The pneumatic-vacuum elevator is for Marlene, who is 74. Her house—set into a hill—is on three levels, and there are steep interior staircases that connect the floors and that aren’t adjacent to each other.
The elevator cost $45,000 installed, and the project total was $245,000. She had found this elevator, and the first question was: could it get into the house? Where would it go in the house? And how would the house be altered? [The family room is 800 square feet—divided between interior and exterior space—and the two upstairs floors are about 1,900 square feet.]
The trick to remodeling is to be seamless and anonymous, to not show what you altered, and that’s what we always strive for. The elevator sits in the corner of the dining room in the original structure of the house, and the dining room overhangs the two bottom floors by four feet, so we had to do a small [48” x 54”] addition for the enclosure. That eventually led to us developing the whole downstairs because we had to put a new foundation under the back of the house.
The thing that’s interesting is that the three floors have different color palettes, different finishes, and you can see this through the clear acrylic tube as you travel up and down in the elevator. This created an issue as to how we were going to tie this together in the little addition.
The middle floor, her master bedroom, has a faux cathedral ceiling in it with exposed beams. When you would step into what used to be her closet—which is now where the addition is—that just opens right on up and you see the bottom of the floor of the dining room. So we had this problem of, “How do we transition the master bedroom with these exposed beams coming down to this other ceiling line?”
I looked at it for a really long time. We started in March, and I was looking at it until August. Then I realized that we could just use the bottom of the rafter as the bottom of the cased opening, and the trim ties it all together. We’ve created it so that when you walk into her bedroom, you cannot believe it wasn’t originally installed in the 1930s. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
The most challenging part was probably dealing with San Francisco’s building department. There’s an odd bureaucracy here. You had to use the blue-tongue method, where Allan Jones, the project architect, or I would speak to the official and the other would bite the tip of his tongue between his teeth and not say anything. When the edge would get into the other guy’s voice, then we would switch so that we would never become impolite.
The part I was most pleased with was the client’s reaction. We’ve altered Marlene’s house so she can now get to everywhere that is necessary in 10 steps from the elevator. At some point this will be essential for her. It was very satisfying extending Marlene’s use of her home. ABQ