For many first-time buyers, sky-high prices and fierce competition make the prospect of purchasing a home in the Bay Area daunting, and some are priced out. For one San Francisco couple seeking a home for their young family, however, the challenge provided the opportunity to take a fresh approach to home ownership: co-buying.
When Alicia Cheung Lichtenstein, cofounder and principal of interior design firm Studio Heimat, and her husband, Niles Lichtenstein, CEO and cofounder of Nestment, a tech startup that helps people co-buy homes, found a triplex on a quiet street in Nob Hill, they decided to purchase the building with Cheung Lichtenstein’s partner at Studio Heimat and her husband. With the intention to rent out two of the three units in the building and share profits with their co-buyers, suddenly the unattainable idea of home ownership became that much more attainable. “It felt like a such a dream to be able to move into our own place in a building that we had renovated and bought,” Cheung Lichtenstein says.
Built sometime around the turn of the century (the original records were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake fire), the Edwardian-style building needed a major renovation before Cheung Lichtenstein and her family could move into the top unit. The 1,700 square-foot space originally had two bedrooms and one bath, and heat was supplied by two fireplaces with small gas inserts. Along with architect Paul Wang and builder Graham Construction, Cheung Lichtenstein set about transforming the space while still preserving the charm and character of the original building wherever possible, including maintaining the original floors, moldings and ceiling height. “We renovated right away because we knew the space wasn’t really livable,” Cheung Lichtenstein says. “We wanted to add as much functionality as possible without sacrificing the beauty of it.”
The first challenge was to reconfigure the long, narrow space to allow for three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a powder room and a bonus room. The kitchen, dining area and living room are now located in the front, along with the bonus room, and the bedrooms and baths are in the back.
Next, Cheung Lichtenstein got to work customizing the space, employing some clever strategies to add storage wherever feasible. A built-in bookcase fits neatly into a nook in the hallway, backlit by a window behind it that faces a neighbor’s property; the primary ensuite bathroom includes an extra-large storage cabinet, made possible by aligning the shower door at an angle; and cleverly concealed drawers are built into the custom-designed velvet couch in the living room. “When you have children, you can never have enough storage,” Cheung Lichtenstein says.
The family loves to entertain, so Cheung Lichtenstein designed the home to make guests feel comfortable and welcome. The oversize couch wraps around the entire living room, even continuing behind the extendable dining table to provide additional seating for dinner parties and kids’ birthday gatherings. In the adjacent bonus room, serves as either a sitting room or guest bedroom, Cheung Lichtenstein carved out a bar area with a cabinet and floating shelves. “We also splurged on the Toto Washlet in the powder room, because that’s just nice for everybody to use,” she says.
Throughout the home, Cheung Lichtenstein’s use of bright colors, distinctive prints, eclectic furnishings, rich textures and whimsical lighting fixtures add a playful flare to every room. “I love color, and I don’t shy away from patterns,” she says. Wallpaper makes an appearance in many rooms, including a bold floral design by Christian Lacroix in the powder room, an Art Deco-inspired print behind the bar by Divine Savages, a tropical pattern by Kneedler Fauchère in the hallway and an animal motif in the daughter’s bedroom. “I really wanted to do wallpaper in her room, but I decided to put it on the ceiling so she can’t touch it,” she laughs.
Additional details, including a stairway covered in a rainbow-hued carpet, a geometric tile backsplash in the kitchen and plenty of bespoke art pieces, add to the home’s free-spirited appeal — the ideal place for the family of four to live, play and entertain. “I just wanted to do something that makes me smile,” Cheung Lichtenstein says.
Alicia Cheung Lichtenstein, Studio Heimat