When a young San Francisco couple—a venture capitalist wife and tech executive husband, who met at a startup more than a decade ago—purchased their first home together in 2015, the small Laurel Heights condo was perfect for just the two of them. Looking to create a special first place together, the couple hired interior designer Lauren Nelson of Lauren Nelson Design to help them remodel the space with contemporary interiors anchored by a palette of blue, gray, and white. In the years following the renovation came an engagement, a marriage, and the couple’s first child—a baby girl.
“Fast-forward to 2020,” the wife says, “[and we are] now married, trapped indoors with a one-year-old in said condo during COVID. We longed for more space and a backyard and began the search during lockdown.”
The couple had always dreamed of owning a home in Presidio Heights—a family-friendly neighborhood that borders the Presidio: a 1,500-acre national park at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. So, when a property with a classic 1930s Colonial Revival–style house became available just two blocks from the park, they jumped on the chance to view it. “When we saw this house come on the market, on the same block our family friends live on, and a few short blocks from my sister and her family, we just had a feeling this was our house,” the wife recalls.
The home’s stately exterior would remain, but the interiors needed a reconfiguration. “It hadn’t been touched in decades,” the client says, “and needed quite a bit of work not only due to general upkeep but also some bizarre design choices—like a tiny primary bathroom with one sink and then a random ‘bonus’ sink in the primary closet.”
“The language of the house was good, but the scale of the rooms wasn’t great,” explains architect Stephen Sutro, who, with Melissa Kim of Sutro Architects, helped Nelson and the clients rethink the layout. “Our goal was to design a home that would serve the functional interests of a growing family—when the children are little, you need more visual control of them, but as they grow up, they can have a separate space in the house to retreat to with their friends,” Sutro explains.
Nelson tapped into the client’s love of French design to create a sophisticated but non-fussy aesthetic. “We appreciated the home’s classic architecture,” Nelson says, “and we didn’t want every room to feel like a white box—we wanted something a bit more traditional balanced by modern details. Each room has its own identity.”
What started as a nip here and a tuck there turned into a full-gut remodel, with the design team opening up the back of the house and adding glass-and-steel bifold doors in the kitchen to establish a connection with the backyard and allowing in more natural light. Plaster, marble (nine different varieties), and patterned wallpaper bring color and texture to every room, creating a rich background for a mix of custom, vintage, and ready-made furniture.
“The search for stone was our biggest challenge,” Nelson says, noting that she and the client shopped locally for material and also flew to New York, which is where they ultimately found the Calacatta Turquoise marble used for the custom bi-level, cantilever island, backsplash, and counters in the kitchen. “We said, Let’s not rush, we’re not going to buy anything unless we’re in love with it. The client’s sister found this stone, and it ended up being a diamond in the rough.”
The ground-floor public zones—living room, dining room, and kitchen—are anchored in detail, such as decorative moldings, parquet oak flooring, and a selection of Benjamin Moore paint that brings in the client’s love of color. A family room connected to the kitchen has built-in seating backed with mountain-themed Zoffany wallpaper. The dining room—one of the client’s favorite spaces in the home—was previously located at the back of the house, but Sutro moved it toward the interior, as “this tends to be where people spend the least amount of time,” she says. Rounding out the space are custom, hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper, a Lindsey Adelman chandelier, and a custom stone table. The original fireplace remains in the formal living room, but Nelson paired it with a modern marble mantle and vintage wrought-iron stools.
“Lauren said that the key was layering different periods and styles so nothing felt too ‘one-note,’” says the client, “and you wouldn’t instantly associate the home with a particular decade. This is how we’ll be able to stay in the house for 5, 10, or 20 years without it feeling dated.”
Upstairs, the primary suite is a study in softness—the plaster walls and soft gray and lavender tones inspire relaxation, while a custom mohair-upholstered bed frame adds whimsy. The client’s preschool-aged daughter helped choose the color scheme for her and her little brother’s rooms—purple and blue, respectively. The formerly unfinished basement is now a dramatic lounge, painted in a deep, jewel-toned green, with a custom, curving mohair-upholstered sofa. It’s a slight nod to the couple’s previous apartment, which had a more overtly glamorous look.
“It was fun to see this house evolve in style compared to their last one,” Nelson says. “It’s a more grown-up version of the condo, but it still captures their well-traveled, sophisticated personalities.”