Get dozens of ideas for high green style from our cutting-edge San Francisco Idea House

Tour: eco-design goes glam
E. Spencer Toy

In deserts, mountains, and suburbs over the past 10 years, Sunset has built Idea House projects ranging from big homes to cottages. But our San Francisco Idea House, set in the city’s Mission District, is our first truly urban dwelling. And it’s our first home modeled on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green-building principles.

Idea House builder and owner Robin Wilson wanted an energy-efficient place to call home. Enter Sunset and San Francisco architect John Lum, who devised a main house with a one-bedroom apartment on one end.

The home’s power comes from solar panels and a wind turbine installed in the backyard. A rainwater-catchment system channels roof runoff into two underground cisterns. And in the garage, a Phill system lets you fill up a natural gas-powered car overnight.


“We pulled as many green ideas as possible into a single house,” Wilson says. “We know that may not be reasonable for most people. But we wanted to show that there’s a whole lot you can do right now.”

Idea to steal #1: use wood above & below
FSC-certified Santa Maria tropical hardwood on the ceiling warms the large, open room; on the floor, it visually divides the space.

Hidden storage
Frosted blue-glass sliding panels provide concealed storage space and visual continuity with the adjacent clerestory windows.

Mix and match
A locally made teak dining table is surrounded by white and blue Eames molded-plastic chairs with chrome bases, exemplifying the array of materials and colors throughout the space.

Bright passage
The stairwell is an energy-efficient, ground-to-roof light well, thanks to channel-shaped glass panels filled with insulating Nanogel aerogel, which also reduces noise from the bustling city streets.

Hidden storage
Frosted blue-glass sliding panels provide concealed storage space and visual continuity with the adjacent clerestory windows.

Well grounded
The mocha-colored floors are made of a ⅛-inch-thick overlay of cement, providing a smooth, reflective contrast to the grainy wood and plush wool rugs.

Hint of green
Low-water succulents are set in a built-in trough atop a two-sided steel shelf, bringing the garden indoors for an organic feel.

Interior views
A blue wall with tranquil bird paintings by local artist David Tomb complements the third floor’s cityscapes. Wall paint is Serenata from Benjamin Moore’s low-VOC Aura line. 


Architect John Lum’s plans maximize natural light and airflow on each of the three levels, with rooms leading off an open, central stairway.


Taking full advantage of the Western climate, outdoor areas function as additional rooms, extending the livable footprint of the house and providing alfresco venues for family activities. 


In one corner of the third floor, ample work surfaces and storage blend with chef-worthy GE appliances for the serious cook, while an extra-large island, festive lighting, and a direct connection to the deck make it ideal for entertaining.

Idea to steal #3: add unexpected color
A cheerful hue on island cabinetry keeps the sophisticated kitchen from feeling austere and links to other elements in the space.


Everyone loves a place for a warm soak and a little peace and quiet. The spa bath is a private retreat, with watery blue tiles, warm ipe wood, and enough room to relax.

Idea to steal #4: mix tile types
Evoking rippling water, aqua glass tiles frame a wall of sculptural ceramic tiles in rich blue, giving the space an artful focal point.Sauna-style seating
FSC-certified ipe on the bench, floor, and tub surround serves as a grounding element to the tiles’ gleam.

Tub for two
An extra-deep whirlpool soaking tub is bathed in natural light from a large frosted-glass window, creating the ultimate relaxation spot.


Like bubbles floating up from the lap pool on the ground floor, circles of glass, tile, and steel ascend toward the roof in key locations in the main house and apartment, adding elegance here, whimsy there, and softening modern edges throughout.


A palette of energetic hues is on bold display in the girl’s bedroom and craft room, where walls, floors, cabinetry, and furniture get an infusion of vivid color and set a playful mood.


It’s a way of life for many city dwellers. The 1,229-square-foot apartment unit of our Idea House captures the eco-mindedness and modern design of the main house but focuses on multi-functional solutions for tighter quarters.


From the moment you walk through the front door, the backyard – visible through a wall of folding glass doors – is the prime focus. A dramatic mix of colors, materials, and destinations turns a small city garden into an urban oasis.

