One trend we noticed in this year’s AIA Homes Tours in San Francisco was how the frugal use of floor space and an abundance of natural light can add volume to otherwise downsized floor plans. Boor Bridges Architects managed to do just this in the adaptive re-use of a 1940s tap dancing studio, formerly used by famed dancer Betty Mae, into a kind of urban luxury cottage marked by modern minimalism and subtle hints of years past.

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The surprisingly small 860 square foot structure along Ames Alley in San Francisco had no yard and few opportunities to penetrate the walls for added light. A classic exercise of solids and voids used for architectural delineation, architect Seth Boor arranged wood tiled walls and dramatic skylights to define the various spaces within the cottage.

Shafts of light from above add volume to the downsized living quarters and a central hearth becomes the focal point of the cottage, while shielding the sleeping area behind. The roof was raised 18”, further adding volume to the space, and salvaged wood from the previous roof structure has been used as interior cladding on the central hearth.

A second dramatic skylight over the bathroom actually penetrates through the roof deck above to an optimal table top height, and a vertical succulent garden installation by Flora Grubb adds intrigue to the light court off the single sleeping room. The open sky court also connects with a roof garden above via a ladder running up the wall of the court, and a deep-set outdoor tub, by local Berkeley expert Mark Rogero of Concreteworks, brings a private luxury aspect to the project.

The original solid maple floors remain intact after enduring some 30 years of tiny dancers, and relics of the former studio, such as the students’ shoe-changing bench, have found new use in the current incarnation of the place.

These tactics of using taller volumes and shafts of light allow the cottage to breathe and feel more open, despite its minimal existing footprint. The architects also installed a planting strip in front, further shielding the cottage from the alley and enhancing the biophiliac component of the project.

Indeed, this modern-day urban sanctuary pays homage to it’s former years, while incorporating simple, sustainable features to accommodate a hip health-conscious lifestyle with all the modern amenities an urban heaven should have.

+ Boor Bridges Architecture

+ AIA Architecture and the City Festival 2009

Photos by Marion Brenner