Switchback House

San Francisco, CA

A loft-style flipped-plan rhythmically-organized house designed by the architects for their own family, this budget-sensitive human-scaled project wove together the architects’ deep knowledge of San Francisco’s urban context and codes with their crisp and clear material and architectural aesthetic.

The designers, who have two children, needed (at least) three bedrooms and enough living space for their family to feel perfectly situated: close enough that their now-youngish children didn’t have to be sidelined into a basement or attic, but ultimately spacious enough that as they do grow up, they can become independent - from each other, and from their parents.

Working as not only their own clients but also their own budget-sensitive developers, the architects were able to avoid the typical market-driven pressure of maximizing square feet and instead focus on qualitative issues. As a result, they were able to work creatively—by flipping the plan to place the living room on the top floor and bedrooms on the lower level— to bring to life the feeling of loft-style living that they wanted, without giving up the intimate neighborhood feel of their immediate surroundings or the connection to San Francisco’s vibrant streets.

Their familiarity with common architectural constraints led to innovative cost-sensitive solutions: the guardrails are simple drywall, the stair is painted steel, and much of the house's detailing made creative use of everyday materials. The facade is built from a rhythmic display of pre-manufactured trim boards; the sinks are molded Corian; and the architects undertook the ultimate Ikea Hack: measuring the standard size of the big-box retailer’s shelving, and building closet spaces to fit to the centimeter.

Switchback Concept

We were interested in the idea of the trail switchback; the way a path can circle back on itself, the way in which travel sometimes takes us to what looks like the same spot again, even though every time is new. For our own house, we wanted to explore the tension between the familiar and the new; the surprising and the restorative.


The inside story of the Switchback House on Curbed.

San Francisco Chronicle

Read the behind the scenes story of the Switchback House in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle Food + Home Magazine.

Rhythm and Meter

We used varying widths of trim board to produce a facade who’s interest lies not in the special-ness of material or expansiveness of glass, but in an interpolating rhythm that draws the eye in, up, and over. The increasing and decreasing width of the boards lends a sense of spaciousness and visual texture to the house, while the clearly-articulated glazing offers a depth of field. 


Edmonds + Lee Architects
2601 Mission Street, Suite 503
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 285-1300