Idea to steal #8: add a raised platform
A bridge of composite Trex decking, made from sawdust and plastic bags, allows room for a water feature without sacrificing ground space.

Pattern and color
Repeating rectangles in steppingstones, pond shapes, and deck space make a quiltlike pattern. Neutral colors are a calm backdrop for the palette of greens and blues used in plants, tile, and the lounge chair.

High and low
The trick to making this small garden seem bigger was to bring in visual points of interest at varying heights. The tiled fountain wall reaches well above the surrounding fence, and plants from Monrovia are bedded at multiple levels. Even the walkway gets an extra dimension with the central bridge deck.


Rich color in the backyard comes from materials as well as plants, extending the feel of the house all the way to the back fence and fountain wall. 



Architect/interior designer
John Lum Architecture or 415/558-9550

Meridian Builders & Developers or 415/826-1007

Landscape architect
Arterra or 415/861-3100

Green mechanical design
Sustainable Spaces or 415/294-5380

Charity partner
One Brick


Bamboo Sourcery

Barn-door track hardware

Design Public

Lochinvar Corporation


Central-vacuum installer
Modern Day Built-in Vacuums 650/551-1447

Channel glass
Technical Glass Products

Clean-water system
Sylvan Source

Concrete counters

Concrete-floor stain
Creations in Concrete 916/834-0793

Concrete floor tile

Construction equipment
Cresco Equipment Rentals 415/920-2801

Construction photography
Imaging Perspective

Debris boxes
Sunset and Golden Gate Debris Box

Deck/fence builder
FencePro 415/468-8485

Decorative painter
Cunningham Design 415/970-0541

Denatured-alcohol fireplace
Innovations m2 602/795-0847

Dining table
Laura Rittenhouse Studio Furniture

Drip irrigation

Ekopavers/landscape materials
Peninsula Building Materials 408/246-0550

Residential Elevators 310/597-8267

Entry/interior doors
TruStile Doors

Sina Pearson Textiles; Sunbrella

Fabric wall coverings
Planet Profil

Fine art
David Tomb; Eleanor Harwood Gallery; Paulson Press; Peter Andrea

Floor tile

Fly-ash concrete
Bode Concrete

Forest Stewardship Council-certified building materials
Sierra Point Lumber 415/468-1000

FSC-certified wood
Columbia Forest Products; EarthSource Forest Products

Design Within Reach; Room & Board; Propeller

Garage door

Garage-door contractor
Chandler Garage Door Services 510/657-8700

Glass backsplash
GlassKote USA

Glass treads
Pulp Studio

Gray-water/rainwater-catchment system
Dig Cooperative 510/541-7278

Green-permit expediter
Quickdraw Permit Consulting

Green-roof drainage layers

Robert H. Peterson Company 800/332-0240 

Hardwood-floor installer
LJ Floors 916/484-5683

Home-energy monitoring system
Greater Than Green

House wrap
DuPont Tyvek

Irrigation-system equipment
The Urban Farmer Store

Landscape/irrigation installation
Daniel Harder and Sons Landscape Construction

Lap pool
Endless Pools

LED chandelier
One Off Furniture in collaboration with Dogfork Lamp Arts (415/431-6727)

LED chandelier lighting
Holly Solar Products + Suntronics

Lighting controls
Artemide; Control4; EQ3; Eurofase; Resolute; YLighting

Metal roof
Custom-Bilt Metals

Metal-roof membrane
IB Roof Systems

Metalwork/furniture and fountain design and fabrication

One Off Furniture

Modular shelving
ISS Designs

American Soil & Stone

Murphy bed

Nanogel aerogel
Cabot Corporation

Natural-gas pump
Phill by Fuelmaker

Network cameras

Outdoor furniture
Landscape Forms; Translations 707/938-0888

Outdoor pots
Asian Ceramics

Painting contractor
CertaPro Painters 415/661-8400

Pivot-door hardware

Planting tower

Quartz-countertop fabricator
Diamond Bullnosing Co.

