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A Neglected Bay Area Home Finally Gets Its Moment in the Sun

Bay Area architect Henry Higby Gutterson’s houses have always been unorthodox—but not in the way you might think. While the early-20th-century architect’s more famous contemporaries—Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, John Hudson Thomas—were creating homes that had rustic, woody features with sleek lines and a machine aesthetic, Gutterson was looking to English Tudors, Irish cottages, French Beaux Arts, and Swiss chalet for inspiration. Rather than mimic his Californian comrade’s work, or create pastiches of these European styles, he combined the two into something else entirely. The houses weren’t particularly radical, but were well-proportioned and livable, befitting to residents and the surrounding landscape, the kind of architecture that might only be appreciated with the passage of time—and the right eyes.

So when an art collector living in Singapore set foot in a 1936 Gutterson house overlooking the San Francisco Bay with his new wife, the seaside abode’s mahogany ceiling beams, French Tudor–style detailing, and California-modern materiality completely captured their hearts. The couple purchased the house as a summer getaway for their family of five in 2018.

belvedere house

Laure Joliet

While the house’s charm had withstood the test of time, some significant reconfigurations were required to bring it up to snuff in the 21st century. The dining room was raised on a platform, which necessitated people bending down to see the view below. Upstairs, the primary bedroom suite and attic layout could be better optimized with a bigger closet area and more usable nooks. A more worrying discovery: Down in the basement, a newly discovered natural spring that runs through the property had wreaked havoc on the walls and flooring.

The couple enlisted architect Ani Wade, principal at the Northern California firm Wade Design Architects, and local interior designer Lauren Geremia to transform the space. At their first walk-through with the clients, “I walked in, looked up, and my jaw dropped,” Wade recalls. “The ceiling of that space felt like the hull of a boat that’s been put upside down, with this warm wood, and sprawling beams and boards and trusses. It’s as if you’re about to be pulled away to the water any moment.” (No surprise, Gutterson was an avid sailor.) It was obvious to both parties that the ceiling would remain intact. But ultimately, little else did.

“The ceiling of that space felt like the hull of a boat that’s been put upside down.”

Wade’s team got to work. They unified the dining area and the living room, they lowered the dining area to connect better to the view, and they installed a new steel stairway that would unite the second-level primary suite with the attic. The most important order of business, though, was to make the home connect better to the views and the surrounding landscape. In other words? More windows. “This home has 180-degree views, with the Golden Gate Bridge on your left, Mount Tamalpais on your right, and Sausalito straight across,” Wade explains. “Tragically, much of that went unseen behind walls.”

Original to the house were four diamond-shaped lead windows from the 1940s that had been through a few earthquakes and were warped. Wade and her team opted to replace them in order to retain Gutterson’s original French château charm. Additional windows were added to nearly every room, including three large modern steel windows that open up from the sides for access to the porch overlooking the bay. “It felt like a total unveiling of this can’t-be-missed view at every turn,” Wade muses.

Meanwhile as the coastal residence was transforming from a construction site to a livable dwelling, Geremia was hard at work, well, watching movies. “It was 2020 and amid the height of the Covid pandemic, and I had this projector set up in my house, and we were watching a lot of films,” she explains. But she wasn’t just mixing work and pleasure for the sake of it. In fact, film sets inspire many of Geremia’s designs. “I don’t even listen to the words,” she explains. “I’m only paying attention to the visuals.”

After stumbling upon Call Me by Your Name, Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 coming-of-age romantic drama starring Timothée Chalamet and a cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera, Geremia’s vision for this house came into focus. “The summer mansion in this movie is visceral and memorable, and I fell in love with all the yellows and greens,” she explained.

Geremia knew exactly what she would do in this Bay Area house. In her studio, she mixed gouache (a water-medium paint that has a very mineral-like quality) to get the right palette. The result? Every room in the house has a permutation of green and yellow, each a reinvention of how the colors can be combined. In the kitchen, a mint green-upholstered banquette is set against desaturated lime-colored walls. An attic dormer window is bordered by a pale green trim and a vintage hand-knotted Tibetan tiger rug from 1stDibs. Green-and-yellow de Gournay wallpaper lines the powder room against marble furnishings.

Beyond the color scheme, Geremia was given a lot of liberty to experiment, this being the family’s secondary residence. “I brought in so many items that had idiosyncratic stories behind them,” she says. “They kept saying yes.” This included a wooden bathtub sourced from a Scottish artisan and platform beds in the basement bedroom for the kids.

belvedere house

Laure Joliet

A San Francisco resident, Geremia sees the water just beyond as part of her design in a very real way. “There’s a feeling that I’m not sure is conveyed in any of the photos,” she explains. “It’s the way the house moves throughout the day, catching the sparkling reflection of the water that bounces across each room of the house. It’s pure magic.” Geremia played with that. In the loft, she commissioned a stained-glass artist to create a strip of mirror that now sits around the window frame, catching the reflection of the moving water. In the living room, opaque objects sit on the cocktail table, reflecting back the dance of light from the water outside the windows.

Gutterson’s houses, like the architect himself who was not prone to self-promotion, are spaces of quiet brilliance. “When one lives in a Gutterson house, one grows to love the house deeply,” Dee Williams-Ridley wrote in a request to the city for landmark designation in another one of Gutterson’s houses. That won’t be hard for this romantic seaside escape.

Headshot of Rachel Silva

Rachel Silva, the Assistant Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, covers design, architecture, trends, and anything to do with haute couture. She has previously written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Citywire.

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