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Roughing It No More

Where once there was a safari tent, now a Norwegian-inspired cabin calls.


“We wanted to expose the [steel] moment frames to tell the structural story of the house,” says architect Emily Huang.

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A Montis dining table is paired with chairs by Hay and Artek. One of the homeowners describes the Gervasoni light fixtures as “big rattan bells.”

Photo: Paul Dyer

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In the living room, a Gubi pendant lamp hangs above a walnut coffee table by Inverness native Ido Yoshimoto. The gray sofa is from B&B Italia.

Photo: Paul Dyer

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The master bathroom contains a hinoki wood ofuro—a Japanese-style soaking tub—that is three and a half feet wide and four feet deep. The wall tiles are by Heath Ceramics.

Photo: Paul Dyer

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The master bedroom is lit by a 46-inch-wide Noguchi paper lantern. The bed is from Ruby Beets, while the chair is a Blu Dot design.

Photo: Paul Dyer

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Eight years ago, a pair of city-weary Castro dwellers purchased two and a half acres of land on top of Inverness Ridge and pitched a roomy safari tent. The couple would take their kids, now 9 and 12, up there for weekend campouts and summer getaways. When the family eventually decided to build a proper home on the site in 2013, they didn’t want to lose that roughing-it spirit. “We loved being so immersed in nature,” says one of the owners, who prefer not to be named. “We wanted a place that’s not precious. Somewhere the kids could still roll around in the dirt.”

The family enlisted Emily Huang and Greg Iboshi of Huang Iboshi Architecture, who had previously renovated their Victorian in San Francisco. “Our mission,” Huang says, “was to maximize the views while minimizing the home’s overall footprint.” The structure’s design was largely inspired by a cabin in northern Norway that one of the homeowners had visited as a child. “I gravitate toward simplicity and natural materials,” the client says. “Spaces that feel modern but warm.”

The exterior is sheathed in naturally weathered Alaskan yellow cedar, while the interior incorporates whitewashed plywood and white oak. In their effort to emphasize the surrounding views, the architects started by selecting the windows: a series of industrial-style Fleetwood panes, chosen for their durability. The aluminum frames were given a custom dark bronze finish, an aesthetic that carries over inside the house. The home’s centerpiece is the custom wood-burning Rumford fireplace, which is clad in a thin layer of blackened hot-rolled steel (and emits less smoke than a standard model). 

With coastal zone guidelines capping the roof height at 18 feet, Huang and Iboshi devised a clever solution to the sloped site: a bi-level layout with a loft that overlooks the living room. The loft’s gabled ceiling slants from eight feet at its peak to three feet on either side. While that can be a “head knocker” for adults, jokes Huang, it’s ideal as a reading nook or sleepover space for the kids. (It was recently filled with a gaggle of girls for a 12th birthday party.) Throughout, the home’s decor melds contemporary furniture by local designers with vintage pieces from the owners’ collection. Case in point: The living room’s slab coffee table and side tables were custom-made by Inverness artist Ido Yoshimoto, while the framed botanical prints were handed down by the homeowner’s mother, a former high school biology teacher in Norway.

At less than 2,000 square feet, the house is filled with cozy alcoves—a custom window seat here, a tidy office nook there—each with stunning views of the meadow, woods, and valley beyond. The backyard, once the site of family campouts, now holds an outdoor dining area surrounded by vegetable plots and young fruit trees. And off to one side, tucked in a shady glen, the safari tent remains.

Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco

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