A Celebration of the San Francisco 1950’s Box House

Just this past weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle featured San Francisco 1950s box houses in the article “Little Boxes, A Different Kind of Painted Ladies.” See the link here. They praised their lack of appreciation and ubiquitousness. When we saw this, we were thrilled! Finally, these great houses are being noticed.

What the article did not mention is the rectangular form, in its simplicity as exemplified in the box house, is a very easy form to work with from a design point of view. There is so much potential for making the space efficient, opening up to views and improving the flow. With a Victorian, there are many more small rooms with a much more complicated structure and consequently they are more difficult to work with.

San Francisco 1950’s Box houses typically have a garage on the main floor and a living space with kitchen and 2 bedrooms upstairs. They also have a single load bearing wall right down the middle of the plan. This was done to save money by splitting loads equally and being very economical with their use of lumber. Once this middle wall is considered, the opportunities come forward to have a modern wide open living space.

The Mid Century box house facades are also simple horizontal forms that can be interpreted as a blank canvas, ready for modern creativity.

Several years ago, when we looked for a house to live in, we decided we only wanted this style of house. We take this opportunity now to exhibit what we did with our own house to illustrate the great potential of this common San Francisco gem.

San Francisco Box House
San Francisco Mid Century

Below is a before plan showing the u-shaped kitchen, a small dining area and center wall. Arriving at the top of stairs one faced a bathroom and the wasted space of the small landing.

Mid Century Plan

The new plan shows a single change that greatly improves the efficiency and flow of the plan. The bearing wall in the center of the plan is removed, the kitchen is made into a galley with more storage than previously and the new wall dividing kitchen and living space aligns with the bathroom creating a feature art wall that is seen when arriving up the stairs. The living space is enlarged and there is a more open flow of the spaces.

San Francisco Remodel