San Francisco is known for its “Painted Ladies,” Victorian-era homes with elaborate architectural flourishes, often painted in vivid colors. But many of these homes did not start out as grand manses. Around the turn of the 20th century, the city was built up with modest row houses, often with false fronts to make them appear grander. Built in 1889, the dwelling at 1566 Sanchez St. was one such example.
It was just the sort of house that Josh Mogal was looking for. In 2008, after 15 years of doing product marketing in the high-tech industry, he started his own development company, Eco+Historical, to renovate historic homes and to update them with a modern floor plan and minimize their carbon footprint. “When I got started, I saw all these green houses, and they were all contemporary,” Mogal says. “They felt so cold to me. They didn’t seem like cozy and comfy spaces that would be supportive of what you do as a family—they didn’t read ‘weekend brunch.’ ”
After successfully tackling his first couple of projects in the city, a 1920s Edwardian and a 1902 Colonial Revival (you can follow his adventures in sustainable remodeling at ecohistorical.com), Mogal looked at homes in Noe Valley, one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods. With two bedrooms and one bath on one level over a basement, the 1,000-square-foot structure at 1566 Sanchez St. had never been substantially renovated. Mogal saw its stunning, flat-fronted Italianate façade and the possibilities for expansion. He purchased it for less than $1 million, and undertook a LEED Platinum–certified gut rehab, which included significant foundation work and state-of-the-art sustainable technologies. The renovation cost well over a million dollars and ended up taking a year and a half. But all of the work paid off: The house sold in just four days for $2.8 million, at a substantial premium above the asking price.
On the project, Mogal had the help of San Francisco architect Jonathan Feldman, AIA. “We were on the same page in terms of sustainable building practices,” says Feldman, who has two other LEED Platinum projects to his credit and five more in the works. “He pushed us in places, and we shared what we knew, so it was a really good collaboration. He’d been fighting the fight himself.”
Feldman started his practice, Feldman Architecture, in 2003 by renovating old Victorians; after working on about a dozen of them, he came to know their weaknesses well. “Victorians are often heavy and dark and confining,” he says. The relatively small size of 1566 Sanchez made it particularly challenging. “It was a really tiny little Victorian,” he says. “Now it has a generous, open floor plan and a connection to the yard. Everything is bright and light-filled. We put a lot of building into a very small house, and made it feel big.” The resulting home has five bedrooms and four baths, but is just 2,600 square feet.
The team excavated the basement level 40 feet behind the house, into the upward-sloping lot, to create a substantial lower level. The street level now has a garage and two bedrooms, one of which looks out to the street and one into the backyard. To give the back bedroom access to natural light, the backyard was excavated another 12 feet to create a private patio. The backyard was upgraded into an outdoor room, with a family-friendly flat lawn and landscaping by landscape architect Scott Lewis.
The main floor was drastically reconfigured. From the front door, you can see through the living and dining areas to the backyard via glass folding French doors. This level also has a small bedroom/office.
The team added a third floor, hidden from the street by a 12-foot setback and the home’s tall false front, which contains the master suite and a second bedroom suite.
Like many houses from the Victorian era, the home originally had lead-painted trim and doors, which were replaced. But Mogal made a point of salvaging what he could, including roof joists, which were turned into planter boxes; windows, which became glass fronts for kitchen cabinets; chimney bricks, which were used to pave the patio off of the back bedroom; and old concrete-aggregate patio, which Lewis turned into a dry-stacked stone wall to create a raised bed at the back of the yard.
To reach LEED Platinum, there were “a million little decisions,” Mogal says, including the use of all FSC-certified lumber flooring, low- and zero-VOC solvents and sealants, and R-19 and R-21 insulation with EcoBatt, a formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. The team also pushed the technical envelope in a few places. The home uses an air-source heat pump for heating and cooling (Mogal contemplated a radiant heat-pump system, but decided against it because of expense and lack of experienced subcontractors). The home is the first residential project to use Aquatherm Green Pipe, a completely recyclable polypropolyene pipe, for hot and cold water throughout the space.
Mogal also put high-efficiency solar panels from Enphase Energy on the cool roof made of white thermoplastic polyolefin. Each panel has its own microinverter that converts direct current into alternating current, operating independently for optimal efficiency. “As a developer, it makes sense for me to install a basic set of microinverter panels, which the owners can add on to easily down the road,” he says.
Evidence of Mogal’s past career contemplating the user experience can be seen in the home’s most minimal functions. The kitchen has dimmable LED lighting, which Mogal loves. But he’s still on the hunt for LED lighting that changes to a warmer color temperature as it dims. “Dimmable LEDs are missing that emotional component, which I think goes back to firelight,” he says. “ ‘Home’ is such an emotional concept, with so many layers.”
Feldman Architecture, Jonathan Feldman, Bridgett Shank, feldmanarchitecture.com
CBC General Contractors, Chris Begg, cbcgencon.com
Interior designer, client and owner, lighting designer:
eco+historical, Joshua Mogal, ecohistorical.wordpress.com
Double-D Engineering, Don David, doubledengineering.com
Michael Heacock Architects, Michael Heacock, michaelheacock.com
Bright Green Strategies, Sharon Block, brightgreenstrategies.com
Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture, sllasf.com
Title-24 Express, Michael Kunz, title24express.com
Air, moisture, and vapor barriers: DuPont
Alternative energy systems: Canadian Solar Enphase
Appliances: DCS; Broan; Electrolux; Frigidaire; Kitchenaid; Bosch; Sharp; Whirlpool
Bath fixtures: Kohler; Delacora
Cabinetry and millwork: Custom
Decking: Concorde Atlas Ceramica
Exterior lighting: World Imports
Interior lighting: Halo; Elco
Insulation: Knauf Insulation
Kitchen fixtures: Rohl; Whitehaus
Landscaping irrigation: Hunter; Aqua2Use
Paints, stains, and finishes: Benjamin Moore
Plumbing and water systems: Aquatherm
Water heating: GE
Windows and doors: Sierra Pacific Windows