Two San Francisco Professionals Take on a Mission District Victorian Home Remodel

Moving east from San Francisco’s popular Dolores Park area toward grittier Potrero Avenue was not a big leap for 40-something film- and design-world executives Kate Shaw and Dav Rauch.

Their old neighborhood, affordable in 1998 when they moved in, had been an outpost similar to the new one. In the back-alley entrance to the two-unit building they’d owned with friends, “we had to step over squatters to get inside the front door,” Shaw recalls.

But by 2012, Dolores Park and the Mission District had become the epicenter of hipness, and the couple’s appreciated equity enabled them to sell their share in the building and then buy their own Potrero 1880s Victorian, close to an elementary school for their sons Silas and Townes.

San Francisco Remodel: Kate Shaw and Dav Rauch
Kate Shaw and Dav Rauch poured low-maintenance black gravel in the backyard and added boardwalks linking the main house to the tiny two-story back cottage. A fruitless cherry tree and a vintage rose vine both existed.

Although the “new” 2,000-square-foot house, with an illegal unit in the basement, was crumbling, it also came with a dilapidated 600-square-foot back cottage and a large yard, crowded with an ancient climbing rose vine, a sour cherry tree and a neighbor’s overflowing fig tree. It all offered possibilities — an endless supply of homemade Fig Newtons, for instance — and challenges.

They were not afraid of the latter. Shaw and Rauch met in Prague in 1995 and subsequently worked for Lucasfilm; she is now a director of learning for Airbnb, and he, an avid animator, directs product development for industrial design firm Ideo. So, combining their creative acumen and home-making insights, they refinished floors, painted walls and moved in to strategize what would happen next.

San Francisco Remodel
The living room is separated from the open-plan kitchen and dining area by new bookshelves above that Rauch conceals a film projector. Half the dining room is painted white for Shaw, including the ceiling, and the other half is charcoal gray for Rauch. The live-edge dining table is by Original Timber paired with Eames chairs. Beyond the table, through an opening in the wall where a window used to be, you can glimpse Rauch’s home office and beyond it, the neighbor’s fig tree that spreads into their backyard. The pendant lamp is by Tom Dixon.

Working first with YamaMar Architecture on the cottage design and then with SF Design Build on the rest, they began to play. They dovetailed a new garage into their basement and camouflaged it to look like an existing bay window from the outside so it would not mar the historic facade. Simultaneously, the rear cottage — reclassified as a second dwelling unit — was stripped and redesigned as an open-plan living space with a loft bedroom that became the family’s temporary home and command central for the next year of remodeling.

“It was stressful but fun,” Shaw says. “We were right there and the crew got to be our family. They even tried to teach our boys Spanish.”

San Francisco Remodel — kitchen
A waterfall kitchen island of marble is where Rauch likes to roll out pastry. The inset backsplash behind the stove is also of marble. Open wood shelves laden with Heath vessels keep the Ikea kitchen, fitted with sturdy stainless steel counters, airy.

The children did not become bilingual, but they clearly absorbed building — and demolition — lessons.

After a weekend trip when their boys stayed home with a relative, Shaw and Rauch returned to find their old deck railings gone — hacked away by their energetic kids, just 7 and 4 at the time. “It looked like a beaver had attacked the deck and torn it apart it with teeth,” Shaw recalls with a shudder.

Unexpected turns notwithstanding, the first phases of construction went smoothly, in part because building codes overruled aesthetics. There was no arguing with that. However, the interiors became a war of Shaw and Rauch’s different worlds.

San Francisco Remodel — art
Ohio Design barstools around the island allow informal dining. From the dining room, you can see the Fauvist colored encaustic Villa Lagoon tiles that cover the powder room walls.

Although after living in the space awhile the couple knew what they wanted, they did not always agree on how to get there. “Dav and I have strong feelings about design and execution,” Shaw explains. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and always lived in the same house, whereas Rauch’s parents — serial remodelers in Santa Barbara — had often thrust him on the front lines of innovation and change.

“I wanted left and he wanted right; I wanted white and he wanted black. But we found ways to converge,” Shaw says.

