Transforming Unfinished Space

With a limited San Francisco average home lot width of 25’ and the myriad of restrictions and building codes developed to enhance the public safety from earthquakes and fires, it might appear impossible to find additional usable finished space within an established home envelope.

Fortunately, for homeowners looking for more square footage, many of the typical homes in SF were built with an unfinished garage and/or storage level. Maybe you are familiar with this area that is the receptacle for all the things we don’t want seen; laundry machines, dusty exercise equipment, and the hallowed gear for Burning Man, Camp Mather, or both?

What many homeowners don’t realize though, is that even with low ceilings, uneven floors, and an exposed labyrinth of plumbing and electrical systems, these spaces are usually the quickest and most cost-effective areas to convert into beautiful, finished living spaces. Floors can be lowered, windows and doors can be added, and systems can be reconfigured resulting in a new bedroom, bathroom, or even that new requisite Zoom room.

To turn these inhabitable areas into potentially finished usable space, we begin with our initial design phase of our design + build process, where the homeowner, alongside our design team, assess and document the objectives. During this phase, conversations about what is missing, needed or desired to make the home more suitable are discussed.

Is there enough space to make an extra bedroom, office, bathroom, or encompass them all? This is what is known in the industry as programming because it is how the designer “programs” the space. After this has been defined, and a budget for the project has been considered, it is time to bring in our build team who can determine, at an early stage, not just what is feasible, but what makes sense given the parameters of programming, budget, and constructability.

Access to light, air, and other spaces in the house all factor into the layout of the rooms. Those layouts are also weighted against the level of effort and difficulty required to achieve them. Does it require extensive digging, structural upgrades, or permitting challenges? By knowing how to achieve the programming requirements within the realities of working within an existing, defined space, the design + build approach creates a unified and complete picture solution for this type of project. For the homeowners, the holistic design + build process fulfills their dreams within the many constraints and considerations early in the process, compared to a design + bid solution where construction feasibility, unforeseen issues and additional costs are not discovered until after the design is complete, leading to a much higher rate of project abandonment and frustration.

This type of project has many inherent efficiencies to consider. If this work is being done within the existing exterior walls, the time to get a building permit approved can be months faster than doing an addition. Conveniently, a home’s building systems, needed to tie in the new space, usually run through the garage or storage areas being converted, taking less time and money to access. In addition, the impact on the other living areas above or adjacent can remain minimal, meaning less hassle and disruption to daily living routines and less expense by not having to relocate during construction.

All this is not to say that it is easy. Creating useful, desirable space within the confines of an existing building and its systems is always more challenging than building an entire new envelope. That challenge however, is exactly where a design + build approach is most efficient, leaving the homeowner with more time and energy with which to enjoy the results.

Learn more about our design + build process.