Elizabeth Blish Hughes -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Much of San Francisco's Mission District hops to a hip-and-happening beat. But on the blocks where that vibe has yet to resonate, the gritty scene feels less Web 2.0, more SoHo, circa 1970. It's here that John Lum bought a 90-year-old building formerly occupied by a company that made industrial washing machines.
Though the two-story wooden structure came complete with flooding basement and leaky roof, Lum saw the potential of the 4,000-square-foot interior, now transformed with sweat equity and $160,000. "I embraced the building's funk," he says. That meant creating a balance of raw and finished, high and low.
Today, his dog-friendly studio, John Lum Architecture, occupies the first floor. The upstairs, furnished like an apartment, offers space for laid-back staff gatherings and sometimes serves as a crash pad for Lum.
The public zone, encompassing the kitchen and the living and dining areas, is an expanse of original fir flooring, now refinished. Two smaller front rooms, once one large parlor for the family that had lived above the washing-machine shop, are for brainstorming or sleeping. The two zones are unified by paint colors and furnishings that reveal Asian influences—Lum is a third-generation Chinese-American. Separating the two zones, a gray stucco-finished concrete cube contains the 90-square-foot bathroom.
Vast hand-cranked skylights turn the kitchen and the bathroom into quasi-outdoor experiences. "I can't stand dark," Lum explains. "I've lived in too many moldy, wet places."
The architect also called Florence, Italy, home for more than two years. A resulting Florentine taste for the monumental, contrasted with the improvised, guided his materials choices back in San Francisco. In the kitchen, the island is topped by a 600-pound slab of black-veined white marble. ("I knew it would stain, and it has.") The base of the island, meanwhile, is a steel frame that's barely finished; pipes, wires, and appliances remain visible, not quite hidden by a blackened-steel grille.
Lum did, however, hide the pantry, the refrigerator and freezer, and other storage behind floor-to-ceiling cabinetry with doors veneered in dark ash. "Hidden compartments appeal to me," he says. "I got the idea from a Massimo Vignelli project."
While the two runs of cabinets define the kitchen's sidewalls, its rear is a blank side of the stucco cube, a volume that appears more sculptural than functional at first glance. As Lum puts it, "You don't know what's in the box." And what is in the box? Doors on either side reveal two steel sinks and two open showers at one end, two low-flow toilets at the opposite one, and a white claw-footed tub in the middle.
Floor tile is slate, while cement plaster, an inexpensive alternative to tile, covers the walls. For tub and sink fittings, Lum looked at high-end contemporary models but opted instead for faux-Victorian ceramic knobs—amid the minimalism, they're a touch of San Francisco's hippie past. As for the sink faucets, he retained, yes, the plumber's temporary laundry hoses.