Moving on Up
On a Cow Hollow rooftop, and indoor-outdoor pied-à-terre makes the most of 270-degree views.
By Leilani Labong – The story starts with a magnificent, albeit ubiquitous, San Francisco scene: On a sunny autumn day in 2002, friends gather on a rooftop in Cow Hollow for an impromptu barbecue set against views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and Alcatraz. In addition to transporting the grill and a few chairs to the otherwise bare roof, partygoers—among them, local architect William Duff—also muscled a couch from the host’s flat below through a stairway. “I was sitting on the couch watching the sunset and thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this every day?’” recalls Duff.
Duff’s hypothetical musings about building a year-round indoor-outdoor structure eventually led to a green light for a simple rooftop entertaining space-cum-guest bedroom. However, a sudden job offer in Los Angeles for the homeowner threw a wrench in the plans—sort of. “He didn’t want to give up his San Francisco residence, but felt the property was too big to keep just for himself,” Duff says. “We reconceived the structure as a pied-à-terre that would allow him to rent out the main flat, but still have his own San Francisco retreat.” The updated blueprints for the suite featured a small kitchenette inside the closet and a triple-duty built-in cabinet that stores clothing while also serving as an entertainment center and work space. The master bath was expanded to include two large sinks, a large tub and a separate, glass-enclosed shower with skylights.
After a yearlong construction process, a modern aerie of wood, steel and glass crowns the Marina-style building. “My favorite part is how well it functions as an indoor-outdoor space,” says Duff. The north-facing folding glass door by Mill Valley–based NanaWall Systems opens onto the 500-square-foot redwood deck, nearly doubling the studio space. “Even when closed, the indoor-outdoor connection is maintained because the glass lets in fantastic amounts of sunlight.” Besides this inherent energy-saving attribute, the showpiece also presents a rare full-circle moment, Duff says: “a clear view of that incredible 270-degree seascape that inspired this project in the first place.”