Neutra revisited

A restoration of a modern gem

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Neutra house

This San Francisco duplex glows again.

Thomas J. Story

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Writing in Sunset in 1943, Neutra explained that the success or "livability" of a house could be measured by how much living could be enjoyed in every part of it each hour of the day. It's a concept that remains significant even now.

It's hard to tell that this two-unit row house in San Francisco's Marina District was built in 1938. With its elegant lines, open plan, and floor-to-ceiling steel-framed windows, the look is strikingly clean and contemporary. And no wonder: The house was designed by Richard Neutra, one of America's foremost modern architects and the creator of some of the most iconic residences in the West. Architect Chad Overway, who purchased the building from original owner Ilse Schiff in 1993, has spent the past decade restoring the two-story upper unit where he and his wife now live.

Overway's restoration was executed with remarkable care and precision. He removed various non-Neutra-designed elements that had been added over the years, such as wall-to-wall carpeting and dated-looking tiles. He installed new appliances in the kitchen but kept to a streamlined, minimalist aesthetic. The most dramatic change came in the living room, where, after extensive research, he installed a stainless steel fireplace modeled on a design from Neutra's Nesbitt House in Southern California. "There was no fireplace in our unit or the one downstairs, and the toughest part was cutting a hole in the floor," says Overway. "But we took care not to move any structural members, so the units could be restored to their original shape."

To enhance the spaciousness of the floor plan, Overway replaced sliding doors between the dining and living areas with a long cotton-rayon curtain. His philosophy when choosing furnishings was to seamlessly integrate Neutra originals with those from other modernist architects and a few of his own designs. His extensive Neutra collection, which includes a 1939 issue of Architectural Record magazine featuring the house, was an important aid in the restoration. "After years of research and remodeling, I feel I've captured the essence of Neutra's design," Overway says. "And I've come to realize how much he has influenced my whole life."



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