Quartz countertops

Radiant heat
Warmboard Radiant Subfloor

Radiant-heat plumbing

Radiant-heat tubing

Rain chains

Reclaimed-hardwood floors
Carlisle Wide Plank Floors

Recycled-glass/porcelain mulch

Recycled-glass counters

Resin panels

Retractable windows
NanaWall Systems

Acker & Guerrero Roof Company

Kathleen Crowley 415/999-3543

American Slate Company

Solar installer
Occidental Power

Solar mobile artist
Mark Malmberg

Solar shades
Solar Shading Systems

Solar thermal installer
SunWater Solar

Solar thermal system
TrendSetter Solar Products

Boston Acoustics; Orb Audio

Specialty windows
Ventana Aluminum Mfg. Co. 415/822-6370

Spray-foam insulation
Demilec USA

Spray-foam insulation installer
Energy Solutions

Stucco contractor
John Daly Stucco 415/205-5178

Succulent Gardens 831/632-0482

Television art
“M” Design; VisionArt

Ceramic Tile Design; Heath Ceramics; Pratt & Larson

Mandala; Maniscalco/Artistic Stone Gallery; Marin Designworks Glass Tile

Underground cisterns
Roth Global Plastics

Vanities/mirrored lighting

Vetrazzo fabricator
Baker Marble + Granite

Whole-house fan

Wind turbine
Southwest Windpower

Windows/doors distributor
Beronio Lumber 


Benjamin Moore reinvented paint with the development of Aura. ColorLock, Benjamin Moore’s patent-pending technology, locks in the paint’s waterborne colorant, enabling Aura to be self-primed while being eco-friendly and having minimal odor.

GE Monogram’s innovative appliances offer many design choices to help customize your kitchen. Sunset’s San Francisco Idea House features a dual-fuel range, a side-by-side refrigerator, a warming drawer that keeps food ready until serving, and a versatile beverage center.

James Hardie HardieBacker board with exclusive MoldBlock Technology blocks against moisture damage and mold on interior walls, ceilings, and floors – it passes industry mold tests with a perfect score. It’s durable and can be painted, textured, wallpapered, or tiled.

Using compressed natural gas, the 2008 Honda Civic GX achieves remarkable fuel-cost savings. The EPA says it’s the “cleanest internal-combustion engine ever tested.” GX owners can purchase a Phill home-refueling appliance that easily installs to a home gas line.

Your home’s exterior separates you from the elements. James Hardie siding is flame-resistant, guaranteed against rotting and cracking, and resists damage from rain, hail, and flying debris. The product holds a limited transferable warranty for up to 50 years.

JELD-WEN Windows & Doors crafts windows and doors designed for energy efficiency, security, and peace of mind. An Energy Star partner since 1998, JELD-WEN offers interior and entry doors, swinging and sliding patio doors, garage doors, and windows for every style and climate.

Kohler’s advanced DTV Custom Showering Experience allows preset preferences, the Wellspring Touchless faucet offers hands-free kitchen hand-washing, and the SOK overflowing bath features 11 bubble ports for a complete spa experience.

This Idea House features state-of-the-art Lennox Industries home-comfort systems. Whether installed separately or together, Lennox heating, cooling, and indoor air-quality products deliver comfort, control, efficiency, quiet operation, reliability, cleaner air, and peace of mind.

Raised in exclusively formulated, nutrient-rich soil, Monrovia plants are guaranteed to make your garden thrive. With more than 2,200 varieties – from drought-tolerant to high fashion – Monrovia has something for every garden style. Available at garden centers nationwide.

SunPower Corporation designs and manufactures high-performance solar-electric technology worldwide. Powered by A-300 solar cells, which are more efficient than conventional solar cells, SunPower panels produce more energy in a smaller space. 877/786-0123.

Inspired by the rich textures and colors in nature, reversible Trex Accents deck boards feature a natural wood-grain pattern on one side and the smooth, contemporary look of Trex Origins on the other. With Trex Accents, you can create a beautiful, low-maintenance outdoor space.

Union Bank offers expertise and experience in solving clients’ financial needs. You’ll benefit from a comprehensive portfolio of products, services, and support to help meet your short- and long-term financial goals. 888/818-6060.

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