Orlando Diaz-Azcuy Designs brings a thoroughly modern sensibility to a San Francisco residence on Telegraph Hill.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
ORLANDO DIAZ-AZCUY, principal of his own firm, ODA, switches between residential and commercial projects as easily as he hops a plane between San Francisco and New York, the two cities he currently calls home. Change, however, didn't always come so easily. Embarking on independent practice in 1987 following 12 years with Gensler, the now-acclaimed designer-whose silver hair, black glasses, and impeccable manners and tailoring are trademarks-found residential commissions a sought-after commodity. "In the beginning, people didn't believe I could do houses," says Diaz-Azcuy. "Now I have to turn down many residential jobs." (Commercial and product design constitute almost half of ODA's business.) In fact, the office's interdisciplinary nature proved the catalyst for the commission to design the Jacobs/Lee residence on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.
Since ODA had designed offices for attorney Mark Jacobs and his partner/father, it didn't require a huge leap of trust and imagination on Jacobs' part to extend the association into the residential arena. But the architectural component of this job made it unique. In the past, Diaz-Azcuy had consciously limited his practice to interiors, turning down frequent offers to design traditional or Mediterranean-style houses. This proposal, however, coming from a client with a keen appreciation of the Bauhaus, was too tempting to resist.
Mark Jacobs and his wife Yoo-Mi Lee approached the designer with a narrow 24-ft.-by 80-ft. lot and clear-cut desires of their own. According to Diaz-Azcuy, the clients' mandate was to create something "contemporary and simple, not complicated or futuristic." But while they wanted a contemporary look, the interior "was to be strictly traditional in its arrangement of rooms."
More specific prerequisites pertained to the organization of the 3,500-sq.-ft. structure. A three-car garage, to occupy most of the street level, was required for the owners' and their guests' cars, given San Francisco's notorious parking constraints. The second floor would be reserved for guest quarters, affording friends the freedom to come and go at will without encroaching on the living spaces or the owners' private quarters. The third level was designated as the public zone with living, dining, and kitchen areas articulated by full-height partitions but no true doors. The living room's rear placement represents another departure from the norm. Here the space profits from the spectacular view and its proximity to the impressive rock formation at the base of Coit Tower. The fourth floor houses the private quarters, in the form of a master suite and study. The roof is finished with a deck and hot tub.
The architecture of the house evolved in response to the interiors program, not vice-versa. This was certainly not a matter of "doing a box and seeing how we could divide it up," according to the designer. Diaz-Azcuy, in keeping with the quest for simplicity, built the structure using drywall over wood framing; exposed steel members span the width for support. Much of the front façade consists of blocks of fenestration producing a beacon-like glow during evening hours. In place of monolithic expanses, the designer opted for small panes of glass. This treatment, adhering to the clients' stipulated ban on window coverings, imparts a certain degree of privacy.
Inside, Diaz-Azcuy devised an equally restrained palette for an envelope of bleached oak flooring and white-painted drywall with an accent of tinted plaster along the solid stairway wall that extends the height of the house. In true Orlando fashion, the effect is spare and clean without being austere or anonymous.
In this restrained scheme, the character and interests of the clients shine through to great effect. The couple amassed a wealth of sculpture, textiles, baskets, and other artifacts when Lee had been posted in Africa in connection with a former position in the U.S. Department of the Interior. The display of this collection posed yet another challenge, as neither the designer nor the clients wanted piles of baskets or a background overwhelmed by wall hangings. The solution, neatly built into the architecture, is a frieze-like row of shelving and niches along dining room, kitchen, and living room elevations. Selected textiles are draped from wood rods. Additional pieces, stored for rotation, are housed along with tableware and linen in full-height cabinetry incorporated in one of the dining area walls. A complement of modern classics and Asian antiques yields a rich environment full of heart, soul, and style.
Built in a year for just under $1 million, this project exemplifies ODA's expanded capabilities in the residential arena. "I could have been more aggressive and cutting-edge," the designer remarks, "but I was much more interested in finding a suitable expression for these clients." The firm's projected expansion is not just professional but geographical as well. Efforts in 2001 are aimed at cultivating more work in New York, Diaz-Azcuy's second home. Principal Greg Stewart collaborated with Diaz-Azcuy on the Jacobs/Lee residence; Nestor Matthews was architect of record.