A Home for Art and Experimentation

The house in the Bernal Heights neighborhood in San Francisco was designed to serve as a showcase for the remarkable furniture and art collection of its occupants, as well as a laboratory for their work. The project is the product of a longstanding collaboration and friendship between Mork-Ulnes Architects and the owners, architectural photographer Bruce Damonte and interior designer Alison Damonte.

The three-story home, designed by Mork-Ulnes Architects, was conceptualized as a container for the couple’s art and furniture collection, and a laboratory for their work. The project’s brief was a 3 bedroom 3.5 bath home that showcases scenic views of San Francisco’s twin peaks and westerly sky, the intimate view of Bernal Heights neighborhood, and highlights the couple’s impressive art and furniture collection.

“We had been visually collaborating with our friend, architectural photographer Bruce Damonte, for over 15 years when he approached us with his wife (and also friend) Alison Damonte, interior designer, to renovate their house in San Francisco. We knew from the outset that this project would be an interesting collaboration, balancing our reductive tendencies with the more exuberant and maximalist impulses of our client/friends – whose style we had always admired and wanted to celebrate.” Casper Mork-Ulnes

Kitchen on the third level. Pendant | Disky 7’ by Johanna Grawunder. Custom commission. Counter stools | Visu’ by Mika Tolvanen for Muuto (contemporary Danish). Island and cabinets | Custom design by Alison Damonte with integrated pulls and natural stone Quartzite countertop/backsplash. Cabinetry by Hopebuilt; quartzite from IRG.

The previous small and purple Victorian house was replaced with a modern house that harmoniously blends with its San Francisco streetscape.

“We are grateful to have escaped the fire and to have found a phoenix in the ashes of our home,” say the home owners, Bruce and Alison Damonte. “The house became seen as a vessel for our collection of material ideas and furniture and art collected together over the years.”

The new house shares a similar silhouette with its gabled neighbors that line the steep streets and reinterprets Victorian design elements into modern features such as siding patterns and graphical fenestration. While replicating the roof forms, entry portal/ stoop, and massing of the Victorian homes, the new house also breaks from tradition with a black-painted facade and ribbon windows that visually connect the interior of the house to the neighborhood.

Living room on the third level.  Burlwood coffee table | Jean Claude Mahey (vintage 70’s French). Acquired from French vintage dealer in Marrakesh.

As demonstrated in numerous projects by Mork-Ulnes Architects, tradition is reinterpreted here with a decidedly contemporary perspective, where formal research and construction techniques are integral to creating an original and innovative outcome that engages its surroundings while also prompting further inquiry.

The volume of the home is thoroughly modern; abstracted and simplified, it is a large geometric object giving a hint to the architectural language and collection of objects inside.

Lower hallway on the first level. Coat rack | AT16 model by Orswaldo Borsani for Tecno (vintage 60’s Italian). Acquired from dealer in San Marino. Black armchair | Josef Hoffmann, model 826, J. & J. Kohn, Austria, 1914 Acquired from Rago Auction. Vase | Untitled Vessel (Twisted Box) by Cody Hoyt. Acquired at auction.

“For the exterior, the charredblack painted silhouette of this Bernal Heights home was intended to take cues from its quintessential San Francisco neighbors. The proportions, scale, and massing is derived from its gabled neighbors that step up the steep typical San Francisco streetscape, but reinterpret Edwardian design cues into more abstract decorative elements like siding patterns and solid-void composition. The intention being that the house would slip into the void that was created when the fire destroyed the former Edwardian home.” Casper Mork-Ulnes

The interiors of the house were designed to create a vitrine for the couple’s art and furniture collection, and space to showcase their interest in materials and textures. The house’s central curved and sculpted staircase allows light from the third-floor skylight to funnel and refract down to the ground floor, creating an ambiance that reflects the couple’s creative spirit.

A unique program
Initially conceived as a gallery for art and furniture and a laboratory for decorative experiments for two design enthusiasts, this 3 bedroom 3.5 bath home also includes a disco-inspired music parlor, a photography studio, and a penthouse great room which opens to views of both a San Francisco panorama and its Victorian neighborhood.

A central curved and sculpted staircase allows light from the third floor skylight to funnel and refract down to the ground floor with half-polished chrome slats bouncing mirrored reflections around the stairwell — a request of Alison, to mimic the experience of walking through a disco ball.

Already with fantastic city views from the original home’s second level, the owners wanted to capitalize on the even better views from the new third level and celebrate the vast views west of San Francisco’s Mission and Twin Peaks, and east towards the more intimate view of Bernal Heights.

Rigorous architecture, vibrant interiors
The interior architecture, a collaboration between Mork-Ulnes Architects and the studio of Alison Damonte, is also based on objects. Mork-Ulnes set the formal and volumetric stage with an organization of simplified objects, allowing Alison Damonte to outfit them with materials and finishes in line with her vision for the interior.

The owners opted for a flipped floor plan with the lowest level providing privacy for a primary suite and small, sunken garden; the second level containing the entry, guest room and more intimate rooms for entertaining and leisure; and the new third story penthouse living space and kitchen offering the most transparency with both distant views of Noe Valley and Twin Peaks and closer views of the neighboring houses and Bernal Hill.

Powder room on the third level. Wallpaper | Curiosite 1 by Nobilis. Mirror | Custom mirro by Andrew Molleur. Sink | Lusso Stone. Plumbing fixtures | La Cava.

Offering a compelling counterpoint to the restraint and rigor of the architecture, each room in the home offers a tactile, vibrant experience of color, furnishings and art. Objects clad in textures, patterns and materiality reflect the owners’ collective creative spirit. The finishes and furnishings are quirky, tactile, and colorful complementing the owners’ collection of emerging and established artists and Art Deco, Mid-Century Italian, Scandinavian, Post-Modern and Contemporary furniture.

A house designed with sustainability in mind
The house is built with sustainability in mind, with over 65% of the original vertical wall structure preserved and re-used. It has operable glazed walls on the upper floor to allow complete cross-ventilation, and the central stair void acts as a chimney circulating air through the whole building. Operable exterior solar shading provides respite from the home’s sunny southern exposure.

The house features solar panels covering the roof that provide electric energy to the house, supply a power wall battery with energy to use during peak surge hours and feed power back to the grid when not in use. The project also has highperformance energy-efficient windows and low-energy emitting appliances.

From left to right: Casper Mork-Ulnes, Bruce Damonte, Alison Damonte, Lexie Mork-Ulnes.

Other images can be seen in the gallery down below


Project name: The Silver Lining House
Location: Bernal Heights, San Francisco, California, USA
Architect: Mork-Ulnes Architects
Project design team: Casper Mork-Ulnes, Lexie Mork-Ulnes, Phi Van Phan, Gregoriy Ladigin
Interior designer: Alison Damonte
Project consultants
Construction Manager: Raffi Nazarian
Landscape Architect: Terremoto
Structural Engineer: Santos & Urritia
Lighting Design: PritchardPeck
General contractor: Rico’s General Construction, Inc.
Cabinetmaker: Hopebuilt

Project data
Site size: 1,634 square feet / 152 square meters
Building footprint: 2,818 square feet / 262 square meters

Photography: Bruce Damonte