your friends’ cabinet materials and hardware. You study the aesthetics of the kitchen on your favorite television show. You find yourself online looking at kitchen designer and cabinet supplier sites daily in the quest for the style you want. You have bookmarked way too many pages.

Your actions beg the question “What are you waiting for?” Your answer: “The money!”

Everyone knows that the first hurdle when deciding to remodel is figuring out how to afford it. You probably called a contractor you know to ask for a quote and were displeased that your dream kitchen was perhaps just a fantasy.

We at Ashbury understand this concern completely, and have dealt with lots of people in this situation. Although the quality work we do is less expensive than our competition, sometimes a full kitchen remodel is just too expensive, even when getting the best value through Ashbury.

The solution is what we in the industry call “resurfacing.” It means just what it sounds like: improving the surfaces of the kitchen. Now, there are different ways to go about this, depending upon what you want. For most people, the most basic resurfacing involves removing all existing doors and drawer fronts from your cabinets. Then, all visible cabinet surfaces are refinished with a high-quality laminated coat of the particular color you desire. Next, new doors, and perhaps drawer faces, are installed along with brand new hardware and hinges. This gives the kitchen a stunning new look. For many people on a budget, stopping here adds significant value to the kitchen without costing much at all.

For others, more surfaces need to be updated. This often includes counter tops, backsplashes, and sinks. Or, perhaps new flooring that accentuates the new cabinets is more important to you than countertops. One great thing about resurfacing is that you don’t have to do everything at once, like remodeling requires. You can pick and choose what you would like done. And, you can always do more later when you can afford to or when you are ready for more refreshing changes.

Another benefit of resurfacing is that it only restricts kitchen usage for a few days, whereas remodeling often takes weeks. It is tough to put a monetary value on your discomfort during a remodeling period, and people often forget about this cost when re-imagining their kitchen.

For those getting ready to sell, a resurfacing can be just as effective as remodeling. Resurfacing those dingy-looking cabinets, adding new paint or wallpaper to the walls, and even reflooring the room if necessary makes a big difference in the appearance. Even just a few basic upgrades can drastically improve the value. Just be sure to go with a classic design and, if possible, use high-quality materials.

When you work with Ashbury, you can be assured that your resurfacing project is completed with quality craftsmanship. We are an experienced contractor that can handle all kinds of kitchens, having completed over 500 kitchen remodels. If during the resurfacing it turns out that one of your existing cabinets is too worn, that is no problem. Our carpentry and custom cabinetry workshop can replace it with a matching cabinet of the same material without any issues or long waits. Let our experienced staff help you get a beautiful, new looking kitchen for a fraction of the cost of remodeling.

A Strong Foundation: Part Deux

Two small, back-to-back earthquakes shook San Francisco early this morning around 5:30am, the larger registering a 4.0 on the Richter scale. Many people were probably still sleeping, but we were awake here at Ashbury General Contracting and Engineering. Every time the ground quakes, our thoughts turn to how important a strong foundation is for those living in the Bay Area. While you may be preoccupied with what could fall from above and land on your head during the shaking, the destruction following a quake is often due to a poor foundation.

USGS seismologist David Schwartz told KGO-TV on Monday: “These earthquakes, these 4’s, are just an indication of ongoing activity, ongoing stress on the fault. They do nothing to relieve the likelihood of something larger happening.”

Something larger could mean many different things for a home with a bad foundation that needs foundation repair. Often, it is the lower story that fails, a phenomenon called racking. There could also be sliding (house slides off its foundation) and overturning (house lifts off its foundation). All these phenomena can have serious costs, both in dollars and lives.

Ashbury is an experienced foundation construction specialist, familiar with the various forms of structural retrofitting, such as bolting, cripple wall bracing, hold down bracketing, grade beam and moment frames, and all the rest of the foundation enhancing techniques out there. We work with engineers to determine what your house or business needs, and consistently provide it quicker and for less money than our competitors. As we mentioned in an earlier blog post on earthquakes and their impacts (Earthquakes and a Strong Foundation), we have invested heavily into owning the equipment necessary to utilize the most labor efficient processes to perform foundation work, which saves you time and money. Ashbury also utilizes shotcrete in the construction of foundations, which saves time in foundation pouring and increases PSI strength in concrete walls.

A proper foundation is designed to save lives, so take a look down at your foundation now so that you don’t need to look up for falling objects later.

For more information about other services Ashbury offers, please look at our Construction Services page.