A common goal: reconfiguring the main home’s rear section, as well as removing a wall between the dining and kitchen area for modern living without giving up any of the Victorian scale and charm.

San Francisco Remodel — living room
The dark living room with a wood-burning Jotul stove suits Rauch’s taste but also doubles as a home theater. A midcentury bentwood and white-leather chair is a Shaw family heirloom. The gray couch is by Capellini, and the other, covered in green wool, by EQ3.

Still, they spent agonizing hours choosing matching trims, ceiling medallions, replacement windows and doors. Professional team-builder Shaw systematically gathered and organized literally thousands of selections on Pinterest, and handyman Rauch mocked up many of them in situ. They agreed on an eclectic mix of classic and modern fixtures and finishes.

Along with Jessica Johnson of SF Design Build, who sometimes played referee, they also settled on functional ways to make the new spaces feel like the old. These entailed several compromises, including unconventional paint treatments. The kitchen is all white, the way Shaw likes it, and the living room, which has new built-in bookcases, is charcoal gray so Rauch can enjoy a martini in a man-cave darkness suited to the room’s dual purpose as a home theater. “I love watching movies there. They are an extension of telling stories around a fire,” he says.

San Francisco Remodel — Jill Greenberg photo
A photograph above, of one of the couple’s boys, is by Jill Greenberg. Near it, a side table made from an acacia tree stump is by John Dufficy.

Meanwhile, the dining room is a Solomonic “baby” divided in two. It has both white and charcoal gray walls; on the ceiling, the two colors meet diagonally.

For the back porch, which doubles as a home office, “the solution was to keep original window openings and replicate the exterior siding that used to be there,” Johnson says. “New old-fashioned paned windows (even the thickness of their mullions was a big consideration for them) help to frame garden and back cottage views and let in light.”

San Francisco Remodel — bedroom
The small master bedroom has an inset shelf in lieu of bedside tables with custom onefortythree lights.

A reconfigured powder room in the porch section has a nostalgic utility sink and boldly colored Mexican encaustic wall tiles in a herringbone pattern chosen by Shaw; it “feels new and old at the same time,” Rauch notes. “The tiles, although visually high-risk, are in a low-risk space.”

The kitchen, perhaps the most important room because “we cook and dine together every night,” Shaw observes, became Rauch’s department: His mother, a professional caterer, had exposed him to “real” kitchens that are durable and made to be fully practical. “My mother’s kitchen was meant for heavy use, and I learned to cook there. I also wanted materials that were not precious and would withstand serious use and remain usable 50 years from now,” he says.

San Francisco Remodel — bathroom
In the bathroom white hexagonal Clé tiles cover the walls. A sliding barn door saves space.

So, stainless steel counters and a commercial-style Wolf range like one his mother had are reprised. Stained hardwood floors, open wood shelving and an island with a Carrara marble top add softer notes but are also practical. “You can easily roll dough on such stone,” Rauch says.

Upstairs are other signs of happy détente. Three small existing bedrooms remain unchanged, but the lower halves of their bare wood doors are each painted with different colors the couple could agree on.

By absorbing part of the hallway, they created a bathroom large enough for the family to crowd in before the boys are rushed off in a cargo bike to school. Its walls of large hexagonal encaustic tiles and its sliding door and backsplashes of cedar can all take a beating. Modeled after a bathroom they used in a vacation home in Buenos Aires, “it also has a claw-foot bathtub, an open curb-less shower and a large communal sink,” Rauch says, with a Cheshire Cat grin. “Bonding happens in banal moments when you brush your teeth together.”

San Francisco Remodel — kids bedroom
The great divide continues upstairs in the bedrooms and the family bathroom, where walls and doors are painted or tiled half dark and half light. In the children’s room the bunk bed is by Room and Board.


This article originally appeared in Spaces Magazine.


Zahid Sardar brings a range of design interests and keen knowledge of Bay Area design culture as the editor-in-chief of SPACES magazine. He is a San Francisco editor, curator and author specializing in global architecture, interiors, landscape and industrial design. His work has appeared in The New York Times, numerous design publications as well as the San Francisco Chronicle for which he served as an influential design editor for 22 years. Sardar serves on the San Francisco Decorator Showcase design advisory board. 


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