2022 RESIDENTIAL ARCHITECTURE AWARD: John Lum ArchitectureAuthor:Anh-Minh Le
“There’s a huge value in taking older homes that were poorly conceived and reworking them to make them relevant,” says architect John Lum, citing a recent article that suggested that “the greenest thing to do, is to be pragmatic and save as much as you can. But it’s a balancing act.”
Such was the case with a Mediterranean-style dwelling in Sausalito, built in 1991, that Lum—the founding principal of an eponymous firm based in San Francisco—was tasked with transforming. Introducing low-maintenance materials such as Kebony wood and cement plaster, Lum retained an estimated 80 percent of the existing exterior walls while still managing to conjure a modern, light-filled abode that thoroughly suits his client and showcases the spectacular vistas of the San Francisco Bay. The programming focused on designing for the residence’s then single, now married occupant and his art collection. Lum and his team, which included project architect Michael Morrison and designer Ryan Michka, also took into account that the client’s finance job allows him to work entirely from home. (Indeed, with so much of his daytime hours spent at his desk, the study was positioned to emphasize the panorama.)
Once a warren of rooms—“claustrophobic and a mess,” in the architect’s words—Lum simplified the configuration of the lower level, yielding a statement-making entrance. “You have this amazing two-story volume,” he says. “The view from the back of the house is so dramatic. My goal was to have nothing in the way of that.” From the front door, the sight line now runs past the open-plan living, dining and kitchen area—beyond which are the bay and downtown San Francisco.
In the entry, Lum relocated the staircase, devising a cantilevered design. A smoked-glass catwalk and a large skylight coax natural light into what was previously the darkest part of the house. A striking slatted sunscreen attached to the skylight is functional, reducing the heat plus filtering light, as well as aesthetic. Its V-shape “reads almost like the wings of a bird,” says Lum, who modeled both flat and angled versions of the sunscreen before ultimately proceeding with the latter.
Works by contemporary artists Jim Lambie and Tomás Saraceno come into view as you ascend the stairs. The second floor contains the primary suite, a lounge and another striking architectural element: a glass bridge that connects the 3,500-square-foot main house to the guest quarters. (On the outside, the bridge serves as a canopy for the front door.)
The interior finishes, chosen by designer Nicole Hollis, are decidedly neutral (think: shades of gray, black and white). Natural materials— such as oak flooring and cabinetry, plaster walls and a marble fireplace surround—abound. Sculptural furniture counterbalances the lines of the steel casement windows, including the living room’s curved Christophe Delcourt sofa and pair of Nakagawa Mokkougei cocktail tables.
The artwork injects color throughout, perhaps most notably beneath the stairs, where Richard Artschwager’s Exclamation Point commands attention. “I love the fact that even though it’s blue-chip-level art, it has a certain playfulness about it,” says Lum of the client’s acquisitions.
Although Lum didn’t start from scratch with this house, the end result is unrecognizable—its potential unlocked after much reimagining and reorganization, including flipping the placement of the living and dining rooms. “For me, it was obvious from the day I walked in that this is what should be done to it,” says Lum of the two-and-a-half-year undertaking. “I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been doing this for 27 years, but you kind of just know.”