At Home: Renovation brings light, color into Bernal Heights home 

Moldy walls and siding were among the first challenges Karen Curtiss and her husband Mark tackled after they bought a two-unit Bernal Heights tenancy-in-common.

The family has lived in their three-bedroom 1960s home on the lower floor of the house since buying the property in a short sale with longtime college friends last August.

“It was kind of falling apart ... it had a lot of rot problems ... we’ve done a lot of things to the building envelope, like build walls, windows and the roof,” Curtiss says.

The home is filled with light and color and a thoughtful array of objects that show

Curtiss’ fascination with the natural world, her appreciation for modern design and art and her transformation of unneeded conventional spaces.

Curtiss, a San Francisco-based architect with Red Dot Studio, doesn’t like a polished look.

“I don’t want it to be perfect,” she says.

Her 2-year-old daughter’s room is a combination of eye-catching modern design immediately softened by walls filled with her daughter’s artwork, and a row of steel shelves holding an array of toys.

The rows of shelves — created out of construction steel purchased and cut to order for around $100 — were once a rotted wall, Curtiss says.

A converted closet in her 4-year-old son’s room is filled with toys and books.

“Really, he needs toys, so that’s what we put in here,” Curtiss says.

In the center of the room, a mobile dangles delicate objects found on neighborhood walks, like leaves. That contrasts with a sleek and striking bowl-shaped orange Ron Arad molded chair that sits in the corner of the room, and the wall behind the bed, painted a gentle shade of teal.

The home also has an edge on originality because much of the furniture was designed and made by Karen’s father-in-law, Alan Curtiss, a retired engineer who lives in Connecticut. The deeply hued pieces have rounded edges and curves reminiscent of mid-century modern design but have a bolder, sturdier feel.

Curtiss says that in an ideal world she’d do more — a white wall between the kitchen and living room would be great if covered with wood panelling and used as a storage display for pots and pans.

That’s the hardest part about renovating the house, she adds — deciding what can be done next and what has to wait.

Style keys

Favorite room: Living room

Favorite piece of furniture: Black Eames recliner and ottoman

Favorite piece of art: 6-by-6-foot lacquered Greg Miller painting from the 2000 Woman Art Opening Venice Beach Studio

Design influence: Objects and furnishings with natural inconsistencies; modern and contemporary design

Favorite color: The blue of the Caribbean ocean

About The Author

Brigid Gaffikin

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