A Circa-1894 Victorian Gets a Fresh, Family-Friendly Upgrade

Architect Ken Linsteadt and interior designer Marie Turner Carson gave a Victorian house a fresh, family-friendly upgrade.It all began with a handwritten note. A young family was charmed by a large Victorian shingle-style house in their neighborhood and decided to let the homeowners know that if they ever felt like selling, eager buyers awaited. It turned out to be impeccable timing. The owners were, in fact, ready to move on, and very soon, the family was in search of an architect to help them breathe new life into this beautiful—but somewhat dilapidated—home.

That’s when pen and paper reentered the story for the second time. Hoping to undertake a renovation that would respect the home’s Victorian legacy, while creating an interior suited to life with three children and plenty of guests, the homeowners invited several architects to come up with a preliminary concept. They were quickly swept away by San Francisco architect Ken Linsteadt’s hand-drawn sketches, which “came alive on the page,” as they put it. Together, Linsteadt and the clients set about transforming the historic 1894 home.

Linsteadt brought the exterior of the house—complete with wraparound porch—back to its full Victorian glory. The original windows and detailing were restored, and the exterior was given a cohesive, contemporary look with a warm, rich gray that extends to the window frames and shingles. At the back of the house, a new extension allows for a big kitchen and family room, the latter with doors that open onto an expansive terrace featuring a lounge area and a cozy fire pit. The result is the perfect setting for the family’s hospitable lifestyle, which encompasses everything from children’s sleepovers to elegant parties that spill out onto the beautiful terrace and lawn beneath the California oaks (a recent benefit featured Rickie Lee Jones singing outside on a balmy summer evening).

Inside the house, Linsteadt and interior designer Marie Turner Carson of M. Elle Design replaced cramped proportions and dark colors with bright, flexible spaces that still nod gracefully to the home’s architectural heritage. “We wanted to pay homage to the detailing,” says Linsteadt, “but make it lighter and fresher.” In the new, south-facing kitchen, stainless units have a clean, galley feel, but are balanced by the traditional overtones of a built-in dish cabinet (inspired by Victorian design) and open oak shelving. Oversize subway tile, cut from pure white Thassos marble, adds an understated, modern sensibility. “It’s also a great backdrop for reflecting light, making that space luminous,” says Carson.

The rooms flow easily from the kitchen—where, the client notes, “90 percent of our guests want to hang out”—out onto the terrace, and through French doors into the great room. Linsteadt and Carson designed the great room, in particular, for flexibility. Back-to-back sofas engage the fireplace on one side and a library-like area with a piano on the other to create smaller, more intimate settings that can easily be adapted into a single unified space for parties. Meanwhile, a built-in banquette in the big bay window, covered in a smoky-blue Holly Hunt cotton-velvet, is an enticing spot for a quiet read. Seating covered in linen, cotton and leather in a palette of soft creams, browns, blues and grays, feels “luxurious yet approachable,” says Carson. Calm, natural colors and fabrics help create the relaxed, comfortable feel that was at the top of the clients’ wish list.

And the party doesn’t stop with the house. A short pathway through fragrant citrus trees leads to the pool and newly built guest cabana. It houses a delightfully secluded guest suite, casual kitchen and dining space, creating a welcoming gathering place by the pool.

The project embraces everything that its owners wanted to accomplish. They look back on the harmonious process with Linsteadt and Carson with fondness, recalling: “It was so much fun. We were all sad when the work ended!” When a homeowner is sad to see longterm visitors depart, that’s a sign of a truly hospitable home.

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Heritage House.