When Susan Jackson’s missionary parents left China in 1950, they were given a special gift: a tall watercolor print featuring five dramatic tigers. Chinese characters read “Thank you” and “Goodbye.” The family photo, as she calls it, now hangs in the brightly lit stairwell of the Marina district home, which she shares with her partner, Ian Birchall, and their adorable black puppy, Rocky. Birchall, of Ian Birchall & Associates, is the designer of the unit and architect of the building.
Jackson is an accomplished playwright and a popular instructor of theater arts at City College of San Francisco, so it’s fitting that one would find a bound set of mini Shakespearean plays on a living room windowsill, a delightful pale green dancing figure hanging high above the atrium, and her San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award next to an upright piano. Jackson is especially fond of the gallery of family photographs she and Birchall have amassed there. And while the modern two-story unit uses clean lines and avant-garde fixtures and furnishings throughout, it’s areas such as these that add warmth and a personal touch to the creative couple’s home.
The Marina district pair have collected wooden cats along their travels, which they intersperse throughout their living space, from the upstairs living room and kitchen to the downstairs bedroom and office. Jackson does her playwriting amidst these characters, which add whimsy and a bit of nostalgia for the different places they’ve been, including South Africa and Australia.
The expansive kitchen window is the setting for several Chinese Scion figures brought from China by Jackson’s parents. At some distance behind them are the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts: a particularly lovely view by night, accented with Birchall’s expert lighting design.
Their love of the outdoors is apparent as well. Birchall brings the outdoors in with a “rainforest bathroom” of natural elements: soft black rocks underfoot, stone wall interiors and greenery. Outdoors, dual balconies overlook a Birchall-designed courtyard with Japanese beech trees, bamboo and intricate stone paths.
There is, indeed, a lot to love about the Birchall-Jackson residence — and even with all of the “cats,” Rocky, the dog, loves it too.
So, which of the five tigers is Jackson? “I’m the one facing the audience,” she says.
Susan Jackson and Ian Birchall
Design philosophy: Always have space with natural light
Favorite decorating store: ABC in New York City
Favorite piece: The piano, which holds family photos and memorabilia, including the ashes of a former dog
Favorite colors: Neutrals with splashes of other colors